• Sun
  • Aug 31, 2014
  • Updated: 6:55am
Column
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 May, 2013, 4:51am

Will the game be the same without gruff Glaswegian?

The resignation of Sir Alex, who has been a major part of world soccer for more than 26 years, leaves a weird, confusing void

BIO

Peter Simpson is a China-UK based journalist and the SCMP’s former Beijing 2008 Olympics news editor. He has covered major international news and sporting events, most recently the London 2012 Olympics and Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine. Peter is a Premier League season ticket holder at newly promoted Southampton FC.
 

Where were you when Alex Ferguson resigned? On Facebook? Riding the MTR? Checking your portfolio? Ironing your socks?

The older generation can supposedly remember where they were when JFK was assassinated in 1963 (Fergie once revealed he kept a copy of JFK's autopsy report by his bed).

The middle-aged have the death of Princess Diana in 1997. Now the younger generation can bore their grandchildren by recalling with pride where they were when Ferguson officially bid adieu after 261/2 long years of over-achievement at Old Trafford .

When news of his season's end departure broke, the share price of the leviathan soccer brand tumbled 2 per cent before recovering slightly. Newspaper cartoonists duly took the cue with illustrations of board-room panic at chewing-gum giant Wrigleys.

The long-expected retirement of a 71-year-old topped the BBC's flagship 6pm news bulletin, knocking into second spot the Queen's annual speech to Parliament outlining her government's plans for the legislative year ahead.

Forget immigration and the rise of the far right, a flat-lining economy, rocketing unemployment, terrorism and the starving millions. When the "greatest British soccer manager of all time" (the excited BBC's political editor described him as the "greatest Briton ever") bows out, everything else pales into insignificance.

I was washing up and listening to the radio. United fans, pundits, former players and even political leaders held aloft their sleeves from which their emotions unashamedly dripped. Many wept live on air to the world.

Blabbing Britain entered one of its "national outpouring of grief" episodes - a sentimental period full of sniffles and sobbing that infuriates those of us who prefer to conduct off-pitch affairs with a stiff upper lip and keep our tears and cheers for between kick-off and the final whistle.

Hearts became unfathomable wells of despair and disbelief which were duly sucked bone dry by reporters goading them to display ever more deeper, meaningful emotion.

Thankfully, the nation pulled out of its emotional nose-dive and my radio was saved a dunking in the sud-filled sink.

Liverpool and Manchester City fans are pleased Fergie is soon to depart, as are many neutrals. The end of United's near-monopoly of the EPL summit and silverware these past two decades maybe near. But even the most ardent United adversary is stirred by this ending of an era. Fergie's stats speak loudly.

What makes us all feel slightly weird is he has been part of our lives for over a quarter of a century - a reassuring figure of continuity in our turbulent worlds between work, home and football.

No matter what happened - births, deaths, marriages, relegations or promotions - Fergie would be there come Saturday.

Of course, he and his magnificent men routinely rankled with a win nicked here, another title won there and all the technical area theatrics and gum chewing in between.

That he saved United with his working-class ethics and firm belief that hard graft and loyalty are as important as the ability to volley on target or run into the box, is a standard to which we should all perhaps aspire.

Crucially, he helped save English football and put it on the map after the ugliness of the late 1980s.

When the global millions bought into the EPL each August, they were not just tuning into great attacking football and flamboyant players but also for Ferguson.

He built unforgettable teams that gave us all scores of thrilling games - matches that sent the heart pumping no matter which colours you wore.

He peppered the football landscape with his protégés - Mark Hughes, David Beckham, Viv Anderson, Steve Bruce, Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Paul Ince, Dwight York, Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Robin van Persie - the list is achingly too long.

You'd think from the eulogy overkill Fergie had passed on to the great dug-out in the sky. Alive or otherwise, all United legends loom large at Old Trafford.

In his new role as adviser and ambassador, Ferguson will effectively manage the team by proxy, slowly letting go of the reins - so long as his successor delivers.

Who would want to be David Moyes at the start of this new dawn? Come August, every time he looks up from the home technical area, he will see the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand glaring back at him with steely, Glaswegian expectancy, issuing gruff Fergie-esque grunts of approval or disdain.

The emotions will run high among all soccer fans tomorrow when Ferguson steps out for his final home game against Swansea.

This bizarre week was succinctly summed up by a fan called Jessie from Hong Kong. She, along with two friends, had gone to the Carrington training centre on Wednesday and by chance stumbled into an international news story.

She was among the first to be interviewed by the BBC as news broke of the emperor's abdication.

"It's really sad. Since I was born he has been the manager. I can't imagine life without him," she said. "I already had tickets for Sunday's game but now my emotions are really complicated. I am excited and happy about going but also confused," she said.

Unwittingly, she spoke for all of us.

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