So then. The day every single Manchester United fan has been dreading has finally arrived. The greatest manager that ever lived will leave his office next weekend for the final time, and the Sir Alex Ferguson era will finally come to a halt.
There aren’t many words that haven’t already been uttered today by ex-players, fellow managers, friends, journalists or otherwise, but there are memories that haven’t emerged.
I’ve never known a Manchester United without Sir Alex – we won our first league title in 26 years three days before I was born, in April 1993. He’s always been there in some shape or form as a little guide to the timeline of my life – I associate the great man with so many elements of my childhood.
I remember being completely in awe when watching him walk down the touchline at my first game against Everton in 1997. I remember watching him leap up and down on Boxing Day 1999 when we thumped Bradford 4-0.
I remember watching the first half of the Champions League Final in 1999, before being sent to bed as school was the next day. I remember going to sleep thinking we’d lost, only to be woken up an hour later to hear we’d turned it round. I remember running downstairs to watch us lift the Cup, as Mum held the phone to the telly, and hear the immortal words, ‘Football, bloody hell’.
I remember watching us lift trophy after trophy, and feeling really greedy when someone else lifted our cup. Because it was ours - we always won it, so why should anyone else have it?
Premier League after Premier League, and FA Cups galore. Watching us lift the Champions League in 1999 could only be topped by 2008, when I physically sobbed as van der Sar became a hero. Even watching his face of complete joy as Michael Owen stuck the 97th-minute winner into the net during the best Manchester Derby I’ve ever seen back in 2009.
And then there were the very few disappointments. Jaap Stam, Roy Keane, David Beckham… All three were my favourite players, and all three left on slightly distasteful terms. Losing the Champions League Final on two separate occasions over the last four years hurt deep, yet we sat down, we brushed ourselves off, and we started again.
It seemed almost routine that a season would begin as it did the previous year – Sir Alex racing off down the touchline into his technical area, getting ready for another assault on Europe’s silverware. Yet not come August 2013.
It’s a terrifying prospect, but one that was unavoidable at some stage. After 26 years, 1,500 games and 38 trophies, it’s time for him to clear his desk, empty his locker and head on down the corridors of Old Trafford. Although only heading upstairs as a Director and Ambassador to the club, the dugout will never, ever be the same again.
Sir Alex now has eleven days left as manager of Manchester United Football Club. We now have eleven days to witness the end of a wonderful era in world football. The last of the very great managers to have been given the time, the money and the chance to develop a squad capable of taking on the world. The difference between Sir Alex and the rest, however, is he didn’t just do it once – he did it time and time again.
I’ve felt quite numb all day – it’s really hit hard. I’ve never met Sir Alex, let alone know him well, yet it feels like a friend is leaving. Football isn’t just a game to a football fan – it’s a way of life.
It’s something that will continue on and on no matter what strifes or struggles you feel in your life. Your friends are still going to appear at the game every Saturday afternoon, even if things are getting you down. You can confide in football, yet always feel proud of whatever has been achieved. It may sound stupid, but until you feel it, you won’t understand it.
And losing Sir Alex a week on Sunday will be an emotional affair. It’s not just the end of an era, it’s the beginning of a new one. And as sad as it may be, it’s also an exciting prospect.
Manchester United will live on without Sir Alex, yet a little bit of it will fade as he walks away. He’s not just helped shape the club, he’s helped shape world football, and he’s helped shape me.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you, Sir Alex. Thanks for making the world a little bit brighter for us all.