Manchester United vs Sunderland ‘Who are You?’: (1) the Ta Ra Fergie man

Colin Randall writes: Pete Molyneux** is a Manchester United fan with form. Cast your minds back to 1989. Pete was fed up. Now we think we know all about Being Fed Up. It has a different meaning among United fans – they’d lost a home game, for heaven’s sake – but Pete felt it all the same. And he declared his unhappiness by unfurling a banner proclaiming “3 YEARS OF EXC– — USES AND IT’S STILL C*** … TA RA FERGIE” at Old Trafford.

There were no asterisks
, of course, but I always worry about the sensitivity of others. In any event, both – Pete and Fergie – stuck at it and were richly rewarded as United expectations of winning everything in sight was rewarded by, well, winning lots. And last year, the book of the banner – Ta Ra Fergie – The Legacy of the World’s Greatest Football Manager* – appeared.

It surely makes all the amends needed. Pete seems a great bloke and has done us proud with these answers ahead of MUFC v SAFC on Saturday. I think it makes sense to start with his description of the banner protest, plus his thoughts on matters closer to our own hearts and run the rest tomorrow. The ‘rest’ includes great thoughts on, memories of Sunderland …

See it at

Jake demands answers
Jake demands answers

Salut! Sunderland: You came to admire SAF, of course. Was he ultimately impossible to follow and needed an easily disposable caretaker type (Moyes) pending a real replacement?

Pete: Sir Alex is the most successful and longest serving manager of all time in British football and he’s done it at Manchester United where the expectations are always high. We might not get another like him. We’ve been blessed to have him and Sir Matt. But no, I don’t think he was impossible to follow.

Along with many other Reds I wanted Mourinho, in fact when Madrid played at Old Trafford last March I was convinced he already had the job given how self-effacing and apologetic he was about beating us. United of 2014 need a man who has won league titles in two countries and won the European Cup (scrub Benitez from that list).

What prompted your banner protest, what were the consequences and how quickly did you relent?

The football landscape for a Man United supporter in 1989 was a bleak one. Liverpool had dominated the decade hoovering-up domestic and European honours. We hadn’t won the league since 1967, we couldn’t even qualify for Europe’s top competition. Six managers since Busby had spent fortunes trying to rectify that all to no avail. Fergie seemed like the latest in the line to fail.

In early autumn ’89 he splashed out on Neil Webb, Gary Pallister, Paul Ince, Mike Phelan and Danny Wallace, having already brought Hughes (back from Barca), Bruce, McClair and Leighton in the previous 18 months. But still the football was poor, the home crowds average 34,000 and we languished just below mid table.

In late September we lost 5-1 at Man City, a month later Spurs knocked us out of League Cup 3-0 at Old Trafford. I felt so frustrated, incredibly frustrated. I was a loyal supporter. I once went 10 years where I missed only one United first team game in Britain (a Monday night friendly at Aberdeen) so I couldn’t just walk away and stop going. My view was if you accept second best, you get second best. So I had to make my protest. I decided I’d hold up a banner on the 3rd anniversary of Fergie’s appointment. I wanted the message to capture the essence of how I felt so I went with “3 Years of excuses and it’s still crap. Ta Ra Fergie!”

The Ta-Ra bit was because I’m a Salford lad and wanted it to have a northern flavour. Bet Lynch in Coronation Street always used to say ‘Ta Ra Cock’ as drinkers left the Rovers each night. Perfect. I got an old double bed sheet, a tin of black paint and made me banner.

The plan was to hold the protest just as the teams lined-up to kick-off. But the intended day (Forest at home) was Remembrance Sunday and there was a 2 minute silence just before kick off. A protest was inappropriate so I aborted. Took the banner along to next match but Jimmy Murphy had passed away and there was another silent tribute! Third attempt and one month later I took it to game against second-bottom Crystal Palace on 9 December.

Was just playing it by ear by then. United took lead then Mark Bright equalised before half time. On 65 minutes the same player put Palace 2-1 up and instinctively I knew that was the right time. I was up on my seat with my mates and we held the banner loud and proud. Though determined to do it, I was still nervous as I didn’t know what reaction would come from the crowd. I couldn’t remember a similar protest against a United manager since the war. I needn’t have worried, the cheering and applause grew and grew around the famous old stadium. It was like one of those lines of dominoes. Fergie said it was his darkest hour in football. The protest got lots of support in United fanzines for a few months. With hindsight the darkest hour was just before the dawn, as the Mamas and Papas famously sang, and four weeks later United won that famous cup tie at Forest with Mark Robins’ header. We went on to win the Cup which brought Fergie more time.

