Sir Alex Ferguson waves to fans

How Sir Alex signed off with a high-scoring game

On 19 May 2013, Sir Alex Ferguson's long reign as Manchester United manager came to its conclusion with an unforgettable 5-5 draw against West Bromwich Albion.

The Reds had been crowned champions of England for a record-breaking 20th time almost a month earlier, after a 3-0 romp past Aston Villa at Old Trafford had extended the gap over Manchester City, in second, to a mammoth 16 points.
 
But the story of the season's final weeks took a dramatic twist when Sir Alex announced his impending retirement after 26 glorious years at the helm and, more importantly, 13 top-flight titles, five FA Cups, four League Cups, two European Cups and two world titles.
 
A showpiece farewell had taken place in M16 a week before, against Swansea, but a trip to the Black Country still remained in order to complete the domestic campaign.
 
And, fittingly, that last afternoon applied an extraordinary full-stop to an extraordinary career.
Sure, Sir Alex would have liked to have won the match – a 29th league win of the season would have equalled Chelsea's Premier League record – but the buccaneering attacking football that characterised much of the contest was appropriate fare, given the thrilling style in which many of his great teams had played.
 
Just 9,690 days after his maiden match in charge – an inauspicious 2-0 defeat to Oxford United – the guv'nor from Govan was given a guard of honour by both starting XIs before the match kicked off, as all four sides of the ground rose to honour his unprecedented achievements.
 
And when the football began, an experimental United team (David De Gea, Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes all started on the bench) looked as if they were determined to pay their own unique tribute to the 71-year-old.
Shinji Kagawa's header soon gave us the lead, and a Jonas Olsson own goal made it two before the clock had reached double figures. When Alexander Buttner crashed home an emphatic third on the half-hour mark, the game appeared to be effectively over.
 
But Steve Clarke's plucky West Brom nabbed one back five minutes before the break, when James Morrison slotted home a close-range finish.
 
Then Chelsea loanee – and future Red – Romelu Lukaku was introduced for the second period, and the Belgian soon reduced the deficit to one with a well-placed but tame effort that Anders Lindegaard looked disappointed to see pass beneath him.
 
However, United quickly reasserted our grip. Robin van Persie's 30th goal of a sublime debut season made it 4-2, and then Chicharito nabbed the final effort of the Ferguson era by tapping home substitute Ryan Giggs's cross from the left.
Sir Alex enjoys a light-hearted moment – clutching his trademark chewing gum – before kick-off.
That meant the lead was once again stretched to three, as it had been in the first period. But, chaotically, some haphazard defending let the Baggies back in within the final 10 minutes.
 
Lukaku and Youssouf Mulumbu scored within a minute of each other to urge the Hawthorns to its feet as the match neared its conclusion, and with four minutes remaining, Lukaku completed a remarkable hat-trick by bundling a loose ball over the line from a couple of yards.
 
Ferguson was impassive in the dugout, no doubt marvelling at football's ability to continually throw up something new: this was the highest-scoring match of his United tenure, 1,500 games in.
Romelu Lukaku celebrates after scoring one of his hat-trick of goals for West Brom against United in May 2013
A hat-trick from future United striker Romelu Lukaku denied United the win in Ferguson's final game.
There was no final three points, though the draw did mean that Manchester City had been cast adrift by a whopping 11 points. For the manager, it was a phenomenal 13th title in 21 seasons.
 
The final moments were as touching as you might expect. The team went to applaud the away fans in the Smethwick End, and then a shy Sir Alex, after some prompting from Ryan Giggs, strode out ahead of the players to give a modest bow and a kiss to the people who loved him most.
 
And then it was all over. For the afternoon, and forever. The last moments, like many that had gone before, could best be described by the simple lyrics of a celebrated song from one of the boss's favourite singers, Nat King Cole: 'Unforgettable, in every way. And forever more, that's how you'll stay.'

MATCH REWIND

To mark the anniversary of Sir Alex's final fixture, we'll be streaming the full 90 minutes in the Official App and on the homepage of ManUtd.com from 19:00 BST today (Tuesday). It's the latest instalment in our Match Rewind series. Previous episodes can be viewed on our dedicated page here.

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