IT may have taken him a lifetime, but Martin Ferguson finally, with his appointment as chairman at Airdrieonians last month, achieved something in football his famous elder sibling has not.

Sir Alex might have enjoyed the more successful playing career and might have fared a tad better as a manager over the years. But being made the chairman of a club? It isn’t an honour that has, to date at least, been bestowed upon him.

Not that wee brother is interested in scoring points. “I hadn’t thought about that,” he said. “I suppose that’s me one up on him. I’ll be mentioning that. ‘By the way you, mind who you’re speaking to, I’m the chairman’.”

Sir Alex became accustomed to taking his team to some of the great stadiums in Europe, and more often than not returning triumphant, during his decades in the dugout at Aberdeen and Manchester United.

But this evening it will be Martin who will head for Parkhead hoping that Airdrie can give a decent account of themselves, and their fans something to cheer, in their William Hill Scottish Cup fourth round tie against Celtic.

It is an occasion that he, like every supporter of the part-time Ladbrokes League One outfit, is looking forward to. He has flown back from Canada, where he has been following a family bereavement, to attend the game with his daughter and grandson.

“We’re not expecting anything special,” said Ferguson. “We’re not going to win 5-0. Just 3-0 would do! Then Rangers in the next round! Seriously, though, I hope the boys put up a good show. The players should relish it. They will learn from it too. One thing’s for sure, we will go and have a try. We’re hoping the draw is good financially for us as well.”

Ferguson, who succeeded his close friend Bobby Watson, the former Rangers and Motherwell defender and Airdrie manager, as chairman, has been on the board at the North Lanarkshire club for the past year, initially as vice-chairman, and has enjoyed being involved.

“Bobby and I are neighbours in Bearsden and pals,” he said. “Bobby introduced me to Paul Hetherington (the Airdrie managing director) and he invited me onto the board. It was a good opportunity for me. At the time, I was just sitting watching Sportscene on a Saturday afternoon. I was happy to take the challenge. It keeps me in the game.”

Despite being an inside forward with, among others, Partick Thistle, Morton, Barnsley and Doncaster, a coach at Hibernian, the manager of Waterford, East Stirling and Albion Rovers and the chief scout with Manchester United in his time, Ferguson has found the experience to be eye-opening.

“It’s been interesting,” he said. “I have seen what goes on behind the scenes. The people who are running the club are a decent bunch, which I like. From the outside looking in people often think directors do nothing at clubs. But at Airdrie they are honest and work hard and all get on together. I haven’t been hit with any tomatoes yet!”

Ian Murray, the former Hibernian, Rangers and Scotland player who was appointed Airdrie manager in October, can rest assured he will left alone to do his job to the best of his abilities with Ferguson there.

“Ian is a bright lad and has done well so far,” he said. “We are happy how things are going. We let the manager get on with it. Supporting the manager and giving him the chance he deserves is the most important thing in football.

“We give him the opportunity to make his own decisions. It gives him a bit of freedom to express himself. It is only right the manager lives and dies by his own decisions. That is the way it should be. That was what I wanted when I was involved in football.”

Ferguson knows from personal experience just how damaging intrusion from upstairs at a club can be for a manager. He enjoyed immediate results after taking over at Waterford at the age of just 24 back in 1967. But his time at the League of Ireland club turned awry when his position was undermined by directors.

“I took them into Europe and seven points clear at the top of the league,” he said. “Then the board decided they wanted to pick the team. I was back home in Glasgow for a few days visiting my girlfriend and they gave the team for the next game to a newspaper. You have standards in life and I had always said I wouldn’t let anyone interfere when I was a manager. I didn’t accept it. I said: ‘Well, pick the team – I’m off!’ It is hard enough being a manager.”

Could it all have turned out differently if Ferguson had been able to pluck up the courage to speak to the man who had led Celtic to their historic European Cup victory the year before as he flew back to Ireland to confront the meddling Waterford hierarchy?

“Jock Stein and Sean Fallon were sitting on the plane in front of me,” he said. “I wanted to go up to big Jock and ask him for advice on what to do. But I couldn’t do it. I was feart to talk to him. He had this big halo around him then. Honest to God, it was the biggest mistake I ever made in my life. I’m sure he would have put me right.

“I was a bit like Alec back then, hot headed. I was going back to Waterford thinking ‘I’m the manager, not you!’. I’m quite sure big Jock would have calmed me down and told me the best way to handle it. I would think he is probably the greatest manager in the history of British football with what he achieved.”

He is one of two Scots with a strong claim to that title certainly.

Ferguson came close to helping Thistle beat a Celtic side that contained six future Lisbon Lions - Stevie Chalmers, John Clark, Tommy Gemmell, Jimmy Johnstone, Billy McNeill and Bobby Murdoch – in a cup tie at Parkhead in 1962.

The Maryhill club took the lead against their city rivals in a Glasgow Cup semi-final replay with a first-half Billy Hainey strike. “We never looked like losing,” said Ferguson. Alas, Clark and Chalmers netted late goals to deny their opponents victory.

Ferguson loved his three seasons at Firhill. “We had a good side at Partick in those days,” he said. “We were sitting at the top of the league that season. But that was the winter of the big freeze. We didn’t play for about six weeks. When we came back we didn’t win a game for five weeks. Still, we qualified for the Fairs Cities Cup that season.”

He received an early insight into how the decisions by those who run a club can often be inexplicable and detrimental to a team at Thistle. “Joe McBride played up front for us,” he said. “He was some finisher Joe. If you got the ball to his feet in the box he would hit the target every time. But they sold him to Motherwell for £5,000. I couldn’t believe it when I heard. When the chairman told me what they’d done I burst out laughing.”

Ferguson can remember when taking on Airdrie was no laughing matter - he still has the scars to remind him - and is determined to do all he can in his new role to help them return to a more prominent position in Scottish football than the third tier.

“Broomfield wasn’t a nice place to go when I was a player,” he said. “They were a tough mob. They had two big centre backs at the time. I’m not kidding you, their necks were thicker than my thighs. Playing against them was a right good laugh. We have to show that ambition and try to get up the divisions.”

Ferguson, of course, has had more serious matters to concern himself with than the fortunes of a football club in the past year. His brother suffered a brain haemorrhage last May and required to undergo emergency surgery. “It was a bad one,” he said. “It was a very, very difficult one that. Hopefully we never have to go through that again.”

The 76-year-old has, like so many in his homeland and beyond, been delighted to see Sir Alex make a remarkable recovery and return to Manchester United matches. “It is great he is back in his seat again and back watching games,” he said. “It’s his life isn’t it. It’s been his life. Both our lives. But especially him with the success he’s had.

“As long as he doesn’t rush things. You know Alec. Alec wants to be out playing again. That is his nature. Alec has got to be up and at it and busy. He has worked hard at everything he has been in. He was a hard worker as a player and a manager and he is the same now he is a director. He has been missed at Old Trafford.”

Martin Ferguson's presence at the Excelsior Stadium will prove most welcome for Airdrie in the seasons to come too.