The football, and league position, still wasn’t good but he won the European Cupwinners Cup against Barca in Rotterdam and that gave the team inner confidence and belief. A year later we should have won the league but handed it to Leeds during the run-in. Fergie bought Cantona, we ended the 26 year title drought in ’93 and the rest is history.

Whilst my banner got initial support amongst Reds, with each trophy Fergie won in the next 20 years the more I became an object of ridicule as ‘the guy who held up THAT banner’. I wasn’t too upset because it meant my beloved United were back where I always wanted. I wrote Fergie a letter when we won that league title in ’93 thanking him for delivering the Holy Grail and telling him I was the guy who criticised him when things were bad. I never got a reply but my season ticket went missing the following season!

I think I relented when he won the Cup in 1990. I thought Fergie had earned more time. And did you laugh at the Grim Reaper taunting of Moyes? The imagery was clever and funny so I did chuckle but I think Paddy Power are in danger of crossing the line between mickey-taking and humiliation. Earlier in the season they placed a big glass case outside Old Trafford with a life size model of Fergie inside. The case carried a sign saying ‘Break in case of emergency’. That was very funny. Towards the end, Moyes was becoming the butt of humiliating pranks. Liverpool brought a ‘David Moyes Football Genius’ flag and City a ‘Don’t Sack Moyes’ banner.

But let’s talk Manchester United vs Sunderland: will you be there? What will be the score?

I’ll be there Saturday. 2-1 to United I’m afraid but it will be a battle. After that I hope Sunderland win the last two home matches and stay up. I think next season you will make progress under Poyet. Good manager.

tara* Buy Pete’s book at the Salut! Sunderland Amazon link:

** Pete Molyneux on himself: Thanks for this opportunity to join the “feast” on Salut! Sunderland and I guess I’ve struck lucky already in a week where SAFC & MUFC both recorded 4-0 victories. Bet it’s a while since that happened on the same day! live in Salford Greater Manchester. Married to Louise, proud father of twin girls Bethany and Jessica. Worked for 36 years in the Energy Industry in various guises but carved out a niche as Project Manager for several years before redundancy hit in 2007. Followed United with a passion since 1963 and attended over two thousand matches since then. I’ve been a Season Ticket Holder for 30 years. Other interest are music, mainly rock but not too heavy. Love the Stones, Beatles, Stones Roses, Bowie, Rod Stewart, Springsteen, James, New Order, Coldplay. I keep fairly fit, cycling and gym, but love a beer, a pie and talking bollocks mainly about football. I’d long had an idea to write a book about my travels. Redundancy provided that opportunity. Because of the banner incident of 1989 I wanted the book to be called ‘Ta Ra Fergie’ and coincide with his retirement. I managed to get a publisher and last June the book hit the shelves. So far it’s sold well and had some really good reviews. FourFourTwo gave it a great write up last August and many Reds and non-Reds have left me messages on Twitter and Facebook saying how much they enjoyed it.

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3 thoughts on “Manchester United vs Sunderland ‘Who are You?’: (1) the Ta Ra Fergie man”

  1. Sadly, I think under Giggs, they have a player resurgence, so it will be even more difficult for us this weekend. We have our current form against so called top teams Man City and Chelsea, also a great team performance at Liverpool, but the ref will screw us in this game to give Giggs his chance. I am sure it will happen. But we will get compensation againg West Brom.

  2. I vaguely recall the protests at the time and I think a group called the Independent Man Utd supporters association were radio regulars calling for Fergies head.Hindsight is a wonderfull thing , but in this day and age I doubt any manager would be given three years to get it right .Moyes was an unsuitable replacement and obviously out of he’s depth , he wasn’t asked to build a club but simply maintain and refurbish it and it seems even that was too much .The axe was inevitable , but the whole episode was unpleasant to witness and an embarrassment to Moyes and the club. We SAFC can only dream of such troubles, for Moyes, substitute Di Canio and thank your lucky stars!

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