The outgoing Manchester United boss watched his side defeat Swansea 2-1 on Sunday afternoon but the day was overshadowed by emotional scenes as the Scot finally bowed out
By Jeremy Butler
When it comes to parties, Old Trafford has seen a few but nothing like this.
Manchester United waved off Sir Alex Ferguson and the Scot, his voice warbling in a rare show of emotion, said goodbye with a message straight from his heart.
"This is the most fantastic experience of my life," an unscripted Ferguson told a packed Old Trafford as he tried not to "blubber" in his final address to an adoring public.
Having spent a wet May day hailing their hero, the tears ran down cheeks as he addressed them having seen his team pull off a trademark late win over Swansea. They had seen him full of passion many times, growling at referees and bawling at players, but never in such a fragile state.
The man considered a god at this club for delivering them from decades of failure and leading them to total domination, showed a rare glimpse of sentiment as his departure sunk in. As the steely-eyed stare that had frightened English football for 26 years fell from his face, Ferguson tried to hold himself together.
He did return, to personally present each of his players with their Premier League winners medals, and lift the trophy himself for a 13th time.
He did so alone, with a smile plastered across his face. This trophy win tasting as good as that first back in 1993.
But this one marked the end of an era and brought the curtain down on a day as momentous as any witnessed in his time in charge.
Ever since news leaked out on Tuesday night that Alex Ferguson would walk away from management, Manchester United fans have been hankering for their chance to say goodbye.
For the lucky ones the Scot is the only man they have called boss, for others the painful memories of life before Fergie are now thankfully in the dim and distant past.
The thrall of people jostling their way to the ground had only one thing on their mind....to give the man who handed them 26 years of enjoyment a perfect send off. They packed in to Old Trafford early with all 75,572 seats gobbled up well before kick-off and sang songs heralding their hero with a throaty roar.
United had put flags on every seat and were classy enough to leave some on Swansea's emblazoned with the message - "Capital One Cup winners" - to mark their own triumph this season.
But it was the fans' own efforts rather than United's attempt to stage manage the day which truly conveyed their thanks to the man who had brought them 38 trophies.
One banner simply read: "Sir Alex - Immortal". In a week of tributes, none have captured Ferguson's legacy as poignantly.
This day was not just about the United manager signing off though. Long serving midfielder Paul Scholes was also bowing out after 717 games in a Red shirt. And as the players ran out to warm up, even the omission of Wayne Rooney from the match day squad failed to dampen the applause for one of the Premier League's true geniuses.
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His absence was typical of Ferguson though. Even on his big day, he was still ruling with an iron fist. It would have been easier for him to let Rooney play, instead he made his point...as he always does.
Rooney would have been far from the 71-year-old's mind though as he prepared to enter an arena that sounded ready for a pop concert rather than a football match. The teams filed out on to the pitch and formed a guard of honour for champions. This one was waiting to hail a heavyweight.
And as he stepped out of the tunnel for the 723rd time at Old Trafford, he was faced with the kind of adoration reserved only for true legends. Chewing hard on his stick of gum, he hurried his way past the players almost sheepishly. A little smile curled at the corners of his mouth as he drank up the worship pouring down from the stands.
Then he was off to his dugout, a cuddle for the mascot Fred the Red before tucking into his habit of signing the pictures and programmes thrust at him. The roars of approval still refused to dampen down.
Old Trafford has known a few shindigs in its time but none as joyous as this. Even when the game started, the noise did not stop. And with perfect timing, neighbours City added to the party spirit.
News that Roberto Mancini was getting the sack brought a dagger of a chant from the Stretford end, as they sung "Mancini. He gave the trophy back and now he's got the sack."
Soon their attention returned to the man who had allowed them to poke fun at their cross town rivals for a quarter of a century. And his decision to pick Javier Hernandez quickly paid off with the Mexican scoring his fifth Premier League goals in eight starts.
Michael Laudrup's team were determined to play party poopers though and Michu drew his side level. But that failed to curtail the noise or the exaltation and ultimately the screams of joy as Ferdinand scored the late winner.
A new song echoed around a ground built from the riches gained from the success Ferguson brought to the club. "Are you watching Merseyside?" rang out. A dig at their now fallen rivals and a warning to the requirements David Moyes has to meet.
Typical of Ferguson he took to the microphone to urged the fans to support the new man, just as they had stood by him in times of trouble. And on a day where every voice was lauding him, Ferguson deflected some of the praise on to Scholes and then made a point of mentioning Darren Fletcher and his fight to beat his stomach problems.
But despite his attempts to share the spotlight, the world was gazing only at one man. A man who built an empire.
We will never see again his like again... and we will never see a farewell party quite like this either. This finale was a fitting way to close a chapter in United's rich history.
And the perfect way to for Ferguson to bow out.
"Don't let yourselves down," the Scot said.
And as he headed away from Old Trafford for a final time, Ferguson can be satisfied that he never did.