Skip to main content

Alex Ferguson's whole remarkable career: from East Stirlingshire to Manchester United

(Image credit: PA)

From the early days in Scotland to the glorious moments at Old Trafford, FourFourTwo takes a look at the seasons which defined and developed Sir Alex Ferguson, the man we named the greatest manager of all time...

You can read the full list of our 100 greatest managers ever in the June 2020 issue of FourFourTwo magazine, available in shops and online now.

(Image credit: Future)

1974 - East Stirlingshire

Sir Alex’s management journey began in the summer of 1974, just a few months after his retirement from playing the game. At 32, he took the manager’s job at Scottish Second Division side East Stirlingshire, a part-time job which paid just £40-a-week.

Despite not having a recognised goalkeeper when he arrived at the club, Ferguson got off to an impressive start, winning nine out of his opening 17 games in charge of the club, before taking the St Mirren manager’s role in October.

1974-75 - St Mirren

When Ferguson took over at St Mirren, who were below East Stirlingshire in the table at the time of his appointment, the club attracted crowds of just 1,000 every week. Ferguson helped transform the fortunes of the club right from the get go, taking the club to sixth place in the Second Division, which earned them promotion to Scotland’s First Division, the second tier of Scottish football.

Ferguson’s Buddies were reliant on the goalscoring exploits of Donny McDowall, who finished as the club’s top scorer with 14 goals. 

1975-76 - St Mirren 

In only his second full season in management, Ferguson helped St Mirren achieve a sixth-placed finish in Scotland’s second tier, nine points behind the promotion spots but just six points above the relegation zone. The Buddies were once again reliant on the goalscoring exploits of McDowall, who finished the season with 12 goals to his name. 

fergie

(Image credit: PA)

1976-77 - St Mirren

Honour: Scottish First Division Title

Sir Alex’s Ferguson’s first league title came in 1977, as St Mirren won the First Division and gained promotion to Scotland’s top-flight. The average age of the squad was just 19 with captain Tony Fitzpatrick aged just 20-years-old. 

Ferguson was praised for his brilliant attacking philosophy with such a young team, with the club losing just two league matches all season.

1977-1978 - St Mirren

St Mirren’s first and only season in the top-flight under Ferguson saw them embark on a relegation scrap with Ayr United and Clydebank. While the Scot managed to keep the Buddies in the Premier Division for another season, finishing six points ahead of Ayr in the final relegation spot, Ferguson was sacked by St Mirren at the end of the season.

It was the only time Sir Alex had been relieved of his duties in his career. 

1978-79 - Aberdeen

A month after being sacked by St Mirren, Ferguson took over as manager of Premier Division side Aberdeen, a role he rejected 12 months before after winning the Second Division with St Mirren. His first season at the club was promising, finishing in fourth place and just 8 points behind champions Celtic. 

Ferguson also reached his first cup final as a manager in the Scottish League Cup that year, but Aberdeen lost 2-1 to Rangers in the final. 

1979-80 - Aberdeen

Honour: Scottish Premier Division Champions

In just his sixth year in management, Ferguson won his first top-flight league title after steering Aberdeen to a shock Premier Division triumph. It was the first time in 15 years that the league had not been won by either Rangers or Celtic.

After a shaky start to the season, Ferguson’s Aberdeen went unbeaten from the beginning of March until the end of the season and clinched the title with a 5-0 thrashing of Hibernian on the penultimate weekend of the campaign. Ferguson nearly made it a League and League Cup double but his side lost the Scottish League Cup Final for the second year in a row following a replay defeat to Dundee United. 

Meanwhile, Sir Alex’s first European campaign ended in disappointment, as the club lost 2-1 on aggregate to Eintracht Frankfurt in the first round of the UEFA Cup. 

(Image credit: PA)

1980-81 - Aberdeen

Aberdeen’s defence of the Scottish Premier Division title got off to a fantastic start with the club remaining unbeaten from August until the beginning of December. However, just three league wins between December and the beginning of April saw their title challenge falter and Ferguson’s side failed to score in the final three matches of the season as they saw Celtic reclaim the top-flight title. 

Early exits in the Scottish Cup competitions and a 5-0 thrashing by Liverpool in the European Cup second round made it a trophyless season for Aberdeen that season. 

1981-82 - Aberdeen

Honour: Scottish Cup Winners

Despite winning 15 out of their final 16 matches of the Scottish Premier Division season, Aberdeen were forced to settle for another second-place finish with Celtic claiming back-to-back top-flight titles in Scotland. 

