Famous bosses' not-so-famous brothers: Shankly, Fergie and more
Managed: Waterford United, East Stirlingshire, Albion Rovers
Words: Chris Flanagan
Martin Ferguson’s philosophy was clear. “My ideas about football are a bit like Alex’s,” he once explained. “We are totally opposed to negative play. There was only once or twice last season that I asked my men to play defensively. On one of those occasions we lost 6-0.”
The year was 1982 and Martin was in charge of East Stirlingshire, just as older brother Alex had been eight years earlier. For Alex, it was a springboard on to bigger things. The future knight of the realm was in charge of the Scottish minnows for just 117 days, but that was long enough to impose his will and hunger for success. Forward Bobby McCulley called him as “a frightening bastard from the start” and a run of wins – including a first league victory over their neighbours Falkirk for 70 years – quickly earned Alex a job offer from St Mirren.
For Martin, things didn’t go quite so well. East Stirlingshire was his second job in the dugout. The former Partick, Barnsley and Doncaster inside-forward, who began his playing career at the scintillatingly named Kirkintilloch Rob Roy, had first moved into management as player-boss of Irish club Waterford in 1967. He was only 25 years old, but Rovers boss Keith Kettleborough had spotted his managerial potential and recommended Ferguson for the job.
Martin worked as a coach at Albion Rovers before getting the East Stirlingshire job not long after Alex had won his first Scottish league title with Aberdeen
Ferguson helped Waterford to the league title and the final of the FAI Cup. He left just before that final after a disagreement with the club chairman, only a year into the job, and could only watch on from Scotland as Waterford faced Manchester United in the European Cup months later.
It would be 13 years before he’d manage again. Martin worked as a coach at Albion Rovers before getting the East Stirlingshire job, not long after Alex had won his first Scottish league title with Aberdeen.
“I took on the job at East Stirling only after a chat with Alex,” Martin said. “He told me the board wouldn’t interfere; that they were not hirers and firers.”
Martin combined the role with a full-time job selling welding rods. There was little glamour at that level of Scottish football. Finances were tight. “At this level it’s a shoestring existence,” he said. “Every penny is a prisoner.”
Facing injury problems, Martin couldn’t prevent East Stirlingshire from dropping out of the second tier in his first season, a level to which they have never returned. He responded with the same ruthless streak his older brother deployed at will. “I was disappointed with the attitude of some of my players last season,” he said after East Stirlingshire’s relegation. “What annoyed me was that some of them felt they were better than they were, so I got rid of so-called stars. I freed seven.”
He did enjoy success as a coach, helping St Mirren and Hibernian into Europe before moving to Manchester United in 1997 to work for Alex as chief European scout
Asked if he had ambitions to follow his brother up the ladder, there were mixed signals. “I’m in this as a hobby and not for the money,” Martin said. “If I weren’t at East Stirling I would be somewhere else. Full-time? I would like the chance to try it, but it’s a big upheaval for your family.
“I look at my brother Alex’s commitment to the game, which is total, and know that it would have to be the same for me. But you must be working for the right club.”
East Stirlingshire started badly in the third tier and Martin departed, taking over as boss of Albion Rovers. He lasted less than a year, with limited success, just as Alex was masterminding Aberdeen’s European Cup Winners’ Cup triumph over Real Madrid. Martin never managed again.
He did, though, enjoy success as a coach, helping St Mirren and Hibernian into Europe before moving to Manchester United in 1997 to work for Alex as chief European scout. He helped bring in the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy and Jaap Stam (as well as Liam Miller and Kleberson) before calling time on his career in 2013 – only to be then caught out by Alex’s surprise retirement at the end of that same season.
“I told him I knew what he was up to, trying to steal my thunder ahead of my retirement,” he said, tongue firmly in cheek. “I had all the press and television lined up for me making my own announcement, but now he’s gone and spoiled it...”
It perhaps summed up his career in the game: overshadowed by his older brother until the very end. But few acts have ever been tougher to follow.
Next: More interesting international experience than his big bro