The caring side of Fergie

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Two days before Sir Alex Ferguson went on his recent holiday, he drove to a suburb in Bury to see his long time friend, the former Manchester United kitman Norman Davies.

Norman was seriously ill after a long battle with cancer, but Ferguson cheered him up, just as he had done on his frequent visits, playing football in his garden with Norman’s grandchildren and giving each £20 as a treat. Because of the convoluted makeup of families in modern Britain, one of those grandchildren is my little brother. Ferguson and wife Cathy never forget a birthday or Christmas present for him.

Norman passed away a couple of days later. Last Tuesday, Ferguson broke off his holiday in France to attend the funeral in Flixton, west Manchester. He drove straight to a semi-detached house in an area full of United fans, where he picked up Norman’s wife Hilary and took her to St Michael’s Church, overlooking the Mersey valley. It’s a beautiful spot on the edge of Greater Manchester’s urban sprawl where Busby Babes captain Roger Byrne’s funeral service took place 50 years ago.

At Norman's funeral, Ferguson spoke of the value of loyalty, trust, the nature of friendship and of the great loss of a dear friend. Davies, a former taxi driver with Crystal Cabs from Stretford, was given a job by then United manager Tommy Docherty in 1973 and served as kitman until his retirement in 1996. His retirement was marked by a large black tie dinner at the Midland Hotel, where Eric Cantona turned up without a black tie. The players chipped in and bought him a car.

Cantona wasn’t at his funeral last Tuesday, but Denis Law was. And Paddy Crerand, Mark Hughes, Brian Kidd, Ray Wilkins, Ron Atkinson, Gary Pallister, Sammy McIlroy, Phil Neville, Paul Scholes, Frank Stapleton, Arthur Albiston, Tony Coton, Alex Stepney, Carlos Sartori, Martin Buchan and Martin Edwards among many others.

David and Victoria Beckham sent a beautiful bunch of flowers, with David writing that he’ll never forget Norman because he gave him the best boots. The respect was genuine - Davies was invited to the Beckhams’ wedding in 1999.

After the funeral, the mourners went to Old Trafford, where Manchester United laid on food and drink in a function room overlooking the pitch. United had suggested Manchester Cathedral for the funeral, but Norman – who was sent to escort Eric Cantona to the dressing room following his ‘Kung Fu’ kick at Selhurst Park in 1995 - wasn’t one for the fuss of “town.”

There are many sides to Manchester United. And people don’t always get to read about the good ones. Nor do they get to read about people like Davies, characters at the hub of every football club who see much and say little out of loyalty. Faces that appear on television screens in front of millions as they sit next to the biggest names, yet faces which remain relatively anonymous. RIP.