As you walk down the most coveted streets in Wilmslow, Cheshire, there is a air of exclusivity and seclusion that only millionaires can afford.
Along the country roads, surrounded by oak trees and finely kept gardens, and beyond the sprawling driveways are the properties of some of the Premier League’s stars. The area offers an escape from the spotlight. It remains one of the most affluent in Britain.
Manchester United players have settled in the area for decades, perhaps following advice from Sir Alex Ferguson, who resides there himself.
The legendary former manager has a right to privacy and he certainly wouldn’t expect a stranger at his door.
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But that’s exactly what happened in 2011 when an 18-year-old brazenly knocked on Ferguson’s door to ask for a trial at United.
Max Lonsdale had lived in Spain for many of his most formative years, playing in Malaga’s academy. He returned to England when he was aged 13 and joined then League Two side Macclesfield Town soon after. It was his local side and a convenient arrangement.
After completing his YTS scholarship with Macclesfield and appearing in the FA Youth Cup, the Cheshire club had the conversation with Lonsdale that every young player fears. The Silkmen had decided to release him and his five years at his local side were over.
How do you respond to such a disappointment? Still coming to terms with Macclesfield’s decision, Londsdale retreated to his bedroom and began to brainstorm ideas. It was a pivotal moment in his career and he had to get his next step right.
“Macc told me they were short of funds, but I think I just wasn’t right for them,” Londsdale recalled to the Daily Mail. “They wanted big, physical players who would battle for 90 minutes, whereas I like passing the ball and trying to go past people.”
Lonsdale, who was named Player of the Season in his second year playing in Macclesfield’s youth team, wasn’t prepared to give up on his dream. He began to collect video footage of his appearances for Macclesfield to make a highlight reel for potential clubs.
“I knew I could play at a higher level and I couldn’t stop thinking about United. I posted DVDs to other clubs but got nowhere, so I just thought, ‘Right, I’m going to do it differently with United. I’m going straight to Sir Alex,” Lonsdale said.
Lonsdale was tired of hearing nothing back from clubs after his release and he had the idea of going directly to Ferguson.
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It was a brave and audacious plan to hatch for anyone, never mind an 18-year-old.
“I lived in Alderley Edge at the time and Ferguson lived in Wilmslow, which is like two minutes away,” Lonsdale recalled to SPORTbible last year.
“I had a good friend who lived near him and knew which one his house was. I just thought, ‘Why try and send a DVD to the club when it’s going to get nowhere near? Why not just rock up myself and know he’d watch it?’.
“It’s probably out of character for me, I’m not the most bold person but when it comes down to it I’m willing to do that, especially when it’s your dream I suppose. Don’t ask me where that came from. I’ve no idea. I’m normally quite shy.
“But something inside triggered it. I suppose I wanted it so badly, I just thought you’ve got to do whatever it takes.”
Although spurred on by a friend to make the journey to Ferguson’s home, Lonsdale shared the plan with nobody — with the exception of his father. “I didn’t even mention it to my agent, because I didn’t want anyone telling me I’d be wasting my time,” Lonsdale said.
“My dad didn’t think I’d go through with it. We’re only about five minutes away, so it wasn’t too difficult getting the address.”
While Lonsdale knew where Ferguson lived, he would encounter a problem when actually trying to find him back at his home.
“I went down on the Friday and his wife was actually there,” Lonsdale recalled.
“I explained why I was there, because I realised a stranger just turning up on her doorstep might have been a bit scary. She actually seemed pleasantly surprised when I said I wanted to show him my CV and a DVD of me playing.
“She seemed quite impressed. Fergie wasn’t actually in — he was away for the next day on a golfing trip so she said, ‘Here’s his number, give him a ring tomorrow. He should be back around tea-time.’ The next day I rang him and explained I’d been around yesterday.
“The first thing he said was, ‘How the f*** have you got my number?’. Obviously I was a bit taken aback by that but after I explained it he was alright after that and said, ‘Yeah come round.”
