I am a great admirer of Quentin Letts. His use of the language is quite splendid; his impressive commitments, on the Daily Mail and elsewhere, must surely make him the nation’s hardest-working hack. He’s even shrugged off the demands of the workload to write a book, endearingly entitled Fifty People Who Buggered Up Britain, serialised this week in the Mail.
But he must take care. Included in his roll of shame is Sir Alex Ferguson, the notoriously combative manager of Manchester United, of whom Letts says: “When Manchester United declined to enter the FA Cup one year, it was Ferguson who was said to have formed the view that the game’s oldest, best-loved cup competition was expendable. Money-making was more important to United.
“Should the FA Cup – offering small clubs a chance of glory, as it does – not have appealed to his alleged socialist instincts?
“Or was it simply that this bloated egotist could not give a stuff about the lower reaches of the game and that he considered himself and his club to be far bigger than anything so meagre as ‘the spirit of the game’?”
Strong stuff, and unfortunately completely wrong. We must rewind to the very same Daily Mail of October 4th, where David Davies, executive director of the FA at the time and therefore someone who could be expected to know the truth, writes: “United were completely torn, agonising over the decision. They seriously considered entering their youth team to defend the Cup. But the view of some of the coaches was that if United drew Liverpool at Anfield and got stuffed 5-0, some of their kids might never recover. United also felt it would demean the Cup.
“Right from the start Fergie was shocked about even the thought of forsaking the Cup for a season. His respect for the Cup ran deep – that famous Wembley victory over Crystal Palace in 1990 may even have saved Fergie’s job.”
So careful there, Quentin. We wouldn’t want the book to be pulped before it even hits the shelves.