However, it was in the Scottish Cup where Ferguson enjoyed the most success, as Aberdeen won the competition for the first time since 1970. The club beat Celtic in the fourth round and Ferguson masterminded a 3-2 win over former side St Mirren in the semi-final replay, before thrashing Rangers 4-1 in the final. 

Aberdeen also reached the UEFA Cup quarter-finals that year, beating English side Ipswich Town on the way, but their run was ended up German side Hamburg in the last eight. It was after this season that Ferguson was offered the Wolverhampton Wanderers job but he turned it down due to Wolves’ financial difficulties. 

1982-83 - Aberdeen

Honours: Scottish Cup winners, European Cup Winners’ Cup Winners

The 1982/83 season saw Ferguson win the first European competition of his career in the form of the European Cup Winners’ Cup. Aberdeen managed to beat German giants Bayern Munich in the quarter-final stage of the competition and triumphed 2-1 over Real Madrid in the final. Ferguson enjoyed domestic success too and led the club to back-to-back Scottish Cup victories for the first time in the club’s history. The club did finish in third place in the league but finished the campaign just one point behind champions Dundee United

1983-84 - Aberdeen

Honours: UEFA Super Cup winners, Scottish Premier Division champions, Scottish Cup winners

After triumphing over Hamburg in the UEFA Super Cup, Ferguson led Aberdeen to the Scottish League and Cup double in 1984. The Dons finished seven points clear of Celtic at the top of the table, a lead that was largely thanks to an impressive 16-game unbeaten run in the league between October and March. 

Aberdeen then beat Celtic 2-1 in the Scottish Cup final to make it three consecutive wins in a row in that particular competition. Ferguson nearly made it a first-ever domestic treble but his side were beaten by Celtic in the Scottish League Cup semi-finals, while Aberdeen were also dumped out the European Cup Winners’ Cup at the same stage by Porto

(Image credit: PA)

1984-85 - Aberdeen

Honour: Scottish Premier Division Champions

Another league title for Aberdeen. Another seven-point winning margin at the top of the table. Ferguson had now led the Dons to back-to-back league titles for the first time in the club’s history. Unfortunately, Ferguson couldn’t back that success up with any other trophies that year, as they were knocked out in the early rounds of the European and Scottish League Cup competitions and fell at the semi-final stage of the Scottish Cup to Dundee United. 

At the end of the season, Ferguson was approached to become the new Liverpool manager, but he lost out on the role to Kenny Dalglish. What could have been…

1985-86 - Aberdeen and Scotland 

Honours: Scottish League Cup winners, Scottish Cup winners

Following the sudden death of Scotland manager Jock Stein in September 1985, Ferguson became Scotland manager after being the most senior figure on Stein’s national team coaching staff. It took his focus away from Aberdeen slightly, and he appointed Archie Knox as his co-manager at the Dons.

Ferguson led Scotland to the 1986 World Cup, but left his role after the Scots were knocked out at the group stage. At club level, Ferguson and Knox won the Scottish League Cup without conceding a single goal, while they also claimed another Scottish Cup victory thanks to a 3-0 win over Hearts in the final. However, Aberdeen’s title charge never really got going that year, and the club finished fourth in the Scottish top-flight that year.

1986-87 - Aberdeen and Manchester United

Talk of Ferguson leaving Aberdeen slowly began to grow in the summer of 1986. The Scot was offered managerial roles at Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal but turned them both down. He started the season with Aberdeen but was then approached by Manchester United in November, and agreed to move to Old Trafford as Ron Atkinson’s replacement. 

Despite a 2-0 defeat to Oxford United in his first game in charge of the Red Devils, Ferguson managed to steer the ship at United, taking the club from 21st in the table to an 11th-placed finish. A fourth-round defeat to Coventry City in the FA Cup meant Ferguson’s opening years at Old Trafford began slowly. 

1987-88 - Manchester United

A relatively successful second season at Manchester United saw the Ferguson blueprints begin to form at the club. New signings such as Steve Bruce, Viv Anderson and top scorer Brian McClair helped United to finish as First Division runners-up in 1988.

Ferguson still struggled to make an impression in the English cup competitions, losing to Arsenal and Oxford United in the fifth rounds of the FA Cup and League Cup respectively. 

fergie

(Image credit: PA)

1988-89 - Manchester United

Ferguson found life a little more difficult in his third season at Old Trafford, as the Red Devils surprisingly finished in mid-table. Early exits in the cup added to Ferguson’s frustration at Old Trafford while the club did not compete in the UEFA Cup due to the ban on English teams playing European competitions following the Heysel disaster. 

United did manage to reach the Football League Centenary Trophy final but lost 2-1 to Arsenal. 

