Everyone in football has heard of the famous Fergie hairdryer, the tsunami of hot air that blows out of the mouth of the big man, Sir Alex Ferguson, but few have ever experienced it.
It's a treatment I don't recommend to anyone and I can say that with all the conviction of someone who's felt it first hand - and on the pitch at Old Trafford, to boot, in front of the entire Manchester United first-team squad.
The occasion was during the Japanese electronics giant, Sharp's, sponsorship of United, a happy relationship that endured for 18 years.
As part of the Sharp marketing plan, we used to shoot some on-pitch pictures at the start of the new season. You know, the one where all the players line up for the team photo, but we would add all the Sharp products in front of the squad. The picture was then produced as a poster for Sharp customers to enjoy. It was a job I really used to relish, as it was a chance to see behind the scenes at the Club and to witness the banter between the players and staff.
I duly arrived at Old Trafford at the appointed time, on a beautiful sunny day at the end of July. I parked right at the side of the ground, as I'd done many times before and walked through an open gate with two of my bags to meet Sharp's PR man Tony Metcalfe on the pitch, where he was waiting for the players. Pauline Temple, secretary to United chairman Martin Edwards, had joined us as we discussed our game plan for the shots.
I then walked back through the open gate to collect the rest of my kit. While I was in the process of doing so, United had put a real 'jobsworth' of a Steward on the open gate. As I tried to re-enter the ground I was met by the Steward in full 'talk to the hand' mode. "You can't come in here with that son! All press have to go around the Stadium and enter over there!"
"But I've only just come out" I protested. "Sorry, mate, all the way round there, press" "I'm not press", I said, but he wasn't having any of it. I pointed through to the pitch and gestured to him to have a look at the pitch with my two bags on it, next to Tony and Pauline.
"There are my bags and I'm just going back with these!" "No you're not, right round the ground and the other gate" he snarled. He wasn't giving way, but I was determined. "Look, I'm going through here and if you've got a problem with it, then come with me and speak to the Chairman's Secretary who knows me"! I wasn't rude to him; I didn't push him out of the way. I was just positive and determined.
I duly arrived on the pitch again, told Tony I'd got stuck and then set about getting ready. I crouched down to set up my tripod and as I rose, I came face to face, nose to nose with plain Alex Ferguson, but although, to be frank, there was nothing plain about him or his demeanour. His face, though, was the colour of United' s shirts and his forefinger was jabbing at my eye and I felt the hot blast of his breath as he exploded: "if my fucking steward says you're not coming on my pitch - you're not coming on my fucking pitch"! My head was going further and further back as his finger probed my face. I could practically see what he'd had for lunch, but I stood firm. The tirade was only short, but it was enough to set my heart pounding as if in a near miss whilst driving.
As my heart started to calm, Tony Metcalfe sped over and said "What the bloody hell did you say to him?" "Not a thing", I replied, "I couldn't get a bloody word in" I instantly realised that I'd encountered the Fergie Hairdryer first hand! I tell you what, if you were a player and he'd given you that, you'd have been pulling your tripe out in the second half or in the next game. I nearly had to change my underwear, I promise you.
Needless to say, the players thought it was all great fun - at my expense!
As we came to take the picture for Sharp, both Fergie and I realised what had happened. He obviously thought I was a press photographer and then it dawned on him, as he sat with my heroes all round him, that I was the Sharp photographer.
From this point Alex Ferguson became a completely different person with me. Consequently, he lets on to me whenever we meet or bump into each other. So much so, that I have even been on a payphone at Manchester Airport and he's arrived on a flight, only for him to come over while I'm talking and say, in a whispered voice "Hi son! How are you doing?" in that thick Govan accent. I love the man!
During those eighteen seasons of Sharp's sponsorship, I met and worked with some of the finest footballers in England, indeed the world. Bryan Robson, Mark Hughes, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Peter Schmeichel, Roy Keane, Eric 'The King' Cantona etc. etc., the list goes on. Some of them were a pain in the arse, but most were brilliant to me. I even used to take my kids, Jon and Chris in, and they have pictures with all their heroes. Leading all these legends was the Greatest Football Manager, not only at United, but in the world, was Alex Ferguson - God! I never thought that one day God and I would come nose to nose, literally, and I would be subjected to Fergie's 'hairdryer". It wasn't fun at the time, but when I'm sitting in my pipe and slippers, it'll be a memory of a lifetime.
As I say, most of the players were great to work with. Giggs in particular was a really nice bloke. He was the heartthrob at United until Beckham appeared on the scene, and I have to say he was twice the player of the Spice Boy! He must have been dead chuffed that Beckham took all the attention away from him. Ryan would always let on, even away from Old Trafford or the old training ground at The Cliff, he would always acknowledge me, and still does to this day.
Strangely enough, two of my biggest heroes were also the biggest pains in the arse to deal with. Both Mark Hughes and Roy Keane used to arrive at the Sharp Suite with a 'how long is this gonna take' or a 'get on with it!' United were always 'difficult' -working at City was a lot easier and friendlier, as any snapper or scribe will confirm. We all felt the same. United have always had the attitude "we're Man United - who the hell are you?" Unfortunately, as an avid fan, I can tell you this runs right through the club, from media to ticket sales! City was always a more welcoming Club, it chokes me to say, but maybe under its new Middle Eastern ownership, it'll become a bit more up itself. Knowing City, though, they'll implode before long anyway!
Sharp Electronics not only led me into the company of Manchester United's illustrious players, but it was to become one of the most important clients we ever had the good fortune to win and to work with. The Japanese company had opened an office in Newton Heath, Manchester and as part of its marketing and PR programme, went for the biggie - sponsorship of the mighty Reds, Manchester United.
Like a lot of these things, we'd won the work by a slight bit of fortune. Sharp's PR man who was looking after this sponsorship deal was a lovely little Yorkshire man, Tony Metcalfe, who knew me previously from covering the Waterloo Bowls at Blackpool for Tom Thumb cigars! "How' d you like to cover a job at Man United for me?" the phone call went. "How much do I have to pay you?" I came back - me, work at United!! Brilliant! It had been my football team since I was a kid when my mum and dad took me along and put me in the Trafford Road Paddock.
"We want you to take a shot, on the pitch, of United's Chairman, Martin Edwards and Sharp's Chairman, Toshi Mitsuda signing the agreement". "No problem, maybe I could stay and watch the game, too?" "Yeah, do that as I want to talk to you about some other work with United and Sharp when I see you." said Tony. And so began what was a major amount of work (and pleasure) with Manchester United. Tony had wanted to see me to ask if I would be interested in shooting some Sharp guests with the players at every home game throughout the Season! Was I interested? "How much do I have to pay you" I said again. It was to be the start of an 18- year relationship - and all because I'd done Tony a good job on two bowls competitions in Blackpool! Crazy!!