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04th Dec 2019

What really happened when Sir Alex kicked a boot at Becks’ head

Patrick McCarry

Sponsored by Paddy Power

At least Fergie didn’t use his cricket bat…

David Beckham never saw it coming.

Alex Ferguson ruled Manchester United with an iron fist and wrung the very best out of generations of players to lead them to 13 league and two European Cup titles (and many others) during his time in charge.

Ferguson used to claim that no player was bigger than the club – leading to transfers of senior stars such as Paul Ince, Mark Hughes, Jaap Stam, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Roy Keane and Beckham himself. A more accurate claim would have been no player was bigger than Ferguson.

Beckham had been in the senior squad for just over a decade, and was part of an unprecedented period of success for the club, but Ferguson wearied of his midfielder being drawn more and more into celebrity culture. It was all fine and good when United were winning but when performances dipped, the Scot saw red.

The good times

The beginning of the end

The resolution

One incident, in February 2003, marked the beginning of the end for Beckham at United. The Red Devils were eliminated from the FA Cup when Arsenal – helped by Ryan Giggs missing an awful sitter – beat them 2-0 at Old Trafford.

“Imagine there’s Old Trafford’s training ground. Imagine everyone is sitting on the sides. The Gaffer walks in from one end of the room and he just kicks a boot,” said Becks’ former teammate Wes Brown on the latest episode of Liquid Football.

“It could have hit anyone. I’m not even lying. I was there! It could have hit anyone. How can the Gaffer kick a boot from there to (way over) there and it hit Becks on the eye?

“Tell you what, if he’d meant it, it was a fucking good shot. There’s no way he could have meant it. Absolutely not.”

The way Ferguson described it, in his book My Autobiography, was that Beckham swore and that he kicked a boot in his direction. The midfielder rose to get at Ferguson, he recalled, but his teammates stopped him.

If Beckham did swear, according to Brown’s take, it was not in a demonstrative way.

“Becks had his head down; he didn’t see it coming… It was one of those things. Becks, there was a bit of blood, stitches, so it’s going to get out. He’s David Beckham, isn’t he?”

Beckham left United for Real Madrid that summer and it took a few seasons before his relationship with Ferguson could begin to be repaired. He returned to Old Trafford in 2007, four years after he left the club, and declared, “You’ve got the best manager in the world at this club. It was the best time of my football career. I want to say thank you to the fans and the people of this club.”

While Beckham took a kicked boot to the head, Brown jokes that he was fortunate to avoid getting a thwack from Ferguson’s cricket back.

“I don’t think you’d get away with it now, but it was normal back in the day.”

“Yeah, yeah [he whacked me],” Brown added. “I wasn’t even looking, as well, because I was panicking, but it started off… He told me to stop getting the bus, first, because I used to get the bus to games, believe it or not, which was normal. This was the bus, honestly, to Old Trafford.

“He told me to stop getting the bus and I was like, ‘Alright, no problem’. And then he told me I had to move from where I lived, from where I was from. I was like, ‘Alright boss, that’s fine, but I can’t afford it’. So he gave me a new contract. Then he said, ‘Right, go sort yourself out’.

“I thought to myself – what was I? 19? – let’s go get a nice little pad in the city centre.”

Word, as it invariably did, got back to Ferguson and he invited Brown up to his office, one day, to ask if he had sort out his new living quarters.

Brown continued: “And I’m like, ‘Boss, unbelievable. Unbelievable!’ And he’s gone, ‘Aw, that’s good. Where is it?’

“I put my head down and, not really looking at him, said, ‘Aw, city centre, boss’. I swear to God, before I looked up, I just got the whack! Pssshh!’

“Just a little, just a little bang… but he wasn’t f***ing joking, no.

“The first thing he said was, ‘Have you signed for it’. I said, ‘No’ and he said, ‘Don’t you sign for it. I’m going to get it sorted for ya’, and then he started swearing to himself. Then I left and he sorted it for me… But, yeah, I moved to a quieter area.”

Ruling with an iron fist, a cricket bat and whatever boots he could hoof about.