The tourist coaches were continuing to unload the football pilgrims to the doors of the Manchester United Megastore as darkness fell last night at the Theatre of Dreams.
Most already knew the news: Wayne Rooney was staying. The decision of the 24-year-old striker, who has scored but a single goal for his club this season, has transfixed his adopted city and the wider global community of fans who have turned United into the most powerful sporting brand in the world.
So, too, has the amount of money he will be paid. According to sources within the game, Rooney will now be awarded up to £200,000 each week for the next five years to kick a ball for United. It is a weekly pay packet from which he could still expect change if he was planning to buy a red-brick, three-bedroom, semi-detached home in the neighbourhood of Manchester United's ground, Old Trafford, an area with deprivation and high numbers of poor immigrant families which by historical quirk has provided the setting for the most popular football team in the world since the patch of land was carved out from beside the Cheshire railway line in 1910.
Yet the opulence of Wayne's world and his record-breaking deal stands in stark contrast to the other news which rocked the city this week.
It is now estimated that 40,000 people in the Greater Manchester area will lose their jobs as a result of Chancellor George Osborne's plans to cut £83bn from public spending to fight the deficit. Those cuts will translate into the loss of 30,000 public-sector posts and a further 10,000 job losses from private businesses.
The majority of jobs will be lost either in the NHS or from the region's 10 town halls, where 6,750 workers are expected to be added to the dole queue, where they will join the unemployed from government departments, quangos, universities and the police. It is a situation being repeated across the country with yesterday's retail figures adding to the picture of economic gloom as unemployment threatens to top 3 million in the next few years.
Perhaps that is why money – or the amount being lavished on the England forward – was a subject being studiously ignored by the two chief protagonists in the week-long football soap opera which has unfolded around the player's future over the past seven days.
Rooney apologised yesterday to the fans and to his manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, for suggesting that the club lacked the ambition to win major trophies, and intimated that its controversial owners were starving the side of the multimillions they needed to sign the world's leading talent – a comment which alienated and angered his teammates.
He is said to have been astonished at the reaction to his threat to quit the club, which resulted in an angry mob of supporters picketing his Prestbury mansion on Thursday night and his picture being defaced in a city centre sports shop yesterday with the words "Join City and you die". Sir Alex announced that a deal had been reached and that Rooney was now back on message.
He admitted: "It has been a turbulent few days. We have been hurt by events but Wayne has apologised to me and the players. He will do so with the supporters, too. I always feel it is a quality in a person when they say they are sorry and realise they have made a mistake. That happens with young people." For his part, Rooney praised Sir Alex as a "genius" and promised to repay the fans in the way they would most appreciate – goals.
For those disembarking from the coaches outside Old Trafford in the drizzle last night under the watchful gaze of the United Trinity – statues of George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton – most could only wonder at the riches on show. Igor Michurin, 34, a doctor from Novosibirsk in central Russia, emerged from the megastore clutching a pair of Manchester United pyjamas for his daughter. He said his club, FC Sibir, could never afford to sign a Rooney. "Yes, he is a very good footballer, but he needs to grow up. He makes mistakes, but that is natural when you are young." Bayu Chang, a 33-year-old banker from Malaysia, was less understanding: "For me, he should go, because he has the intention to go. It's too much money, of course, at such a young age."
Elsewhere in the city, fans were posting their feelings of relief or fury on websites or by calling radio phone-ins. Others were contemplating the news more thoughtfully. Greg Stringer, 47, a civil servant with two children, has been supporting Manchester United since 1970. He said: "When he handed in the transfer request, there was really no point in United fans being pious about it. He had already betrayed his first love, Everton, to come here. For all the implied criticism of the club's ambition, it is still better to have him than not. Yes, he is a money-grabbing hypocrite – but at least he is our money-grabbing hypocrite."
Timeline: How it unfolded
Sunday 17 October
The Sunday Mirror claims a "world exclusive" front-page story which says that Sir Alex Ferguson has told Wayne Rooney he no longer wants him at Old Trafford.
The story gathers pace with the back pages, and some front pages, reporting that Rooney has told Manchester United that he wants to leave the club, and that he and Sir Alex Ferguson have not spoken for a month.
In a frank press conference, Sir Alex Ferguson says there has been no row with his star player, but confirms that Rooney has indeed rejected a new contract and is "adamant" that he wants to leave the club. Speculation is rife that he wants to join rivals Manchester City.
Rooney counters with a statement of his own, questioning the club's ambition and quality of the squad. He says that he has refused to sign a new contract because he has not been given assurances "about the future squad".
An angry mob of Manchester United supporters gather outside Rooney's Cheshire mansion. According to reports, the 30-strong group, carrying a banner which read "Sign for City and you're dead", pressed the intercom and demanded to speak with the striker.
In an astonishing U-turn, Rooney announces that he is staying at United and has signed a new five-year contract. He reportedly apologised to Sir Alex and to his teammates and said that it was his manager's "belief and support" which convinced him to stay.Reuse content