Sir Alex Ferguson has recalled the moment he was asked to take the Scotland reigns following Jock Stein’s tragic death and says he has no regrets about stepping into his old mentor’s shoes.
It’s 30 years to the day since Stein tragically passed away during Scotland’s World Cup qualifier against Wales in Cardiff. Scotland’s match with Germany on Monday was marked by the presence of Jock’s son, George, who joined Ferguson on the pitch to perform a special Fair Play handshake with the teams before kick-off.
Ferguson was at Ninian Park the night that Scotland lost one of its true football giants, but prefers to remember Jock from the times they spent discussing football long into the wee hours.
Speaking exclusively to the Scottish FA, Sir Alex said: “My abiding experiences of working with him were when we used to meet up at the MacDonald hotel. He wasn’t a great sleeper and he would sit there until 2 or 3 in the morning.
“I said to him ‘Jock, I’ve got to take the train in the morning’ he said ‘You’ll be alright son’ and would shout for another pot of tea. We’d be there until about 4 or 5 in the morning!
“I always remember quizzing him about the great Celtic team and he would never take credit. It was wonderful to listen to a man who had a achieved so much be so humble about it all.
“That was a great benefit to me as a young coach and I thrived on it.
“Of all the discussions we used to have at the MacDonald Hotel, I always remember him telling me about dealing with the press. He was very clever and a great networker. On the Friday night he’d ask what’s happening and I’d tell him everything because he probably knew anyway.
“People with personality and a presence can fill a room and Jock would walk into a room and you could immediately see that. He knew everyone. It’s a great talent to have.
“He was unique and I really did love working for him. It was a privilege I had and it would give me gravitas to say that I’d worked with Jock Stein.”
1960-64 - Dunfermline
1964-65 - Hibernian
1965 - Scotland (temporary)
1965-78 - Celtic
1978 - Leeds United
1978-1985 - Scotland
Scottish Cup (x9)
Dunfermline - 1960-61
Celtic - 1964-65, 1966-67, 1968-69, 1970-71, 1971-72, 1973-74, 1974-75, 1976-77
Scottish League (x10)
Celtic - 1965–66, 1966–67, 1967–68, 1968–69, 1969–70, 1970–71, 1971–72, 1972–73, 1973–74, 1976–77
Scottish League Cup (x6)
Celtic - 1965–66, 1966–67, 1967–68, 1968–69, 1969–70, 1974–75
Celtic - 1966-67
Sir Alex took over from Jim McLean as Jock’s assistant coach in 1984 and had to juggle the role with his position as manager of Aberdeen, where a young Ferguson was in the midst of developing one of the most successful sides in Scottish football history.
After Jock’s passing in 1985, the 44-year old Ferguson was offered the chance to lead Scotland into the 1986 World Cup play-offs against Australia as manager. It was a decision that caused him serious thought:
“The difficulty I had after Jock passed away and I got the job full-time was not being able to do training sessions on Thursday with the Aberdeen team.
“When it happened we were top of the league and we ended up third, but we won two cups and we could have won the treble. Given the importance of Scotland getting to the World Cup – especially after Jock had passed away - I think I was right to spend the time I did with Scotland.”
“I think they had other options. Ernie Walker (Scottish FA President at the time) had a decision to make and I think he was a bit concerned that I already had a job.
“I knew I had a good job at Aberdeen and I knew I had a responsibility to do well there but I was hopeful they would invite me.”
“I got that opportunity and I passed it over Dick’s head and he was fine. Then I started preparing for the games against Australia, which was a two legged tie.”
Scotland went on to beat Australia and qualify for the World Cup in Mexico that year with Ferguson drawing on the experience and advice handed down to him by Jock.
The former Manchester United coach tells one particular tale from Aberdeen’s legendary Cup Winners Cup triumph over Real Madrid in 1983. Sir Alex had invited Jock out with the team and was offered a few words of advice from the man who had led Celtic to their famous European Cup triumph 16 years previously.
Sir Alex recalls: “When Aberdeen got to the final in Gothenburg I invited him out with us. There were two reasons for that. Firstly, the players see him come onto the coach with me, that great presence, plus the wee things he was saying to me that would help me.
“Jock told me to get a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label and give it to the Real Madrid manager when we got to the ground prior to the game.
“So I got the bottle and when I reached the stadium on the night of the game there were people milling around. I saw him and I said ‘Mr Di Stefano, I’d like to present you this bottle on behalf of all the Scots people’. He was completely taken aback. He didn’t know what to say.
“It had a good effect. It said you, Real Madrid, are a massive club and we’re just a wee minnow from Scotland. It’s a pleasure to be on the field with you. So little things like that.”