10 years ago | Old Trafford, Manchester | 13th May 2013
Ten years ago, Sir Alex Ferguson retired as Manager of Manchester United and the club won their last Premier League title. A decade on, it’s difficult not to conclude that one of those facts has largely determined the other. I hadn’t attended a trophy parade since an unforgettable afternoon on Deansgate to welcome The Treble winners in 1999 but I decided to drive to Manchester to add my appreciation for the 13th and final title of Sir Alex’s reign….
That wasn’t the only reason. A couple of years previously, I’d managed to interest my son Charlie in going to United matches, freeing him from the clutches of the Liverpool-supporting elements of the wider family before it was too late. This was to be his first opportunity to experience a League Title parade and I didn’t want to miss the occasion – because I distinctly remember wondering (against all hope) that it might be the last for some time.
As we would for a match day, we parked up at The Lowry car park and crossed the footbridge you can see on ‘North West Tonight’, over the Ship Canal, and walked from Salford Quays to Old Trafford. There, we joined the growing crowd of fans waving flags and awaiting the appearance of the team. Behind us were raised camera gantries with several familiar faces: well-known sports correspondents from BBC, ITV and Sky.
Before long, an open-top bus appeared and the crowd cheered its appreciation. Vidic and Evra at the front of the bus, just in front of Van Persie, Ferdinand, Chicharito, Carrick and Giggs. Towards the rear you could spot De Gea, stadium announcer Alan Keegan, Sir Bobby Charlton, a bored-looking Paul Scholes and, right at the back, the man himself, Sir Alex.
A microphone was passed around the players, giving each the chance to individually thank the fans. One or two took the opportunity to show off their singing talents (if that’s the right word). Eventually, it made its way to the back of the bus where The Boss gave a short speech about the determination of the team and his appreciation for the fans’ support over the twenty-five-and-a-half years of his tenure. Predictably, every sentence was raucously applauded.
I thought back to those drab days of November 1986, when the club lost patience with the cavalier style of Ron Atkinson and appointed this dour Scot who’d spectacularly broken the ‘Old Firm’s grip on Scottish football and shared a Scotland dugout with the legendary Jock Stein. Even to a football-mad 13 year-old, his credentials seemed impressive but the big question was whether or not that pedigree counted for anything in the greater challenge of English football.
For the next quarter of a century, we found out – albeit not immediately – that it would. And how! From the shaky beginnings of the late eighties and an FA Cup win in 1990 that began with a supposedly make-or-break win in Nottingham, an avalanche of trophies followed: the first two Premier League titles, two League & Cup doubles in three years and, gloriously, The Treble. A second decade of domestic dominance followed, with another European Champions League and a World Club Trophy thrown in. It was all a far cry from that first game, a 2-0 defat at Oxford United in 1986..
Many of those watching the 2013 parade weren’t old enough to remember a team not managed by Alex Ferguson; nor were they likely to be familiar with the experience of many trophy-less seasons. Those of us who were qualified thus knew not to expect an unbroken succession of trophies from whoever would follow. Pessimistically, maybe – but as things turned out, realistically. I mean it shouldn’t have been like that, given the reputations of some of those who’ve inhabited the Old Trafford hot-seat since then, but the relative struggles of the last ten years have only served to further underline Ferguson’s genius.
When he arrived, we were searching for our next Sir Matt Busby. He eclipsed Sir Matt half-way through his reign and went on to deserve all the adulation he received on that day and since.
We shouldn’t expect to see Fergie’s like again – but another ‘next Busby’ is still not too much to hope for…
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