Sir Alex Ferguson claps the fans at Old Trafford

Sir Alex's unforgettable Old Trafford farewell

Tuesday 12 May 2020 09:49

The famously slate-grey skies that cover Manchester for 360 days each year seemed oblivious.

On the surface, at least, it could have been almost any afternoon at Old Trafford during the Sir Alex Ferguson era.
United were walking out as league champions, as per, and it was absolutely lagging it down. So far, so standard.
But there was no escaping the crackle in the air; an electric charge that even the north's incessant rain could not quell.
Just days before, the legendary manager had announced that this match against Swansea City would be his last official assignment in M16.
Relive the moment Sir Alex made his final entrance from the Old Trafford tunnel as manager.
It already seems decades ago, despite just seven years having passed. That may be due to the difficulties in replicating the achievements of the larger-than-life Scot.
Those of us who enjoyed watching Sir Alex's United teams, as we grew from children to teenagers to adults, have since come to realise what it is like to support a football team that doesn't win 13 titles in 20 years; one that sometimes finishes outside the top three places in the Premier League.
But what was it like to be there on that bittersweet day when he stepped out at Old Trafford for the final time as our manager?
In a strange way, it was exciting. The boss was so brilliant, and his desire to win so unquenchable, that many fans had undoubtedly begun taking our successes for granted.
The uncertainty of what was to come after this expansive epoch was – at the time, at least! – weirdly thrilling. It filled you with the kind of nervous adrenaline you experienced before your first day at secondary school.
Those of us who hadn't witnessed the 70s and 80s due to our age were about to get a dose of something different.
But the day of that Swansea game itself was pure emotion.
I mentioned that the skies above didn't seem to have received the press release about Sir Alex's last match at the Theatre of Dreams. And neither was I aware of this seismic event when, months earlier, I signed up to take part in an 80-mile charity cycle ride across the hilly Peak District on the very same day.
As I noted earlier, it was exceptionally wet. I just about made it to Old Trafford in time to see the manager walk out to receive a guard of honour. Physically and mentally shattered from cycling in the cold and wet for hours, I got to my seat to find the lad who sits next to me bursting into tears at the sight of the 71-year-old Scot striding out onto the pitch and applauding his adoring masses. I just about held it together.
Watch the highlights from Sir Alex's final victory as United manager.
The game itself was largely forgettable. I remember Paul Scholes – also making his final home appearance for the club – keenly getting forward from midfield, clearly trying to find one more goal to add to his tally, to round things off.
But until Rio Ferdinand's late winner, the football seemed a mere pre-amble to the main event. There was an unusual atmosphere. One of celebration, no doubt – we would receive the trophy for our 20th league title upon full-time – but also uncertain and sentimental.
The heartstrings really began to ache when Sir Alex took to the pitch after the final whistle. "You have been the most fantastic experience of my life," he told the crowd.
Club legend Paul Scholes also made his final Old Trafford appearance on the same day.
The most oft-remembered bit of his speech followed: "I'd also like to remind you that when we had bad times here, the club stood by me, all my staff stood by me, the players stood by me. Your job now is to stand by our new manager. That is important."
Despite the disappointments that have followed, the match-going fans have, by and large, done that faithfully. Despite the difficult times and some poor results, managers have been endlessly supported.
It was proof Sir Alex's words mattered. They still do.
There was still time for one more match: an equally emotional – and bonkers – contest at The Hawthorns, where United and West Bromwich Albion played out a 5-5 draw. But for most Reds, who were not able to cram into the away end that afternoon in the Black Country, the Swansea match at Old Trafford would go down in folklore as Sir Alex's farewell.
Despite the average quality of the match itself, the afternoon overall was probably something close to the most memorable, unforgettable one many of us have ever spent at the great old place. 

It was a fitting finale for a great old man who, for my generation at least, gifted us the most golden years we are ever likely to experience.


To mark the anniversary of Sir Alex's Old Trafford farewell, we'll be streaming the full 90 minutes in the Official App and on the homepage of 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.