Standing at the top of the tunnel before we went out, the silence was absolutely surreal. Normally if you’re at any game, whether it’s parks football or the Premier League, there’s a buzz in the air. But to stand there in the tunnel 10 minutes before kick-off, look out and not hear a sound was just incredible.
As a referee on such occasions, you focus, concentrate, walk down that tunnel and fortunately I was able to block everything out. I’ve still got the vision and the memories of what I saw, but I didn’t feel the hairs standing on the back of my neck or get a lump in the throat until I got home and put the video of Match of the Day on. I had a job to do.
I think the game played itself. Everybody who was on that pitch wanted to pay their own tribute to one of the greatest managers of all time. My philosophy as a referee was quite simply if they wanted to play, let them get on with it. By God, did they get on with it! It was at such a pace. It flowed, nobody argued, they got on with it and it was a superb advert for the game; one of the finest games of football I’ve ever participated in.
The attitude of the players was faultless, and you had players like Mark Hughes, Steve Bruce, Eric Cantona, Peter Schmeichel… world, world class players, and of course Ryan Giggs who scored the goal – amazingly with his head. I can’t imagine he’s scored many with his head over the years! It was just a fantastic game to be a part of. I’ve worked my own national cup final in Wales three times, been to Wembley and travelled all over Europe but that is the one game that sticks out in my mind more than any other. At the final whistle, walking off, Sir Alex appeared beside me, shook my hand and just said: ‘You got your wish son. We paid the old man a good tribute today.’