Monday 13 May 2013
Even the Swansea City fans at Old Trafford were in festive mood. “Sacked in the morning, you’re getting sacked in the morning,” rang the refrain from the away end shortly after Michu had cancelled out Javier Hernandez’s opener. It was not so much a spiteful barb as a doff of the cap to the most successful manager in British football history on his final home match in charge.
"All these players here have represented this club in the proper way and won the championship in a fantastic fashion – well done to the players"
Sir Alex Ferguson
But, not for the first time, it would be Sir Alex Ferguson who would have the last laugh. Though the Barclays Premier League trophy had been polished, dressed and freshly engraved with the club’s name for a 13th time, ready for the handover at the close of play, Manchester United refused to collect their prize without a victory. Instead they did what they have throughout Ferguson’s 26-year reign and found a way to win. Perhaps even more characteristically, they delivered a late winner.
In truth, the home side were second best for much of the second half with Wayne Routledge prodding wide after bursting through with only David de Gea to beat and Pablo Hernandez denied by the Spanish goalkeeper’s reflexes after tracking his way into the area.
Ferguson, though, was only ever interested in winners. As he said in his very first programme notes ahead of his first home match in charge of United, against Queens Park Rangers in November 1986: “I am only interested in players who really want to play for Manchester United and who, like me, are bad losers.”
He added: “I see the championship as the basis for Manchester United's future. Success has a snowball effect as I found at Aberdeen when some people mistakenly thought that our first championship was a flash in the pan.”
Ferguson's United could not be described as a flash in the pan, and neither could they disappoint their leader on his leaving do. And so with three minutes remaining Rio Ferdinand capitalised on a lapse in Swansea’s defence and lashed home his first goal in five years to give his boss the perfect send-off.
Just as they had done at the start of the afternoon, when Ferguson emerged from the players’ tunnel to a guard of honour and the tune of Andy Williams’s ‘Impossible Dream’, out came the red flags as Old Trafford saluted their legendary leader. ‘Sir Fergie FI Govan Tartan Born and Red’ read one of the banners in the stand now named after the 71-year-old. “AdoRED” read another.
Ferguson took the microphone at the final whistle to bid farewell to the United faithful and to describe his tenure as “the most fantastic experience of my life”. “I’ve been able to manage some of the greatest players in the country,” he said, before paying tribute to his latest squad of title winners. “All these players here today have represented this club in the proper way and won the championship in a fantastic fashion; well done to the players.”
One player worthy of particular praise was another outgoing United legend, a midfielder who had marked his own final performance at Old Trafford with a series of trademark raking passes.
“Before I start bubbling, I just want to pay tribute to Paul Scholes who retires today,” he said. “Unbelievable, one of the greatest players this club has ever had or will ever have.”
Ferguson added that he did not intend to disappear into the ether once this campaign has finished, but that he would instead be on hand to lend his support – and he urged the fans to do likewise to get behind his summer successor, David Moyes. “My retirement doesn’t mean the end of my life with the club,” he said. “I’ll be able to enjoy watching them rather than suffer with them.”
"When there were bad times here the club stood by me – your job now is to stand by your new manager"
Sir Alex Ferguson
“But if you think about it, the last-minute goals, the comebacks, even the defeats are all part of this great football club and it’s been an unbelievable experience for all of us, so thank you for that. I’d also like to remind you that when there were bad times here the club stood by me, all my staff stood by me, the players stood by me. Your job now is to stand by your new manager.”
And with that Ferguson made way for Bryan Robson and Steve Bruce, stalwarts of Ferguson’s first Barclays Premier League title win, to bring out the trophy, which was presented to the players by the Premier League chairman Sir Dave Richards. Ferguson shook each and every one of his players’ hands as they received their medals – in Ryan Giggs’s case for the 13th time – and the trophy was held aloft by club captain Nemanja Vidic as the fireworks lit the grey sky.
By now the heavens had opened but nobody seemed to notice. Not Ferguson, not the players and their families and not 75,572 supporters rejoicing; they just noticed that it is still raining trophies at Old Trafford.