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Alex Ferguson’s betting habits on private eye
- Big United shareholder lays the trap for Sir Alex

Private detectives are examining the gambling habits of Sir Alex Ferguson in an attempt to embarrass the Manchester United manager. The investigators from Kroll, the world’s leading detective agency, are looking at bets believed to total hundreds of thousands of pounds that have been placed by Ferguson at bookmakers and top London casinos.

They have been hired by John Magnier, the multi-millionaire businessman, in his increasingly bitter dispute with Ferguson.

The Sunday Telegraph revealed in August that the former friends have fallen out over the stud rights of their jointly-owned champion racehorse, Rock of Gibraltar. Ferguson is suing Magnier in the High Court in Dublin, demanding half the fees, which could be worth up to £ 150 million over the next 15 years.

Magnier intends to vigorously contest the action, and has instructed Kroll, whose agents cost up to £ 1,000 a day plus expenses, to dig up what it can on Ferguson’s gambling. A friend of the Irish business tycoon admitted that he hoped the move to expose the manager’s extensive betting habits might dissuade him from going ahead with the action.

The friend said: “Ferguson’s betting exploits make fascinating reading. He loves a bet, and seems to love it much more now that he is earning a lot. If he takes us on, he risks having his exploits revealed in court.”

The dispute has potential ramifications for Manchester United and, in particular, Ferguson’s future there. Magnier, 55, along with his business partner, is United’s biggest shareholder, owning 23.2 per cent of the club.

There are concerns at Old Trafford that the case is adding to the pressure on Ferguson at a time when its footballing success is under challenge from Arsenal and Chelsea. Ferguson, 61, last week needed hospital treatment for a heart complaint, although he swiftly returned to work.

Ferguson’s fondness for gambling is well-known in football circles. In his unauthorised biography of the manager, Michael Crick, the investigative journalist, writes: “It is no secret that Alex Ferguson loves a bet. Gambling and horseracing are almost in his blood. As a boy his father employed him to take bets to his local illegal bookmakers. As a player in Scotland, he and his colleagues spent much of their day mulling over the racing pages.”

According to players, Ferguson has in the past allowed his squad to play card games for substantial sums of money, occasionally joining in himself. In the early 1990s, players would lose up to £ 200 a hand at a time when they were earning £ 1,000 a week.

By the mid 1990s, Keith Gillespie, a young United player who was compared to George Best, was known as Ferguson’s “runner”, going to Manchester bookmakers after morning training sessions to put bets on for the manager and other players. Gillespie later admitted to a gambling problem and once lost £ 47,000 in a single day.

Ferguson makes no apology of his fondness for a bet. “There is something about the football fraternity that likes a gamble,” he once said. He has never, however, publicly discussed how much he wagers.

Rumours suggest that as Ferguson’s earnings have increased – he is now paid £ 3 million a year – so has the amount he gambles, with stakes on individual bets rising from £ 50 or so in the early 1990s to hundreds of pounds in the late 1990s, to thousands of pounds today.

One acquaintance said that the manager has a penchant for playing in casinos, particularly at roulette. “Before really big games, he likes to go to one of the central London casinos and play the tables for a few hours,” the official said. Among the casinos he frequents are Les Ambassadeurs, off Park Lane, and Aspinalls, in Mayfair.

Private investigators will find it difficult to obtain information from bookmakers or casinos. Both are fiercely protective of their clients’ right to keep their habits confidential.

One person with considerable knowledge of Ferguson’s gambling is Mike Dillon, the public relations director of Ladbrokes bookmakers and the man who introduced him to Magnier. Dillon used to act as Ferguson’s racing adviser but the two men are no longer friends.

THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH

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