'Thanks Gaffer': Sir Alex Ferguson's complicated relationship with Manchester United fans meant they rarely had any songs for him

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Stretford End provides send off for Ferguson, a manager Manchester United will miss more than anyone knows

The Stretford End asked Merseyside if it was watching – and had that place really opted for such an afternoon of purgatory then it might have reflected that there would have been a few more banners rigged up, had this signature  moment belonged to Anfield. The mighty images of Paisley, Shankly and Dalglish flutter across the Anfield Road end every weekend and though there was something extraordinary about the Maoist waving of red flags, and about the 71-year-old who commanded Old Trafford as he talked and breathed heavily into the microphone, don’t let it be said that he has ever enjoyed a personality cult. A few bed-sheets were held aloft in the cold early evening rain – a slightly strange “Thankyou Uncle Alex” and “Thanks Gaffer, from the Stretford End” – but the one vast banner of the bespectacled Alex Ferguson arrived late, fluttered briefly in the breeze and was quickly gone.

He has given them so much here but it says something for the complicated relationship between him and them that they have rarely had an anthem for him. Some people remember that old song “Every single one of us loves Alex Ferguson” but not terribly many and there have been very few more in the years since. The retiring manager’s most animated waving last night was reserved for his family in the directors’ box, as he drifted dreamily around the pitch for one last time, a red streamer stuck on his foot which Nemanja Vidic helpfully put a boot on to catch.

It was when the stadium announcer, Alan Keegan, not stinting on the grandiose statements, called for Old Trafford to make this “a great vision for the world to see” and asked the “greatest manager in British football” to step out that you first saw the modesty of the relationship. The man in the familiar trench coat and zip up black top just wandered down the tunnel, just like he has been doing for the last 9,685 days, out on the centre circle and back again.

A full 40 minutes had elapsed when the first rendition of “Stand up for Alex Ferguson” went up, another followed 10 minutes after the interval and by 75 minutes we had scaled the effusive reaches of “We love you, Fergie” but the real pleasure was being taken in the pain which was being inflicted on others. “Fergie 13, Scousers 0” and “Mancini’s got the sack”.

It was a challenging occasion for the fanzines to get right. “Bloody hell, is it time already?” read the speech bubble on Red Issue, with Fergie peering at his timepiece, and its own chronicle of the 26 years included admissions that there had been times when he wasn’t loved. “Would the last person to leave Manchester please remember to switch the lights out,” was the cover headline which accompanied an image of Ferguson’s head in a lightbulb, more than 200 Red Issues ago.

And then there was a wry reminder of the “most famous bedsheet ever manufactured by the old Cottonopolis” because “what had been painted on it was so shockingly out of character for us.” Of course, it read: “3 Years of Excuses and It’s still Crap – Ta-Ra Fergie”. Ouch! – as the magazine said.

There was not exactly a red-hot glow of sentimentality for the old man who is walking off either. An editorial expressed the doubt that David Moyes, United manager-designate, would be “perceived to be Fergie’s choice when Fergie is bound to be on the board that will oversee transfer expenditure and the like.”

For many, Ferguson will always be the socialist who sold out to and established an affinity with the Glazers. Others can’t forget the Rock of Gibraltar affair, or Ferguson’s inveterate dislike of FC United, the symbol of those fans who viewed the club’s commercial revolution as something which took it away from fans and erased a bit of its soul. For yet more fans, it is simply a question of familiarity and success breeding not so much contempt as mild indifference. 

There are many who will not see it that way, even though the Ferguson matchday scarves were not flying off the stalls on Sir Matt Busby Way. Amid the day’s vast volume of words expended on the subject, Gary Neville’s were the best because they captured in such detail the team spirit Ferguson inculcated.

“I can remember a couple of occasions when individual players had got into trouble and he was angrier with the team rather than the individuals concerned,” Neville related. “His reasoning was: ‘Why did you let your team-mate get into trouble? Why weren’t you there to protect him? You’re all responsible for not looking after him. You make sure he doesn’t get into trouble’.” Such prescient words on the day that Mancini drew close to the sack in part because of his willingness to attack his players and colleagues in public.

The Swansea manager, Michael Laudrup, seemed surprised by the discourtesy of someone suggesting that he would he would “glad to see the back” of Ferguson but the answer was “Yes”, actually.

“Managers and players they come and go but you are talking about something very special. Not just football here but football in general. I don’t even remember another Manchester United manager,” he replied. “How a manager can go on for year after year after year with that desire to win, thinking about the present and the future as well….”

And though there was none of the emotion Steve Bruce had beforehand suggested, rather hesitantly, that we would might see in his old boss, there was a reminder of how Ferguson has affected and transfixed generations of football players. It came in the simple, measured message he delivered for them in his brief, five-minute appearance on the pitch.

“You know how good you are,” he said. “You know the jersey you are wearing. You know what it means to be here. Don’t let yourself down,” he said.

It was a moment of extraordinary power. They will miss him when he’s gone.

Related articles

Ferguson hits Rooney with his parting shot

Rooney urged to remain at United by Gary Neville

Manchester United 2 Swansea 1 match report

Sir Alex Ferguson's complicated relationship with Manchester United fans

Paul Scholes: 'I know it's the right time'

Rio Ferdinand thrilled to give Ferguson perfect send-off

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
News
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments