For people of a certain age like me who follow football, the last few weeks have been a monumental time of tumult. Sir Alex Ferguson, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, and Michael Owen have announced their retirements bringing the curtain down on the careers of a particular generation that we have literally grown up with.
The biggest news is clearly about Ferguson. I am 30 years old and I know nothing other than Sir Alex Ferguson winning trophies at Manchester United. Their dominance is as accepted as the Queen being Head of State. It’s going to be incredibly strange seeing someone else walk to the dugout at Old Trafford, because for all of the change that has gone on in the last thirty years, for all the different players that have walked the hallowed turf, the constant genius of Ferguson has perpetuated the glory at one of the world’s most venerable clubs.
Within this, he has literally changed the social fabric of the nation; being right at the heart of the cultural revolution that began 6 years after his appointment, with the vast influx of money coming from the commercialisation of our national sport and bringing in the most exciting footballers in brand new, world-class stadiums. Some of the very best played for Sir Alex.
I was a young boy when he first started his tremendous haul in the early 90s and pretty much every young lad in my school back then supported Liverpool or Manchester United; of course the young pretenders were the latter, with Liverpool losing their place at the top of British football over time to United. I feel nothing but blessed that I grew up in this era; seeing the likes of Cantona, Sheringham, Yorke, Solskjaer, Butt, Neville, Schmeichel, Keane ,Stam, Giggs, and the best player I’ve ever seen – Ronaldo. Not to mention Beckham scoring the fabulous goal against Wimbledon. In a time when, in the absence of the digital age we’re in now, BBC1 Match of the Day really was the highlight of the week, showing the very best and most exciting brand of football.
My club, Newcastle United, were real challengers back in the early to mid-nineties and some of the most iconic players played for us – my favourite being the indomitably graceful winger, David Ginola. He was the reason why I played winger for my youth team (although I always wished I was Alan Shearer, though I never had the ability play centre forward!). I must add that as a Newcastle supporter, Steve Harper has been with the club for 19 years and has been nothing but a loyal servant to the club. There is much debate around whether that loyalty helped his career, but for the time being, I would prefer to ignore the pros and cons of this. Such loyalty is rare these days, and it’s right that his long tenure is recognised a huge positive.
It is also right that all of the above are lauded appropriately. They have been at the very top of their game in a time when the English league became the very best in the world. It is unbelievable to think that the likes of Swindon, Oldham Athletic and Sheff Utd were in the same league as Ferguson and Utd in 1993. The football world has changed exponentially since then, and there is a lot to be said about the negative impact of money in football on some of the most prestigious names in the game. But for the time being, it is right that we celebrate Ferguson being the most incredible mainstay at one of the biggest brands in world football. In the words of Andy Gray – take a bow, Sir Alex!