‘Manchester United IS Ferguson’: Thousands of Fergie fans show their gratitude at autobiography book launch

By Sean Butters

Rarely, if ever, has there been such a jovial atmosphere inside a Tesco store.

The people of Manchester – the red half, at least – showed up in droves at Stretford’s Tesco extra to get a final glimpse of their man, with a member of staff’s estimate of ‘around 2,000’ looking decidedly conservative.

For 26 years Sir Alex Ferguson had driven Manchester United through a seasonal cycle of triumph after success – and here he was, to say one last goodbye to his adoring public through the medium of a book-signing.

“He’s a great man, a great manager, and he’s made me and thousands of other people very happy,” said John Spruce, a lively 79-year-old from Winsford who has held a season-ticket since 1957.

“I remember the day he was appointed – I said to me mate, ‘Who’s that?’ Now, him and [Sir Matt] Busby are equals.”

Although Sir Alex was hardly an obscure figure in the mid-eighties, by the end of his Old Trafford tenure he had become a living football legend beloved of United fans, a sentiment shared by Mr Spruce.

“Anything that he says, for me, that’s the truth. He was always straight, said what he meant, and it shows in the respect he gets from his players and the fans.” He gestured to the crowd behind him, saturated with red and white. “I mean, look how many of them are here! There’ll never be another like him.”

Mary Duckett, 52, who was born and bred in Stretford and has watched United since her early teens, said how it isn’t just a club, but a family.

“I used to work in there and the staff, the tea ladies and stuff like that, he [Sir Alex] treats them very well. Treated everyone the same. It’s a family,” she  said.

Up and down the winding queue, which snaked along both levels of the store and deep into the car park, people spoke of how they had been waiting since the early morning.

“People have been here since 6.30 this morning. He’s just an icon, a god,” said 30-year-old Lee Toothill from Stockport.

Despite the slim chance of actually meeting their hero – it was already 2.35pm and the signing ended in 25 minutes – there was just an overriding sense of people wanting to be a part of it, regardless of whether their copy of Alex Ferguson: My Autobiography was eventually signed.

Kaleem, 42, had come from Wythenshawe with his 11-year-old son, Zak, who plays for the United Foundation, an academy for local youths.

“Everybody turns up for Fergie, he’s the main man,” said Kaleem, surveying the seemingly endless line ahead of him. “I used to deliver at Carrington so I met him a few times.

“Everybody salutes him. When the season was finished he would talk to the fans and wish them well – he’d give them time.”

Zak quickly added: “That’s why loads of people are here!”

Fans were locked in animated conversation with strangers on all sides, with British, European, trans-atlantic and Asian fans disregarding the language barriers to swap stories, many of which began with “when I met Fergie…”

One of these came from Goff Paz, 54, who had flown over from Israel to meet ‘the Boss’.

Goff has been going to United games since 1967, a love which he passed on to son Ben, 22, who had joined him for the trip.

“I met him in Israel, right after United lost to Dortmund in the Champions League semi-final [in 1997] and he was so patient,” he said, pulling out a photo of himself and Ben with Sir Alex. He then thought for a second. “Actually, I say he has patience, but that’s if he’s in a good mood!”

Richard Mawer, 52, made an early morning pilgrimage from Lincoln, a journey he has been making since 1972.

“I like his single-mindedness, his determination to prove everybody else wrong – it’s us against the world. I’m a big fan of that,” he said. “Success is never enough, he always wanted more.”

“He’s definitely a man of the people. Everyone knows what he means to people in this city, so I was surprised when they said the book-signing was only two hours. But that he’s staying later, that sums him up perfectly. He could be sitting here for a month and there still be queues!”

Anthony Fleming, 23, from Didsbury, has been going to Old Trafford all his life and is now getting his first taste of life after Sir Alex.

“Greatest manager who ever lived, ain’t he?” he said, proudly showing his tiny baby sleeping in a pram, snug in a United shirt. “Even City fans, if you speak to them on the level they know he’s greatest ever.”

As he spoke, the tannoy crackled into life – an announcement that Sir Alex would be staying beyond the scheduled time was met with cheers and applause.

“See! There he is!” said a beaming Anthony. “That’s why I love him. He’s no longer the manager of Manchester United but he’s still got time for the United fans. Just shows his heart is still in it.”

Despite saying he had never really paid much attention to books, he promised that Sir Alex’s would receive due care.

“I’m gonna put my copy in a glass cabinet and pray to it before every game!”

But of all the praise and respect that fans lavished upon the red half of Manchester’s adopted son, perhaps the most poignant came from Ben Paz, who met Sir Alex as a child in Israel.

“For me, Manchester United is Ferguson, Ferguson is Manchester United.”

Image courtesy of Sky Sports via YouTube, with thanks.

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