Sir Alex retires to life on the Edge
The United manager can now relax at home in an area that's full of working-class families made good run by tough women. Much like the Ferguson household
"Alderley Edge resident Sir Alex Ferguson announces his retirement." The Macclesfield Express knows a splash, and Fergie stepping down as United manager only makes the front page because of his home's postcode. Otherwise the paper would have reacted as the rest of the nation's press: soberly, without hyberbole and with a small piece along the lines of "71-year-old retires – plans for marathon Homes Under The Hammer session thwarted when wife hands him screwdriver and points to dodgy hinge on back gate".
The headline is not without local controversy, however: plenty of residents of Wilmslow, the slightly larger town next to Alderley Edge, would claim Sir Alex as their own. I grew up in Wilmslow. Wilmslow is proud of its celebrities: we boast Denise Welch, Russell Watson, a brace of footballers and, for a while, Kerry Katona. Kerry's house was round the corner from my mum and dad's; an enormous brand new job, facing the road. When she lived there, with the charming Mark Croft, the paparazzi parked up in their motorhomes, sat on a bench smoking cigs. "They don't look very happy," reported my mum. I don't know what their problem was: Kerry's house had no fence or hedge around it, nothing to impede a long lens. It's that attention to detail that can make a career.
Anyway, Sir Alex has lived in the area for a long time, first in a mock Tudor mansion – we're big on mock Tudor in Wilmslow, and one day you mid-century snobs will catch on – then in another house, built to spec. You didn't see him about much. He was too busy working: up at 6.10am every weekday, into Old Trafford by ten to seven, he managed the occasional excursion to the cinema (5pm showing). He was never one for hanging out in Wilmslow's no-caps-no-trainers bars, or snipping ribbons at the opening of sunbed salons, tux-and-tie-ing at local fundraisers. He left that to others, the TV presenters and models, the Coronation Street actors, the Hollyoaks stars.
Wilmslow and Alderley Edge, along with Prestbury, Hale, Bowden and parts of the Pennines are where Mancunians move to once they've made their money. There's a respect for wealth here: at least, for a certain type. Money and status are hard-won (not many are to the manor born) and most of the local rich made their cash from business. Peter Jones, head of Emerson, a property empire, began as a carpenter. Rupert Webb, who owns Freedom Finance, started his company in his bedroom in 1983. The rest feathered their bank accounts via entertainment: music, telly and football.
Ah, football, You can't not know about football in the north west. Even if you don't care, you absorb it by osmosis, like the songs of the Stone Roses, or how to walk in the style of a gibbon with a cob-on. Football has long been one of the biggest money-spinners in the area and, now that City have big pockets too, it's getting even bigger.
A friend of mine recently went to a gym in Didsbury, south Manchester, early on a Saturday morning. The place was overrun with young women, settling themselves in for a hard day's workout perfecting their hair and make-up for the evening. They were spending 12 hours getting ready, just to hang in a Deansgate bar in the hopes that a baby millionaire, an almost-man with fortunate feet, might slobber WKD all over their beautifully tonged locks, grab their well-moisturised bum.
Football has changed over the past 20 years; Wilmslow has changed with it. The smaller shops and pubs are dying: wine bars, restaurants and nightclubs are where the money sloshes. Alex Ferguson, a working-class socialist, an old school paterfamilias, is a connection back to the game's past. His first Wilmslow house was called Fairfields, after the Govan shipyard his dad worked in. Under his regime, Manchester United players got paid weekly. They queue up on a Friday, like working men who've put in their shifts, and receive their wage slips one at a time.
Ferguson's values and attitudes come from a time when footballers didn't make a yearly wage in seven days. He demanded loyalty, a work ethic, he knew his job and expected his players to know theirs. He encouraged them to marry and settle down, live a quiet life outside football: famously, he once rocked up at Lee Sharpe's house and blasted him and Ryan Giggs for having a party. In Ferguson's leaving statement, he paid tribute to his wife, Cathy, and their family before thanking the players.
There's a photo of Sir Alex and Cathy at Buckingham Palace, above, when he received his knighthood in 1999. Cathy is dressed appropriately, in a coordinating hat, jacket, skirt and handbag, a short string of pearls at her throat. No overdone Wag nonsense. Cathy doesn't care about football: when she told her husband to "retire when you're tired" – this was when he was 60 — she was thinking of the broader picture. Her priority is the family, she runs the household. She didn't want a thwarted old man getting under her feet all day.
And, of course, there are plenty of working class-made-good families like hers in Wilmslow; ones run by tough women, some working, some not, keeping the home in order while the men go out and earn. Away from the shiny-floored wine-bars, the motor showrooms, the boutiques that make you ring on a doorbell before they will unlock the door, Wilmslow has allotments and kids cycling clubs and am-dram societies that put on free shows for Christmas. There's the river Bollin and the countryside around it where people walk their dogs, take their grandkids to the playpark near the church hall.
Perhaps Alex Ferguson will enjoy that aspect of Wilmslow in his retirement, though I suspect Cathy will shove him in the direction of Old Trafford for at least three days a week. Anyway, it might be nice to see him out and about. Stuart Hall and William Roache, once the jovial bon vivants of the local celeb scene, don't seem to socialise as much as they used to.
Filed under: Euro 2012
Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!