Eighteen months ago I was sitting in the North Stand with my dad ahead of our game against Sunderland when David Gill took to the microphone. He announced that they were going to do something unprecedented, really trying to hype the occasion up, with Sir Alex Ferguson standing next to him. “Oh wow, they’re going to let the manager give a speech,” I said sarcastically to my dad, totally bemused by Gill making a big song and dance. Then Gill announced that the stand we were sitting in had been named the Sir Alex Ferguson stand, in commemoration of his 25 years as our manager. Not wanting to come across as a drama queen but it took my breath away and gave me goosebumps. It hadn’t even crossed my mind that they would mark the occasion in such a way. Ferguson, seemingly even more shocked than all of us, then took to the microphone and was audibly moved.
After the game, Ferguson commented on how much it meant to him. “I was really emotional,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t expect that. I have to thank the club, it’s fantastic of them to do that.”
Apparently Sir Alex Ferguson was planning on breaking the news of his retirement over the mic after our game today. Given how gobsmacked I was to hear of the renamed stand, I can only imagine my, and everyone else’s, reaction to learning he was retiring in such a way. Having spoken in his last programme notes about looking forward to next season, I assumed we had at least another year of him left. But as the news started trickling through from journalists earlier this week that his retirement was on the cards, you gradually had some time to adjust to what was happening. Imagine listening to his standard post-championship speech and having that bombshell dropped on us.
Today is going to be a difficult day. We are going to say goodbye to a man who has shaped our lives, who has brought us immeasurable joy, who has transformed our club from a sleeping giant to a world force in football, who felt so strongly connected and indebted to Sir Matt Busby and his philosophy, and who has fought tooth and nail to make our club the best year after year. Maybe heartbreaking is an exaggeration, but I am truly gutted he is going, and I don’t think there are any words to adequately describe how it feels. For those of us who are fairly in tune with our emotional side, this afternoon is going to be a struggle!
My dad always told me to “bottle up” the feelings on big occasions. The best moments, the best emotions, try and bottle them up. Try and save them away somewhere you can relive it and feel it again upon reflection whenever you want. Well today is going to be full of those moments. Walking up to the ground for the last time with Fergie as our manager, taking your seat, applauding the manager and players on to the pitch, singing songs about Ferguson, (hopefully) celebrating goals, watching the trophy being lifted and the lap of honour. I’m not going to want to start the journey there as much as I’m not going to want to leave at the end. This is the end of an era, an absolutely magnificent time of our lives, and I’m going to miss every minute of it.
I’m going to miss seeing him marching up to the touchline, turning to the Stretford End and geeing up the crowd during big games. I’m going to miss his doddery old man shuffle to celebrate an important goal. I’m going to miss him going fucking mental at the officials when they’ve missed a bad tackle on one of our lads or a handball in the box. I’m going to miss him singing along to our chants on the day the title is won. I’m going to miss the security of knowing everything will be alright in the end because we’ve got him in charge.
Only United fans get it, rival fans won’t even be able to imagine what an impact he’s had on our lives, and there’s nothing I can say here to do justice to the man or his career.
Every single one of us, loves Alex Ferguson.