'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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing