Man United fan Jim Cahill has followed the club all his life. He writes about what it was like to be a fan before Ferguson arrived and what it might be like after his departure
When I was going to bed on Tuesday night my nephew rang to tell me that Ferguson was retiring. Surely this was another flier, I thought. But when this nephew tells you something about United, it’s normally right. Rising out of bed, I hurried to my computer where my worst fears were being realised.
This was the day I had dreaded all my life. How many times did I have this sinking feeling before? You see following United you go from the heights of elation to the depths of despair in the blink of an eye. Certainly in 1974 when they were relegated; again in 1976 when we lost to Southampton. But the worst, or so I thought, would be ’79, losing to a last minute goal in the FA Cup final at Wembley against Arsenal. I was so devastated that I went straight to The Pavilion Cinema to hide. The film was The Deer Hunter and I refused to leave and stayed for a second viewing hoping nobody would find me. It couldn’t get worse, surely? But it did. The disappointments in the league always seemed to outweigh any FA Cup final victories because the enemy down the road were winning leagues and European Cups for fun.
I had to run daily taunts from Liverpool fans of “you’ll never be alive to see 18”. Then, in 1986, everything changed. Alex arrived. He had managed to break the Celtic and Rangers monopoly in Scotland by winning successive leagues and cups with Aberdeen and even managed to beat the mighty Real Madrid in the European Cup Winners Cup final. When asked by a journalist what he was going to do at United he said: “I’m going to knock Liverpool off their fucking perch and you can print that”. I loved it.
For the first few years we doubted anything was changing or happening. Then the FA Cup arrived in 1990 and Fergie that day showed his true colours by dropping goalkeeper Jim Leighton for the replayed FA Cup final with Crystal Palace.
But still nothing seemed to change and ’92 brought a worst feeling than ’79 with Liverpool’s Ian Rush and the Kop celebrating our collapse at Anfield and losing the league to Leeds. Then it all changed in ’93. Cantona arrived from Leeds and led us to our first title in 26 years and, as they say, the rest is history.
Following United under Ferguson for 26 years has been the most memorable time of my life and emotionally draining. Every time it seemed the end was nigh Ferguson drove the club on and on again.
Reputations counted for little with him as Ince, Hughes, and Kanchelskis left at the end of 1995 and then he dropped Bruce and Robson for the ’96 final. Kanchelskis was replaced by Beckham. The treble arrived in 1999. Keane left in 2005 and van Nistelrooy shortly after but yet Fergie drove United on to win three in a row in 2007, ’08, and ’09 plus a Champions League win over Chelsea in dramatic circumstances.
Then Ronaldo left for Madrid and I had that sinking feeling again but the never say die attitude of Ferguson again prevailed with United winning the league in 2011 and 2013 plus qualifying for two Champions League finals against Barcelona.
The moment I savour most was in 1996 when I was present in Wembley with my son to watch United clinch the double against Liverpool. It was pay back time for all the hurt of the ’70s and ’80s. The scourge of Liverpool, Cantona, had done it and then added insult to injury by lifting the cup.
How many times did I say in the last 26 years Fergie is losing the plot; he doesn’t know what he doing; it’s time for him to go. Today I’m eating those words. But if Alex Ferguson has taught me anything it’s never to give up and nobody is bigger than the club. Great players have come and gone and United still goes on.
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