1989-90 - Manchester United

Honour: FA Cup winners

Ferguson’s United continued to struggle in the league and a 13th-placed spot was their lowest ever First Division finish for 15 years. 1990 was the year when Ferguson won the first of many trophies at Old Trafford though, as United went on to win the FA Cup that year. Sir Alex’s side beat Crystal Palace 1-0 in the Cup final replay thanks to a goal from Lee Martin. 

1990-1991 - Manchester United

Honours: European Cup Winners’ Cup Winners

Ferguson’s second European Cup Winners’ Cup triumph - his first at Manchester United - came in 1991 as two goals from Mark Hughes saw United beat Barcelona 2-1 in the final of the competition. It was United’s first European trophy in nearly a quarter of a century. 

Cup wins over Liverpool and Arsenal saw the Red Devils also reach the League Cup Final but Ferguson’s men were beaten 1-0 by Sheffield Wednesday. United also saw improvement in the league as the club finished in sixth place in the First Division, though they lay 24 points behind champions Arsenal. 

1991-1992 - Manchester United

Honours: European Super Cup winners, League Cup winners

The final First Division season saw the first signs of Manchester United as regular title challengers under Ferguson. 

An unbeaten start to the campaign and just two defeats before he New Year meant United led the First Division table for most of the season. However, the Red Devils eventually lost out to Leeds United who denied Ferguson a first league triumph in England. Ferguson did, however, manage to add to his collection to trophies through winning the European Super Cup at the start of the season, thanks to a 1-0 win over Red Star Belgrade. 

Ferguson also lifted the League Cup for the first time as United manager, as he helped the club beat Nottingham Forest 1-0 in the final thanks to a McClair goal. 

1992-93 - Manchester United

Honour: Premier League winners

The first season of the Premier League saw Ferguson lift his first league title at Old Trafford.

Seeking revenge after losing to Leeds in the previous season, United were involved in a four-way battle with Aston Villa, Norwich City and Blackburn Rovers for most of the season. A four-game winless run in March and April saw them slip down to third-place but a 2-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday, thanks to two late goals from captain Steve Bruce, proved to be the turning point. 

Ferguson’s side won their final seven league games of the season to eventually win the title by ten points. Despite early exits in the domestic cup competitions and a shock UEFA Cup first-round exit to Torpedo Moscow, it was the start of a glorious era for the Red Devils. 

(Image credit: PA)

1993-94 - Manchester United

Honours: Premier League winners, FA Cup winners, Charity Shield winners

The trophies kept on coming for Manchester United and Alex Ferguson. After a penalty shootout win over Arsenal in the Charity Shield at the beginning of the season, United began what ended up being a dominant Premier League title defence. 

Ferguson’s men lost just once in the first 29 league games of the season and sat at the top of the table from the fourth game onwards. The Reds Devils ended up winning the league with an eight-point gap over second-placed Blackburn Rovers. Ferguson also registered a first league and cup double after beating Chelsea 4-0 in the FA Cup final at Wembley. 

In their first Champions League campaign, Ferguson was beaten on away goals by Galatasaray in the second round.

1994-95 - Manchester United

Honour: Charity Shield

After the highs of the previous two seasons, Ferguson’s United endured a trophyless 1994/95 campaign barring the Charity Shield victory over Blackburn Rovers at the beginning of the season. A 1-1 draw away at West Ham United on the final day of the season saw them concede the Premier League title to Rovers, while they were also beaten 1-0 in the FA Cup final by Everton

Newcastle United dumped Ferguson’s men out of the League Cup that year at the third round stage while the Red Devils failed to get out of the Champions League group, finishing third behind Barcelona and IFK Goteborg. 

1995-96 - Manchester United

Honours: Premier League winners, FA Cup winners

Normality was restored at Old Trafford as Ferguson reacted to their trophyless season by winning another league and cup double the following year. United lost just once out of their final 16 league games to win the Premier League by four points, while Eric Cantona’s late goal saw them beat Liverpool 1-0 in the FA Cup final. 

United’s struggles in Europe continued as they suffered a surprise defeat to Rotor Volgograd in the UEFA Cup first round. 

1996-97 - Manchester United

Honours: Premier League winners, Charity Shield winners

It was another vintage year at the top of the Premier League table for Manchester United and Ferguson, as they finished the season seven points clear at the top of the table, despite back-to-back thrashings by Newcastle and Southampton in October. Their defence of the FA Cup, however, did not go to plan following a fourth-round exit to Wimbledon. 

