I started playing the computer game FIFA by EA Sports, around 8 years back, and I always chose Manchester United in my career modes. Whenever I played, I never named the manager after myself, as fans of other teams seemed to do. “Alex Ferguson,” I insisted. “The manager of Manchester United has to be Alex Ferguson.”
And yet roughly around 10.30 PM IST on 19th May 2013, after all the other Premier League matches end, and the final whistle is blown at the Hawthorns, the unimaginable will happen; the manager of Manchester United won’t be Sir Alex Ferguson. It’s an odd thought. It’s the only thing I have ever known. The thought of Alex Ferguson not being the manager of Manchester United, is like waking up when it is still dark outside; it should always be light outside, when you wake up, isn’t it?
Football serves an odd function- if you are reading this; there is a chance that you care about it. It’s a fascinating aspect of human lives, how much emotion we invest on 22 people kicking a ball around a park. Football generates smiles, tears, love, hatred (more of pity), an escape route, a sense of togetherness. Family.
Manchester United are often called a Family club- a massive global brand, at the centre of which there are people who have worked in the club, long enough to remember Sir Alex’s first piece of silverware.
Football is also a space where it is acceptable for grown men to shed tears and show emotions; emotions borne out of a greater loss but they manifest in the delight or devastation we feel of some good or not-so-good kicking of a ball.
Somewhere in this mix, when suppressed emotions that can’t be expressed in another dimension, are given an escape valve, deep attachments are formed. And there can be no greater sporting attachment, that what the United fans, share with Sir Alex.
Forget the Sir, not just because it is a relic of a feudal age, but also because it’s a later addition. For us he is Alex Ferguson. He was our family club’s dad.
The statistics of his success have been and will be printed in just about every eulogy (‘eulogy’ – he’s not even dead, even if it feels like it), but I prefer to think of the moments that he created.
How many screams of maniacal joy – the lusty, throaty, primate ones you think will never end – did he create?
How many Monday-morning winks and smiles upon entering school or the workplace, how many passionate arguments, how many pumped fists (or fists hit off walls for those not fortunate enough to be Red), how many moments where you just lost it, threw your head back and thought ‘I am alive. This is fucking living.’
Ferguson brought through a generation of kids, and the surrogate father analogy was given a whole new dimension. The Class of 92 that became the heart of Ferguson’s team must share the deepest bond with him- David became the black sheep, Ryan, Paul and Gary became the epitome of loyalty and young Phil was sent up the road to the successor.
Then came the Knighthood and a passage to grand-parenthood. Cristiano Ronaldo certainly needed a father figure and he got one. We all watched on as Sir Alex became the elder statesman in the club, this great manager becoming the greatest of all time, right in front of our eyes.
Like in all families, there was also betrayal and tragedy. He sided with the Glazers, rather than the supporters. Perhaps he felt that he can act as a buffer between the supporters and the owner. Perhaps for less noble reasons. He asked us, if we didn’t like it, we can go and support Chelsea (Or- we could bury ourselves and just go without food for days).
Like all dads he embarrassed us, not with his funny dancing- the fist pumped goal celebration was joyous and a sight to behold- but with his raw ruthlessness that could grate lesser beings. Jaap Stam, Ruud van Nistelrooy, the weird goalkeeping blind spot. But, as you grow up you tend to accept the frailties of your parents and realize they are not perfect and Sir Alex wasn’t.
I am in my mid-20’s now and has tried to control my emotional investment on men , in a certain colored top, kicking a ball around, to manageable levels. But Fergie is from a different era, an era where I fought with my school friend during recess over a feisty United-Arsenal match. Fergie pre-dates the sane me.
I am so devastated that Sir Alex will cease to be our manager and yet so happy, that he is retiring after giving us so many moments to cherish. It’s a funny feeling to think about – that a man who you don’t know, a man who organizes people to kick a ball and happens to be very good at it, has been a serious part of your life, one of the parts that you’ll actually think about when all is said and done. The best nights of my life were made by my friends, my girlfriends, my family, my surroundings or by Alex Ferguson. I didn’t cry at the montages or at the announcement but a certain cartoon of Sir Alex, exiting the Old Trafford gates with a bag in his hands, and players from different eras of his management, waving at him; made my eyes heavy.
Fergie has been ruthless, and leaves our club registered in the Cayman Islands. He hurt a lot of people, but that is not the full story. This love is complicated.
There has been so much human goodness- the generous support to young struggling managers. He is a trade union man, after all. The thousands of letters of condolence and congratulations, done without fanfare.
I loved my dad, even though he was not perfect, and I love Ferguson, even though he is not either. So, thank you Alex, for dedicating more than a quarter of a century to an entity that we love and for giving us those endless moments, those last minute goals, the joy of calling up my Chelsea supporting friend at 4 in the morning, after an European Cup final. It’s been so amazing that we can’t believe it’s over.
I understand that impermanence is a fundamental part of nature but we thought that you’d be the exception. I will remember the joy you brought for the rest of my life, and the pain will fade.
And finally I will remember the mantra, which gives perspective to a situation when the inevitable happens; don’t be sad that it is over, be glad that it happened.