LONDON, England - I never thought I'd have the chance to meet my childhood hero. Despite growing up in Manchester and countless pilgrimages to Old Trafford, the only place I ever managed to see Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson was on television. And it is television, in it's unique way, that finally afforded me the much sought-after opportunity to cross his path.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/10/art.ferguson.manchester.united.cnn.jpg caption="Alex Ferguson, pictured here being interviewed by CNN, has been a hero to fans of Manchester United for more than two decades."] In the mid-late eighties, as a 10-year old boy desperate to see an end to Liverpool's dominance of the (then) First Division, Ferguson offered a rare commodity in football-mad Manchester: hope. The instant I met him this week, it was that same feeling that came flooding straight back, a sense of purpose and a dream that remains true to the original I had as a child.
Shaking hands with Fergie is an experience akin to the one my dad always taught me to expect of an authoritative figure. His grip was brief, firm and yet warm, encouraging. The great man himself can only be described as sprightly, light on his feet. He wore pulled-up socks, shorts and a tucked-in United shirt with AF emblazoned in gold stitching on the front. Alex Ferguson right in front of me, shaking my hand with a warm yet piercing smile and intelligent eyes.
I've always thought that people should choose their heroes carefully, they're meant to stick around for the long haul and be there for you as a reference point. A yardstick with which to measure the passage of time, an authority figure to measure up to.
In that respect idolising someone from the fickle and tumultuous landscape of football may have been foolish. I even remember various levels of disdain at my initial selection, be it from cocksure playground Liverpool fans or discerning family members hoping for a more conservative choice of say politician, literary figure or activist. I have never needed to look back and question that choice.
Twenty-two years later Manchester United have won countless trophies, the team has been re-invented three times over with the likes of Beckham, Cantona, Solksjaer, Keane, Hughes, Robson, Schmeichel, Bruce and Pallister all coming and going. All with Ferguson as their father figure.
Anyone wondering whether a football manager cuts it as a good choice of "hero" should take careful notice of the enduring qualities that Ferguson still continues to embody: success, passion, drive and consistency. And lest we forget the obvious, he's a manager who has produced some of the most exceptional football and footballers of the last three decades and built a club that at the very least counts as one of the best in the world.
So did it feel good to meet Alex Ferguson? Yes. I instantly recaptured that fleeting memory of youth; a time when I actually felt urged to "choose" a hero. He is a man for all seasons and I hope he has many more left in him yet.