The club did, however, reach the semi-finals of the Champions League - the furthest they had ever been in the competition under Ferguson. One-goal defeats in both legs to eventual winners Borussia Dortmund ended their run at the last four stage. 

1997-98 - Manchester United

Honour: Charity Shield winners

A penalty shootout win in the Charity Shield proved to be the only trophy Ferguson won at Old Trafford during the 1997/98 season, as United allowed Arsenal to win the league and cup double. The Red Devils had a 12-point lead at the top of the table in March and looked set to successfully defend their crown once again. 

United won just two of their next seven matches though, and a ten-game winning run for the Gunners saw them snatch the Premier League title from United’s grasp. Ferguson’s men were stunned by Barnsley in the FA Cup fifth round while they were also beaten by AS Monaco in the Champions League quarter-final in the disastrous March month. 

1998-1999 - Manchester United

Honours: Premier League winners, FA Cup winners, Champions League winners

Ferguson’s finest hour at Old Trafford.

Manchester United were rampant in the 1998-1999 season, especially following the turn of the year. The club failed to lose in the final 20 games of the league season as they pipped reigning champions Arsenal to the league title by a point. They backed that up with an FA Cup win which involved beating the Gunners in the semi-final thanks to that Ryan Giggs goal, before triumphing over Newcastle in the final.

And then Ferguson completed the iconic treble by beating Bayern Munich in the Champions League final in Barcelona thanks to injury-time strikes from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. What a season.

(Image credit: PA)

1999-2000 - Manchester United

Honour: Premier League winners

You would think Ferguson would be bored of winning trophies after that treble-winning season, but the Scot had no intention of stopping there. 

Eleven consecutive wins to end the Premier League season saw United retain their top-flight crown, with the Red Devils finishing 18 points clear of second-placed Arsenal. United refused to compete in the FA Cup that season in order to take part in the Club World Cup, but Ferguson’s men failed to get out of the group stage in that competition. 

Their defence of the Champions League trophy came to an end at the quarter-final stage as they were beaten 3-2 by Real Madrid at Old Trafford. 

2000-2001 - Manchester United

Honour: Premier League winners

Ferguson became the first manager to win three consecutive Premier League titles with the same club as United strolled to another Premier League triumph. 

Arch-rivals Liverpool ended up winning the FA Cup and League Cup trophies that season as United exited both competitions at the fourth-round stage. It was another quarter-final defeat in the Champions League for Ferguson following a 3-1 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich. 

2001-02 - Manchester United

It was the first trophyless season for Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United in 12 years, as Arsenal went on to lift another league and cup double. 

Ferguson’s side ended their league season ten points behind the Gunners in third spot - the first time they had finished outside of the top two since the Premier League began. They were knocked out of the FA Cup at the fourth-round stage by Middlesbrough, while German opposition beat them in the Champions League knockout stages once again in the form of semi-final opponents Bayer Leverkusen

2002-03 - Manchester United

Honour: Premier League winners

The one-season trophy drought came to an end in 2003 as United lifted yet another Premier League title under Ferguson. The Red Devils were unbeaten in the second-half of the season and comprehensively held off Arsenal to win the league by five points.

The Gunners did get their revenge by winning the FA Cup in a run which saw them beat United at the fifth-round stage and a 7-4 aggregate defeat to Real Madrid saw United fall at the Champions League quarter-finals once again. Ferguson also came close to winning the League Cup but his side were beaten by Liverpool 2-0 in the final. 

2003-04 - Manchester United

Honours: Community Shield winners, FA Cup winners

Despite a third-place finish in the Premier League, Ferguson could do little to stop Arsenal from winning the title as the Gunners lifted the Premier League trophy having failed to lose a game during the entire season. United did manage to find some consolation by winning the FA Cup, thanks to a 3-1 victory over Millwall in the final. Ferguson failed to replicate the Champions League success of 1999 once again, following first knockout round defeat to Jose Mourinho’s FC Porto.

2004-05 - Manchester United

Mourinho continued his torment on Ferguson’s United by winning the Premier League title in his first season in charge of Chelsea. The Portuguese manager’s influence on the league meant United settled for another third-placed finish in England’s top-flight. 

To make matters worse for Ferguson, they were beaten on penalties by Arsenal in the FA Cup final despite dominating the possession and goal-scoring chances throughout both normal and extra-time of the match. League Cup and Champions League exits to Chelsea and AC Milan respectively meant it was a trophyless season for Ferguson at Old Trafford.

2005-06 - Manchester United

Honour: League Cup winners

Mourinho’s second consecutive title at Stamford Bridge meant Ferguson missed out on another Premier League title, despite United’s small improvement to a second-placed finish. 

