Every one loves a football prankster. It’s why Jimmy Bullard and the Wimbledon crazy-gang are held in such high esteem. As they will no doubt attest to, the key to any well-executed prank is: a) picking a target who will take a joke and b) Not taking it too far.
According to former teammate Steve Bruce, the self-titled ‘Guvnor’ ignored these golden rules in a truly bizarre incident at the Manchester United training ground in the late 1980s.
Let’s set the scene. Ince has just received a fresh blast of the Fergie hairdryer. Humiliated and a touch aggrieved, Ince seeks retribution, believing the most appropriate measure is to return with a genuine air rifle – as you do. He proceeds to hold the manager at gun-point – demanding an apology and blackmailing the trembling Scot into guaranteeing a start in their next game.
Okay, so that is a touch sensationalised, but Steve Bruce’s own account is scarily similar:
“We saw him do it. He was only 21 or 22 and he brought a big air rifle in to shoot him. Fergie must have shouted at him or something like that to provoke it. It was tongue in cheek but he knocked on the door, poked the gun through and said, ‘You’d better stop picking on me and you’d better play me on Saturday!”
This classic bit of ‘tongue-in cheek’ clowning – the old ‘gun in the boss’ face’ caper – leaves us asking a number of questions:
1. What was Ferguson’s reaction? Did he buy it as a genuine threat and neutralise the midfielder with a Glaswegian kiss, or did he jovially search the room for Jeremy Beadle? It’s definitely one of the two – we’re just not sure which.
2. Did Ince get his way? If the midfielder did get a game the following Saturday, this would set a dangerous precedent for future manager-player relations. How long until John Carew crawls through a ventilation unit and drops a smoke grenade into Gerard Houllier’s office? Did Leon Best brandish a tranquilliser dart with Alan Pardew’s name on it at training?
3. Where did Ince’s gun materialise from? Bruce seems pretty nonchalant about this detail. I’m a bit wet behind the ears to remember the 80s – maybe in the pre-Premiership years it was standard practice for players to be swaggering around with shotguns and rocket-propelled grenades. Mad Max with a bit of football on the side, if you like. The FA must have clamped down on it since.
4) Could Ince still go down for this? Brucie has really stitched him up here. Attempted murder and brandishing a gun in public are all potential charges that Greater Manchester Police may now want to investigate. That would really put a downer on Notts County’s superb shock-win over Sunderland. Team-talks from behind the bars are notoriously tricky affairs. It’s reportedly why Charles Manson’s managerial career never took off.
5) Could there be a film in the pipeline? The scenario has all the ingredients of an abysmal straight-to-DVD British gangster film – the merciless overlord, the brutally efficient organisation, the cocky henchman with a screw-loose – it’s got it all. Ince’s part has Danny Dyer written all over it and Ray Winstone could cobble together a ropey Scottish accent to play Fergie. I can feel the Oscar buzz already.