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Manchester United’s biggest legal fan, Mark Rawlinson, pays tribute to his footballing hero
The share price fell. Prime Minister David Cameron moved to comment. State opening of Parliament and Queen’s speech relegated to inside pages.
Where were you when you first heard Fergie has resigned?
Memories came flooding back – Cantona the missing piece in the jigsaw and Steve Bruce’s late, late header against Sheffield Wednesday in ’93; “you can’t win anything with kids” - Alan Hansen in ’95; Beckham scoring from halfway against Wimbledon; the treble in ’99 with Schmeichel’s penalty save from Bergkamp and Giggsy dribbling round the entire Arsenal team; injury time at the Nou Camp, “who put the ball in the German’s net, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer”; John Terry’s slip in Moscow; Liverpool “knocked off their perch”.
For me Old Trafford has always been a Theatre of Dreams.
As a rarity – a Manchester United fan born in Manchester – I suffered 26 years of hurt. Don’t ask me why – Man U is personal; it’s tribal. Before Sir Alex, I would have settled for just one Premier League title, never mind 20. But he built team after team.
Take a pot - add big goalkeeper, Schmeichel or Van der Sar; some ever present club men - Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs; big bruising centre halves – Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Rio Ferdinand or Nemanja Vidic; the odd touch of suspicious genius – Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Wayne Rooney or Cristiano Ronaldo; genuine goal-scorers, Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Ruud Van Nistelrooy or Robin Van Persie; and don’t forget the unsung heroes – Denis Irwin, Wes Brown, Phil Neville, Nicky Butt, John O’Shea, Darren Fletcher, and Michael Carrick etc.
But more than that, Sir Alex was a spiritual heir to Matt Busby. His emphasis on youth policy is an echo of the Busby Babes. I was born just before the Munich air disaster and Europe has always brought special nights. Watching George Best against Benfica on a black and white TV, being in the Nou Camp for the injury time comeback and agonising over the Moscow penalty shoot out in a Boston bar.
True it helps if you work for a ‘class act’. I saw the club from the inside during the defence against the Glazer bid – and they were hugely professional. The twin pillars of Sir Alex and David Gill, the retiring CEO, have helped maintain the heritage, notwithstanding the financial pressures which the Glazers’ regime has heaped on.
But Sir Alex and the mindset he has created have been key. He is not only a teambuilder, but a massive motivator. Hates losing but uses adversity as a fuel. It was inevitable that he would leave with Manchester painted red again. “Never say die” – how many times do Man U score late on? “The club is bigger than any player” – just ask Paul Ince, Jaap Stam or Roy Keane. Keep learning and evolving. Siege mentality. Take the pressure off the players.