Football: Crowning of the Champions: Giggs' art the star turn at the party: Old Trafford has a night to remember as Ince and Pallister finish with a flourish to ruin Rovers' ambitions

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Manchester United. .3

Blackburn Rovers . .1

THERE was not a dry eye in the house, and certainly not a dry throat. By the time Manchester United took a break from the champagne to fulfil their last home fixture of a historic season, the celebrations had reached the maudlin stage, and strong men were blubbing.

After a wait of 26 years, the party had been in full swing for some 26 hours when United were persuaded to put down the glasses long enough to beat Blackburn 3-1 before an ecstatic crowd.

It was an 'I was there' occasion, and more than 40,000 - famous faces among them. Sir Matt Busby and eight of the team who won that last title, back in 1967, were in attendance - Best, Law, Charlton, et al.

Blackburn, who arrived with five wins in six games, and pressing for a place in Europe, had the temerity to take the lead, but then found themselves swept away on a tide of emotion. The initial impression that United would be in recreational rather than competitive mood was fuelled by a pre-match announcement to the effect that 'the party should start right now'.

Packed to the rafters, Old Trafford needed no bidding to let rip when the local heroes appeared to the Queen anthem 'We are the Champions'.

Alex Ferguson received a tumultuous welcome when he walked out on to the pitch to collect the manager-of-the-month bubbly for April. Just one more jeroboam on a night littered with empties.

Distracted by all the back- slapping, United fell behind after eight minutes to a crisp near- post volley from Kevin Gallacher - the Scot's sixth goal in seven games.

The Blackburn loyalists loved that, interrupting the hymns of praise to the new champions with a derisory 'You're worse than San Marino'.

The Stretford End laughed, then erupted in deafening response to a handsome equaliser from the young man who has been the source of more Mancunian pride, and pleasure, than any other. Twenty-one minutes had elapsed when Ryan Giggs decided it was time to give his fan club something to shout about, and exploded a free-kick past Bobby Mimms from all of 30 yards.

Even the referee joined in the end-of-term atmosphere when he awarded a penalty against Mike Newell, who had caught the ball after an obvious handling offence by Steve Bruce. Blackburn failed to see the funny side of a farcical situation, and shepherded Mr Borrett to the touchline for consultations which saw the decision reversed.

A week ago, Old Trafford would have lynched the officials. Their who-cares-who-wins reaction here was to stoke up the atmosphere with a Mexican wave.

A poignant moment came at the start of the second half, when Bryan Robson appeared in place of Lee Sharpe. The old warrior has been the backbone of successive United sides for more than a decade, and it is cruelly ironic that the title he had set his heart on should come after a season of personal decline, in which injury has restricted him to four starts in the League.

Appropriately, perhaps, it was not Robson but Paul Ince, his replacement at the hub of the team, who ensured there would be a fitting outcome, by shooting in from six yards.

Gary Pallister's third, in the dying seconds, was a nice touch, the only United player not to have scored this season finally breaking his duck with a crisp free-kick from the edge of the D.

By the end, Giggs was going through his party pieces, a la Best, and the audience was torn between 'ooh-aahing' and 'looking on the bright side of life'.

Six wins in succession: truly a champion finish. When Robson went up with Steve Bruce to collect the new trophy, it brought the house down. A touching finale to a night awash with sentiment as well as champagne.

Manchester United: Schmeichel; Parker, Irwin, Bruce, Sharpe (Robson, h/t), Pallister, Cantona, Ince, McClair (Kanchelskis, 81), Hughes, Giggs. Substitute not used: Sealey (gk).

Blackburn Rovers: Mimms; Marker (Cowans, 73), Le Saux, Sherwood, Hendry, Moran (Andersson, 76), Ripley, Atkins, Gallacher, Newell, Wilcox. Substitute not used: Talia (gk).

Referee: J Borrett (Great Yarmouth).

United's rewards, page 22

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