While their FA Cup campaign ended at the fifth-round at the hands of Liverpool, United did manage to win the League Cup thanks to a 4-0 win in the final against Wigan Athletic. Ferguson did suffer humiliation in the Champions League, however, as they finished bottom of their group behind Villarreal, Benfica and Lille

2006-07 - Manchester United

Honour: Premier League winners

After four years of hurt, Ferguson managed to finally get his hands on another league title as he finally got the better of Mourinho in English football. 

United were pushed very close by Chelsea by eventually clinched the title with two games to spare. Mourinho did manage to inflict some revenge on Ferguson in the FA Cup final, as the Blues defeated United 1-0 thanks to Didier Drogba’s extra-time goal at Wembley.

Ferguson’s United also reached the Champions League semi-finals that year, but eventual winners AC Milan knocked themselves once again. 

(Image credit: PA)

2007-08 - Manchester United

Honours: Premier League winners, Champions League winners

European glory had eluded Ferguson for nearly a decade, but Ferguson ended that barren run by winning the 2008 Champions League in dramatic fashion. 

In the first all-English Champions League final, United beat Chelsea in a tense penalty shootout where Blues skipper John Terry missed the match-winning spot-kick which would have handed the Londoners the trophy. Goalkeeper Edwin Van der Sar saved from Nicolas Anelka’s penalty to finally give United the win. 

The Champions League triumph in Moscow came a few weeks after Ferguson won a second consecutive league title at United. The title race went down to the final day but a 2-0 win at Wigan Athletic was enough to give the Red Devils the Premier League trophy at Chelsea’s expense. 

2008-09 - Manchester United

Honours: Premier League winners, League Cup winners, Community Shield winners, Club World Cup winners

After winning yet another Premier League title and League Cup trophy, United came close to a second successive Champions League trophy, which would have placed them in history as the first-ever team to earn successive wins in the competition. 

But Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona ended that dream in the final by beating Ferguson’s side 2-0. The Scottish manager did manage to lead United to a Club World Cup win in 2008 thanks to a 1-0 win over LDU Quito in the final. 

2009-10 - Manchester United

Honour: League Cup winners

United and Ferguson failed to win a record fourth consecutive Premier League title as Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea stormed to the league and cup double in 2010. Ferguson did manage to win the League Cup thanks to a 2-1 win over Aston Villa at Wembley in the final. Defeats to Leeds and Bayern in the FA Cup and Champions League respectively meant that the League Cup was the only major trophy Ferguson got his hands on that year, though. 

2010-2011 - Manchester United

Honour: Premier League winners, Community Shield winners

Ferguson reclaimed the Premier League title from his top-flight rivals in a tense four-way battle between United, Chelsea, Arsenal and an improving Manchester City side. 

The Red Devils did reach a Wembley final in 2011, but this time it was the Champions League final against Barcelona. But Guardiola got the better of Ferguson once again as the Catalan side stormed to a 3-1 victory under the arch. 

(Image credit: PA)

2011-2012 - Manchester United

Honour: Community Shield winners

This was the Premier League title race that hurts Ferguson the most.

United were within seconds of winning another top-flight title after beating Sunderland on the final day of the season, with Manchester City heading towards a draw with QPR. But Sergio Aguero’s last-gasp winner gave United’s noisy neighbours their first ever Premier League title with Ferguson’s side set to begin their celebrations. 

United were eliminated from the Champions League in the group stages and didn’t come close to winning the FA Cup or League Cup so the complexion of their season rested on that dramatic final day. 

2012-2013 - Manchester United

Honour: Premier League winners

The last hurrah. Buoyed by new signing Robin Van Persie, United dominated the Premier League in 2012/13 and won the top-flight title with four games to go. 

In between sealing the title and lifting the trophy at the end of the season, Ferguson announced he would be retiring at the end of the season. His final match in charge was a sensational 5-5 draw away at West Brom, a match which summed up the ups and downs of the Scot’s dramatic career. 

FourFourTwo issue 313 June 2020

(Image credit: Future)

Read more in the June 2020 issue of FourFourTwo magazine, available in shops and online from Wednesday April 29. Our new magazine looks at the 100 greatest managers in the history of football, exploring the tacticians and tinkermen who have influenced the game more than anyone else, investigates the fall of Barcelona's famed La Masia academy, presents eight pages of quiz questions and football posers to keep you busy during lockdown and discovers the trophy you've never heard of, that Liverpool are proud owners of... We also chat to Bobby Zamora, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Kemar Roofe, Robbie Fowler and more.