The farewell was colourful, fitting and familiar as Sir Alex Ferguson said an emotional goodbye to Old Trafford after a match that summed up his 26 years at Manchester United.
Even with the title won and the retirement slippers beckoning, Ferguson’s unbending iron will and drive to win was still very much in evidence. It was a terrific send-off too. They usually do things in style at Old Trafford, and United pitched the farewell party pretty near perfectly. Inside the ground, a giant banner was unfurled in the Stretford End proclaiming: “Sir Alex — Immortal”.
A wonderful spectacle awaited Ferguson. First, a huge United flag was laid across the pitch before Old Trafford became a sea of red as 73,000 flags, provided by the club and each stating merely ‘Champions’, were waved aloft. Then came the moment as the United and Swansea players formed a guard of honour and, ushered in by trumpeters, Sir Alex strode forth, hands tucked into his grey coat and his black fleece zipped to the neck.
He appeared slightly uncomfortable at the adulation and clapped the four sides of the ground briefly before heading for the safety of the dug-out, stopping on the way for a grateful squeeze to a staff member holding the fourth official’s electronic board aloft reading “26, 38” — his record of 26 years and 38 trophies at United.
For all the sentimentality on show, Ferguson showed his iron resolve to the very end by denying Wayne Rooney a part in the proceedings. There was, of course, the small matter of a match to get out of the way, though in truth it mattered little to either side. Javier Hernandez opened the scoring for United in the first half, with Michu responding with an excellent volley for a second-half equaliser that prompted Swansea fans to chant: “You’re getting sacked in the morning”.
History called for a late winner — though even more fitting for it to arrive in Fergie time — and Rio Ferdinand obliged, smashing home in the 87th minute — his first goal since 2008 — with a volley that had his manager leaping off his seat in delight. With the match out of the way, Ferguson took to the microphone for an unscripted speech to the crowd that, by his own admission had him close to “blubbing”.
After paying tribute to the fans, the club, to Scholes and Darren Fletcher — who is recovering from a serious illness — Ferguson finished by calling on the supporters to back his successor David Moyes — and with a warning to the players. “Don’t ever let yourselves down,” he said, before returning to lift the English Premier League trophy. Words that could well serve as his epitaph.