Sir Alex Ferguson could be a bully, a tyrant and control freak – and once banned me from Manchester United’s training ground for two-and-a-half years.
But it’s fair to say that he is also a contradiction of a man who helped me on more than one occasion.
I hope the upcoming film of his life captures this.
When I became the Manchester correspondent for the Press Association in 1996, my first encounter with Fergie saw him utter the never-to-be-forgotten question “who the f**k are you” when I walked into a room at United’s old training ground at the Cliff.
A year later he granted me a one-on-one interview in which he revealed that it was his plan to retire at the age of 60 in 2002.
He told me how his father had died within a few weeks of his retirement after working his entire adult life in the Govan shipyards – and he was scared of suffering the same fate.
Of course, Sir Alex later had a change of heart – but the story I filed that day was on the back page of every national newspaper the following day.
And, within weeks, I was offered a job on one of those newspapers.
When I approached Fergie to thank him for his time and candour and explained that I was now heading for Fleet Street his response was typical.
“If I thought you’d end up there I wouldn’t have given you the interview. That isn’t a newspaper, it’s a f*****g comic!”
Carlos Tevez joining Manchester City in 2009 was a particular sore he couldn’t help pick at, especially when his nouveau riche neighbours welcomed the Argentine to Manchester with that famous giant poster.
Fergie knew I had good contacts at the Etihad, so after raging that City were a “small club with a small mentality” when I asked him about the poster on United’s tour of the Far East that summer, he later approached me to ask why they had done it.
“To get under United’s skin,” I said. “And it looks like it’s worked.”
Indeed it had. To the extent that my ban from Carrington was announced after he had criticised Tevez ahead of United’s League Cup semi-final second leg with City in early 2010 and club officials later tried to take his quotes off the record.
When I was eventually allowed back in, I never felt any lingering animosity.
When I ghost wrote the autobiography of former United goalkeeper and coach Tony Coton in 2017, Sir Alex was enjoying retirement.
The publishers felt that he would be the perfect person to write the foreword.
The only problem was that when I approached Fergie’s son, Jason, I was told his father was on holiday and wouldn’t be in a position to write anything before the final manuscript was scheduled to be sent to the publisher.
Jason told me to leave it with him – and the following morning I received an email not only confirming that Sir Alex would be delighted to pay tribute to TC, but an attachment with 500 words of pure gold dust.
Of course, he did it as a favour to Tony, someone who had worked alongside him for a decade.
But taking a break from his holiday to help showed a side of the man that has often been lost in the legend of the Hairdryer.