Magical memories of 2012 - Football:'After losing the title in the cruellest way, Sir Alex Ferguson stood firm'

13 May: United are denied the title in heart-breaking style

Sir Alex Ferguson was stood on a football pitch when Manchester United had their hands wrenched off the Premier League trophy, deep in injury time, on the final day of the most dramatic finish to a season that anybody could ever remember.

Watching Ferguson that day, at the Stadium of Light, was a reminder of just why United have been the most dominant force in English football by a country mile for two decades. There was a roar from a pocket of Sunderland supporters, there was a twitch from Ferguson to where the cheer had come from, a quick question to a colleague to confirm what every instinct in his body told him had happened, that Manchester City had scored a third goal, another to follow Edin Dzeko's, and that the fairytale finish would not be his or his football club's after all, that it would belong to Manchester City and their fans.

Lesser men would have buckled at the enormity of that moment, when United's world appeared to have caved in. His side were not supposed to have a prayer on that final day of the season. Even his own belief was small, but it was enough to push his own team over the line, with a 1-0 victory. On such occasions, doing your own job can often be enough. Queen's Park Rangers scored twice at the Etihad Stadium and belief flowed through the veins of the Manchester United supporters stood behind the goal. Even they had not dared believe a magical day was about to unfold, that they could win it as City blew it. It was the dream of a football fan. It was the dream of a football club.

As the game at the Stadium of Light finished, Ferguson came on to the pitch with his players. At that point, they were the champions of England. Dzeko had just scored, but Manchester City were still drawing. English football may have to wait another 100 years for such tension, for such a finish.

Then came the fourth minute of injury time and Sergio Aguero's goal. United should have been crushed. Think of the tears that have flowed on football pitches; for a booking, for a missed penalty, for a cup defeat. For this, for losing the title in the most cruel fashion imaginable to your city rivals, Ferguson stood firm, like a fighter with an iron chin. There were some brisk handshakes, a wave to the travelling supporters and then he went down the tunnel to offer his congratulations to Manchester City for winning the title. Then came a promise that his side would fight harder than ever to win it back, and there was not a modicum of doubt in anyone's mind that he meant it.

Ferguson did not wallow in defeat as he has not drowned in success. He has set the agenda in English football for longer than most can remember. That final day of the season, when lesser men would have crumbled, was as visible an insight into why as you could possibly have had.

Further reading:

Olympics: ‘Mo, Jess and Greg gave us a night no one could forget’ 4 August: That night in the Olympic Stadium - James Lawton

Football: ‘When Chelsea saw off Barcelona, the joy was in watching the spoilers have their day’ 24 April: Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea (agg 2-3); Champions League semi-final second leg - Sam Wallace

Athletics: ‘The roar for Ennis made the hair stand up on the back of my neck’ 3 August: Opening day of track and field at the Olympics - Simon Turnbull

Rugby Union: ‘It was eerie seeing England sticking it to the silver fern’ 1 December: Manu Tuilagi waltzes to the try line as England smash New Zealand- Chris Hewett

Cycling: 'Bradley Wiggins' achievement was greatest we have ever seen from a Briton' 22 July: Bradley Wiggins wins the Tour de France - Alasdair Fotheringham

Football: ‘We’ll never encounter anything quite like it again’ 13 May: Manchester City win the title in thrilling style - Ian Herbert

Olympics: ‘Nobody personified it more than Hoy, the ultimate sportsman’ 27 July: Hoy leads out Team GB at the Games opening ceremony - Robin Scott-Elliot

Football: ‘An hour later Theo Walcott was a hero – given a standing ovation’ 26 February: Theo Walcott turns the jeers to cheers to steer Arsenal to derby victory - Glenn Moore

Golf: ‘This was it. The moment that would decide the Ryder Cup. A 10-footer for glory ... Get in!’ 30 September: Europe claim Ryder Cup in thrilling fashion - Kevin Garside

Boxing: ‘The fight was terrific from the first bell. It had urgency, nastiness' 14 July: David Haye v Dereck “Del Boy” Chisora - Steve Bunce

Tennis: ‘After Murray won he staggered in a daze, then held his head in his hands’ 11 September: Andy Murray ends Britain’s wait for a major - Paul Newman

Football: ‘That night Spain played thrilling, bold, beautiful football’  1 July: Beautiful Spain smash Italy in the Euro 2012 final - Jack Pitt-Brooke

Formula One: ‘Kimi’s Lotus win was F1’s most romantic result’  4 November: Kimi Raikkonen zooms to victory in Abu Dhabi - David Tremayne

Racing: ‘Frankel enlarged life’s comfort zone for us all’ 22 August: Juddmonte International Stakes; Frankel finally goes the full distance - Chris McGrath

Cricket: ‘A sweep for three and Cook had broken a 73-year-old landmark’  6 December: Alastair Cook breaks England century record - Ste

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