Alex Ferguson: Never Give In – A solid and fast-moving tribute

Film review: This intimate portrait is consistently engaging– even for a Liverpool fan

Driven: Alex Ferguson

Film Title: Alex Ferguson: Never Give In

Director: Jason Ferguson

Starring: Alex Ferguson, Cathy Ferguson, Ryan Giggs, Eric Cantona, Jason Ferguson

Genre: Documentary

Running Time: 100 min

Fri, May 28, 2021, 05:00

   

The chants of “Fergie out” from the terraces at Old Trafford in 1989 remind us of a time when club managers were given the space to fail so that they might, in time, win more silverware than any other club manager in history. If you’re after boot-room bust-ups with Stam, Rooney, Beckham or Keane, you won’t find them here. Tactical notes flash onscreen but tricks of the trade are few: “Psychology is someone else’s word,” says Alex Ferguson. “I call it management.” The what of Gibraltar?

The hairdryer has seldom seemed balmier than it does in this documentary portrait of Man United’s longest-serving gaffer. Ryan Giggs and Eric Cantona pay homage. Mostly, though, Alex Ferguson: Never Give In – which was directed by Ferguson’s son Jason – is an intimate affair. 

An opening barrage of rapid-fire questions establishes the subject’s seemingly infallible memory. May 5th, 2018, however, is a blank. The potentially fatal brain haemorrhage that Ferguson suffers that day, and the family’s frantic call to emergency services, provide a framing device for a solidly constructed documentary.

Never Give In is at its most detailed and engaging when recounting Ferguson’s working-class upbringing in the shadow of the shipyards of Govan, his apprenticeship as a toolmaker, his time as a shop steward, and the sleep deprivation that came with juggling full-time labour with a footballing career. He gives a touching account of his romance with Cathy, his wife since 1966. 

If he has one regret, it seems, it was not telling the Rangers director where to go when asked if the couple had married in a chapel. “I should have told him to f**k off,” he says. “I let myself down and I let my wife down, that was the most important thing. She was a devout Catholic.”

Rangers, the club he supported as a boy, is something of a sore spot. Ibrox, he suggests, scapegoated him for a defeat to Celtic in the 1969 Scottish Cup final. That hardly matters in a career that included winning the European Cup Winners’ Cup with Aberdeen in 1983 and that 1999 sucker- punch from Manchester United against Bayern Munich.

As a Liverpool fan, this critic is hardly the target audience. But if this consistently engaging film has a flaw – here are words I did not expect to write – it’s the truncation of the Man United years. It’s the only shock in a fond, fast-moving tribute.