We just started subscribing to Paramount+, and I was delighted to see that one of the movies available was Sir Alex Ferguson – Never Give In. It’s a delightful documentary that shows the depths and roots of the man, and how his environment shaped his coaching career.
The film is directed by his son, Jason Ferguson. For 2 years, they had been working on an audio history of Fergie’s life, when producers asked Jason to also direct the bio as his first movie. Right after agreeing to do it, however, Fergie suffered a brain hemorrhage in 2018. His chances of survival were slim, and the first part of the film jumps back and forth between his illness and his early career. We see how Fergie’s recovery mirrored the fortitude he applied throughout his approach to football.
Fergie’s early life and long career
To me, the first part of the film is very enjoyable because the director envisions through CGI and his father’s stories, what life was like in Fergie’s boyhood neighborhood between the Rangers stadium and the shipyards. It’s a bustling but grim-looking working class area with a touch of socialism. Football is a way out. Because the film depicts such a classic period, it reminds me quite a bit of the Making Shankly, even though Shankly played 30 years earlier.
Fergie apprenticed as a tool maker and tried to practice with the St Johnstone reserve team at night. Fergie admits to losing discipline from the daily grind, and one of the impactful stories of the film is how his truant behavior actually led to his big breakthrough opportunity. At around 22, he scored a hat trick against Rangers. Without this performance, he might never have made it into football.
By age 25, he was playing for Rangers, but he became the scapegoat for a devastating 0-4 Cup loss to Celtic and was dropped. By age 32 he was coaching, and by 35 he was managing Aberdeen in what looks like deplorable conditions. In his second season, we see young Fergie’s Aberdeen defeat both Rangers and Celtic to win the Scottish League for the first time in 25 years. People comment how driven Fergie was to defeat Rangers, and you have to think it was to make a point.
Fergie and former star player Gordon Strachan tell stories about the high standards Fergie set at Aberdeen, as he had learned at Rangers. When Fergie got assistant Archie Knox, it was like the players had 2 tough coaches, with Fergie the bad cop and Knox the worse cop. But the discipline and determination to “never give in” and to live up to expectations led to Fergie’s first European championship.
From there, he headed to ManU, which was at the bottom of the First Division (forerunner to the EPL). The rest of the film covers his major successes with ManU, and there is footage of the squads and players that perhaps he valued the most. The players of the Class of 92 figure heavily. Fergie states that his greatest game was the 1999 Champions League Final, where 2 stoppage time goals defeated Bayern Munich. He famously coins the phrase, “Football? Bloody hell!” and credits the team’s “never give in” mentality.
There is plenty of football action in this film, even including footage of Fergie’s own playing days. With such a long and successful career, you have to do a lot of editing to keep to the high points and the most meaningful events. But Director Ferguson also frames these events with explanations of why they are important to his father. In a way, it makes the documentary very succinct and engaging.
On the personal side, Fergie is not the kind of guy to express regrets; he only looks forward. But he does acknowledge to his son that he was a largely absent father, as football was his life. And although Fergie always looks ahead, he also enjoys his memories and telling stories from his past.
So his biggest concern about his TBI is whether or not he will retain his memory. It made me feel that one of the primary reasons for Director Ferguson’s making this film was to ensure that his father’s history and memory would be preserved. In that sense, the film is like a love letter and a thank you to his Dad.
(Note to my kids: I’m ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille)
This is such a good film. If you have Paramount+, you should take the time to watch it while you can. It’s already been on the platform for 2 years, and who knows how much longer it will be streamable. If you don’t have Paramount+, this film is surely worth a short subscription.
9 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 9