x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Fergie still banging the Drum

Sir Alex Ferguson has never forgotten the debt he owes Douglas Smith who, in his own modest way, was as influential to Scottish football as Jock Stein, Sir Matt Busby and Bill Shankly.

Ferguson holds the Carling Cup on Sunday, the 42nd trophy of his managerial career.
Ferguson holds the Carling Cup on Sunday, the 42nd trophy of his managerial career.

As Sir Alex Ferguson reflects on the 42nd trophy of his managerial career, he has never forgotten the debt he owes Douglas Smith who, in his own modest way, was as influential to Scottish football as Jock Stein, Sir Matt Busby and Bill Shankly. As founder of Drumchapel Amateurs, the boys' club he ran from 1950 until his death at the age of 76 in 2004, Smith provided Scotland with 27 full internationals - Kenny Dalglish, Asa Hartford, Archie Gemmill, John Wark, John Robertson, Pat Crerand and Mo Johnston among them - from a conveyor belt of talent that turned more than 300 youngsters into professional footballers.

After graduating from Cambridge University with a degree in engineering, Smith was invalided out of the Army as an infantry officer in 1949 after being seriously injured during a training exercise and returned to his home near Dumbarton to run the family's successful ship-breaking business. His twin loves, football and the church, brought him an invitation to manage the Boys' Brigade team in Drumchapel, then a leafy village on the outskirts of Glasgow before it became a sprawling council estate of 30,000 souls

Over the next half-century, Smith transformed his amateur team into one of the most successful youth clubs in Europe, at every age level from under 14 to under 18. "Douglas Smith was a fantastic man," recalls Sir Alex, the Manchester United manager who played for 'the Drum', as they were affectionately known, until he joined Queen's Park shortly after his 16th birthday. "It helped that he was very rich but it wasn't just about money - he devoted an incredible amount of time to us.

"Douglas Smith didn't only teach you about football, he also instilled in you a code of life - discipline, cleanliness, good time-keeping, no swearing, sportsmanship, but how to be competitive as well. "He was also a great visionary. Just as Sir Matt Busby [the former United manager] was always fascinated by European football, so Douglas was taking us lads to Europe in the 1950s to play the youth sides of Barcelona, Juventus, AC Milan, Roma, Fiorentina and Moscow Spartak."

Smith, the millionaire shipyard owner, and Fergie, the son of a Govan shipyard worker, remained in regular contact for 50 years. "Although we were amateurs, he treated us like professionals. The organisation and preparations were meticulous. "Every Thursday we'd receive a time-table for the following Saturday informing us who we were playing, where we were to meet and who would collect us if we needed a lift after playing for our schools in the morning.

"Then we were taken to Reid's tea-rooms in Glasgow for lunch - we were in one room and Queen's Park were invariably next door -which made us feel even more professional. The bother Douglas went to was simply unbelievable. "Occasionally, eight or nine of us would pile into his big Rover - I can remember going with Eddie McCreadie, who went on to play for Chelsea and Scotland, and the best young player of all in my days, David Thompson, who went to America to become a song-writer - to be taken for Sunday lunch.

"We were driven to Douglas's huge mansion where we trooped through his orchard to play football on his private bowling green." But surely the sight of Drumchapel's green-and-white hooped shirt hanging on the washing-line in the back court of the Ferguson family home caused a few raised eyebrows down Govan way, an area traditionally populated by those of a Rangers' persuasion? "Not at all. Douglas couldn't be bothered with any of that sectarian nonsense.

"He couldn't care less about your religion. The lessons I learnt while playing for Drumchapel have stood me in great stead throughout my career - Douglas Smith was a wonderful man and a massive influence." Sir Alex might not have been the greatest player to emerge from "the Drum" but Douglas Smith would be a proud, proud man. rphilip@thenational.ae