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Against all the odds, Lonsdale had scheduled a face-to-face meeting with one of the most successful managers in history. “As I drove home, I knew it was on. It was finally going to happen, at the fourth attempt, and I started feeling really nervous,” he recalled.
“I was shaking like a leaf and I didn’t get much sleep that night. I was still shaking when I pulled up outside his house the next day and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure I could do it. I sat in the car for a few moments before convincing myself I couldn’t possibly pull out.”
On the day, Lonsdale approached the gates and rang the buzzer. He had practised the conversation in his head and this was his moment. “I think he was expecting me because the gates just opened without a word from inside,” Lonsdale said.
“As I began to walk down the drive, the front door opened and there was Sir Alex. I’ll never forget that moment. He just stood there, in front of the step, with his hands on his hips, watching me. The look was like he was sizing me up.
“Honestly, I’ve never felt so nervous. But he was brilliant with me. I think he was a bit sceptical at first, but once he realised I was genuine and deadly serious about wanting to play for United, he was great.
“He took me round to the patio and we sat there and chatted for about 15 minutes. To be honest, it’s difficult recalling exactly how the conversation went because I had all these things I wanted to say to him, but they all came out wrong.”
Lonsdale’s nerves naturally got the better of him when it came to conversation, but Ferguson was impressed and he told the 18-year-old Lonsdale: “You’ve got tremendous courage coming here like this. I respect that.”
“It was clear he was a bit taken aback by the whole thing,” Lonsdale added. “You could just tell from his facial expression no-one had ever knocked on his door before and asked for a chance but he took a genuine interest and said he would look at the DVD.
“I told him I really believed I could play at the highest level and he asked me about my style of play, how old I was and whether I had any history of injuries. I said I was a left-footed midfield player who liked being on the ball, passing it around and taking people on.”
Lonsdale left Ferguson’s and patiently waited for a decision, wondering if his DVD had made the impression that mattered. The following Tuesday, Warren Joyce, then reserve team manager at United, rang Lonsdale to inform him of his fate.
Ferguson had liked what he had seen. Joyce told him to be at Carrington at the end of the week for a trial and Lonsdale drove through into the training ground in his Ford Fiesta, parking it next to Nani’s Lamborghini Gallardo. His ambitious plan had worked.
“I think he [Ferguson] probably liked the boldness of it and he said to me at the time, ‘If you don’t look good enough we’re not going to take you on but I’ll let you know either way,” Lonsdale said.
“He said when I came into training the first day, ‘I’ve given you an opportunity because I like what I’ve seen.’ He genuinely wanted to give me an opportunity, which was really good on his part.
“He’s very intimidating when you’re speaking directly to him but a big presence and a lovely guy at the same time.”
Lonsdale was given an initial two week trial period at United, that was extended another four weeks. He played in five reserve games and played alongside Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Ravel Morrison — and it was the latter that he was most impressed by.
“I admire people with courage, particularly a young person like that who had the guts to come to my door and tell me he wanted a career in the game,” Ferguson told BBC Sport at the start of Lonsdale’s trial period.
“I trained with the likes of Darren Fletcher, Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley,” Lonsdale recalled. “Warren said how well I was doing, and I thought I had every chance. Then one day after training he called me into a room. I knew it was decision time.
“The nerves kicked in again. He explained they had been waiting for certain players to go out on loan and free up some space, but they hadn’t. They were younger players on contract and it meant he couldn’t offer me anything.
“I was devastated. It was hard to take. I went around the UK playing in all different stadiums and to be honest I thought I was going to get signed — that was the indication I got from the staff.”
It wasn’t to be for Lonsdale at United, but Ferguson was so taken by the youngster’s ambition that he arranged a trial for him at then Championship side Doncaster while he also told Lonsdale that the door would always be open for him at Old Trafford.
Lonsdale had the gumption to knock on his actual door and so Ferguson’s offer was rather poignant.
It’s no wonder Londsdale still considers those weeks in the summer of 2011 ‘an amazing experience’.