Sacked in the Morning: Lee Sharpe on former Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson

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Sir Alex Ferguson holding trophies
Sir Alex Ferguson enjoyed 26 trophy-laden years as manager at Manchester United

It’s no surprise to learn that Sir Alex Ferguson let rip with one of his trademark ‘hairdryer’ rants in the immediate aftermath of Eric Cantona’s infamous kung-fu kick at Selhurst Park.

The targets for his ire may raise a few eyebrows though – just about everyone in the Manchester United dressing room other than Cantona, according to Lee Sharpe.

It may have been almost 30 years ago, but the Frenchman’s attack on Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons remains one of football’s most remarkable moments.

“We couldn’t believe it,” Sharpe told the Sacked in the Morning podcast, reliving that evening of 25 January, 1995.

“He’s already been sent off, so he’s put us down to 10 men and put us under a load of pressure.

“We’re struggling in the game and then he goes into the crowd and kicks the guy. We’re all thinking, ‘oh my God, the manager’s got to absolutely nail him after this game’.

“We’re scot-free. The manager can’t say a word to us. We’re playing badly, but he’s [Cantona] just nearly killed someone.”

Sharpe set up David May to give depleted United the lead, but now England manager Gareth Southgate would find an equaliser for Palace to prevent the visitors going top of the league.

Former winger Sharpe, 52, adds: “We get in the dressing room and I think it was Roy Keane nudging everyone saying, ‘listen lads, keep your heads down, take your boots off, take your pads off, don’t make eye contact, the manager’s going to go ballistic. Just watch this’.

“As the manager comes in, he smashes the door open, the jacket’s off, shirt sleeves are up.

“We’re thinking, ‘here we go, here we go’. We’re all nudging each other like schoolkids and giggling and then he starts on everyone.

“‘[Gary] Pallister, you can’t head it, you can’t tackle. Keane, you’ve not laid a glove on anybody. Sharpe, you can’t run, you can’t tackle, you can’t pass it. Andy Cole, you can’t trap a bag of cement. And Eric, you can’t go around doing things like that, son’.

“I just sat and shrugged. It was unbelievable.”

‘Fergie told me to sell my house, my dog and my car’

By that stage of his Old Trafford career, Sharpe should have been used to such haranguing from the famously irascible Ferguson.

There were also a lot of celebrations along the way.

Signed by Ferguson from Torquay United at 17, Sharpe won three Premier League titles, two FA Cups, the League Cup, three FA Charity Shields and a European Cup Winners’ Cup – all before he turned 25.

“Straight away, he was very fatherly,” recalled Sharpe of his manager, who met him at the train station on his first day.

“I got into the first team pretty quickly, probably before he or I were really expecting it. But he shielded me from the press, so I wasn’t going to get myself into any trouble.

“He certainly looked after me like a father. Although, if I looked after my kids like he looked after me, I’m sure they’d have a few complaints!”

Ryan Giggs, Alex Ferguson and Lee Sharpe with the Premiership trophy in 1994
Ryan Giggs, Alex Ferguson and Lee Sharpe (right) with the Premiership trophy in 1994

During his 26 years with Manchester United, Ferguson won an incredible 38 trophies, somehow still finding time to interfere in the minutiae of his players’ lives.

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“From top to bottom, he ran the club,” said Sharpe, who moved in with his girlfriend when he was 18 after asking Ferguson’s permission.

“He said he’d allow it and asked if we were getting married. We’d been going out since I was 12 and that was the plan. But he said if my form suffered, I’d be going to go back into digs. I was like, ‘yeah, yeah, that’s not a problem’.

“And then my form started to suffer. At Anfield, of all places, he decided to try to change our formation to match up with Liverpool and play three at the back and five in midfield.

“Me and Ryan Giggs were running around in circles not knowing who to mark. The game was passing us by. At half-time, he said, in not so many words, ‘you are absolutely useless’.

“‘Tomorrow, you’re going to sell your house, sell your dog, sell your car. You send your girlfriend back to Birmingham, you’re back in digs’.

“Obviously, I didn’t play great, came off with about 20 minutes to go, went home, told my girlfriend she had to go home. That was the end of that.

“Then every week he would come up to me in training and ask, ‘are you married yet?’ I’m like, married? You sent my girlfriend home!”

‘He was spitting and frothing all over us’

A year later, Sharpe earned the first of eight England caps, signed a new contract at Old Trafford, moved into his own place and tried to stay out of Ferguson’s way as much as possible.

“I’d hear his footsteps coming down the corridor and I’d go in the opposite direction,” he said. “I just tried to avoid him at all costs. Quite a few players did.”

Avoiding the boss wasn’t always possible, though, as Ferguson’s attention to detail stretched to thwarting nights out.

Sharpe and Giggs got a shock when the manager appeared at the door of the former’s flat following a tip-off.

“I only found out last year that it was Giggs’ mum that rang him and said, ‘Ryan’s just gone round to Sharpie’s house with a few of his pals, you’d better get round there’,” Sharpe laughed.

“He kicked everyone out and then gave me and Giggsy the hairdryer of our lives. He was spitting and frothing over us. That’s why my hair only goes one way – from the side he was yelling!”

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