ALEX Ferguson has revealed that he still possesses the belt that his favourite school teacher used to beat him, crediting her with making him the great manager that he went on to develop into.
Ferguson attended Glasgow’s Broomloan Road Primary school as a child, and credits the “gritty determination” of Elizabeth Thomson for inspiring him to greatness. He maintained contact with the school teacher throughout his playing days with Rangers as well as his spells as manager of Aberdeen and Manchester United.
The recently retired manager also revealed that he was sent the belt shortly after her funeral, and has kept the prized possession that still terrifies his own grandchildren, and could go a long way into explaining his strict disciplined ways and famous ‘hairdryer’ treatment that many of his players experienced over the years.
“It’s in my study,” Ferguson said of the belt as part of The Times’ Educational Supplement’s feature 'My Best Teacher'. “My grandchildren are terrified of it. Six from that belt and you were in absolute agony. I used to try to draw my hand away.
“But that was the sort of punishment you had if you stepped out of line. In my case, it was usually for fighting in the playground.
“When she [Thomson] died, I couldn’t go to the funeral because Manchester United were playing abroad, but months later I received a parcel.
“She had bequeathed her belt to me. Her nephew sent it to me along with a letter that said: ‘You’ll know more about this belt than anyone’.”
The 72-year-old went on to recall his school days under Thomson, who he labelled an “inspiration”, and said that her defining characteristics of personality, determination and energy are a must for anyone tasked with leading other people – such as a football manager.
“Elizabeth Thomson was an inspiration to me,” Ferguson continued.
“That’s the perfect word to describe her. The area of Glasgow I grew up in, Govan, had one of the highest truancy rates in the city. She came from a different world, really. She was from a middle-class, wealthy family, but she had a raw determination about her.
“When she first got to Broomloan Road Primary, she went round to the house of every student who wasn’t in her class that day and said, ‘If your kid isn’t in school tomorrow, I’ll be back at your door’.
“Maybe 2,000 teachers turned the job down, turned down that sort of challenge, but she thrived on it. She improved everyone she touched. She actively sought out challenge.
“The three ingredients to Elizabeth, when I think about it, were personality, determination and energy. Anyone who’s in charge of someone else needs those three ingredients. It just won’t work without them.
“When I think about her now, I realise that it wasn’t all about education. Mrs Thomson endeavoured to make you want to be the best you could be.
“Yes, I think there’s part of me that comes from her. That determination and that sense of drive. That ‘never give in’ attitude she had about all her students.”
The ‘never give in’ determination that Ferguson speaks of was seen so regularly in his Manchester United side’s, with the famed ‘Fergie Time’ becoming a regular occasion in the Premier League as his United players refused to accept defeat – scoring late goals so often to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Sir Alex Ferguson is a patron of the education charity Shine, which runs the competition Let Teachers Shine to help fund innovative teacher-led ideas and raise attainment in the classroom.