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My 10 minutes with Fergie and his Champions League dreams

James Phelan recalls a chance meeting with the man that took over at Manchester United on the year of his birth.

Alex Ferguson poses for a picture with James Phelan and his friend.
Alex Ferguson poses for a picture with James Phelan and his friend.
Image: James Phelan

ALEX FERGUSON’S RETIREMENT from the coaching game has brought back 27 years of memories for many supporters. James Phelan contacted TheScore.ie this week to share his unique memory of a chance encounter with the Scottish legend…

The news of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement hits home for me more than most. Not only was he the manager of a club I supported since childhood, but he became an intrinsic part of a day I’ll never forget.

I went to my first Manchester United game on 30 November 1996. Martin O’Neill’s Leicester City side were the opposition in what was a hard fought 3-1 victory for the Red Devils at Old Trafford. That day, due to an administration mix up, I got to have a one-on-one with the greatest manager of the modern era.

At the time Ferguson was celebrating 10 years at Old Trafford. Rumours were circulating he would attend a book signing in the club shop after the Leicester match. United didn’t always have a Megastore under the stadium instead it was located outside of the grounds. Ferguson was supposed to be there around 8pm to sign autographs.

It was a wet night, as always in Manchester, and the queue was out the door. Instead of standing in the rain my Dad suggested we head to the supporters’ club-shop to buy Ferguson’s new book for him to sign.

“Do you see who that is?” my Dad asked me. Stood in the centre of an almost empty club-shop was Fergie himself. He looked confused as to why no supporters bothered showing up to meet him. Whatever mix-up happened to place him in the wrong shop was my gain.

I was a shy kid, so why I had the courage to go right up to him still surprises me. I asked him a question I had always dreamed of him answering. “When are we going to win a Champions League?” Ferguson chuckled and responded with, “Soon, I hope, boy.”

I had always seen him roaring at referees, officials and players. I kept a scrapbook in which I pasted any articles on United, and read reports on how Ferguson was finished. Opposition managers and players labelled him a cheat and a time-waster. The man I met that day was nothing but a gentleman.

For 10 uninterrupted minutes we swapped stories of Roy Keane’s glories, discussed the Leicester win and predicted the club’s future. He posed for photos and signed the book I had bought. Eventually he was directed across the road to meet the, now soaked, fans but I knew something special had just occurred.

Ferguson took the United job the year I was born. Some of the best memories of my life have involved him. My dad died less than two months afterwards. I later learned he took me to that match against doctor’s orders.  Meeting Sir Alex with my dad is still my favourite moment in life. I got to meet my sporting hero and had my dad beside me. After that I knew I would always dread the day Ferguson decided it was time for him to leave the Theatre of Dreams.

I’m sure all United fans are bitterly disappointed to see Ferguson retire today when he still has the fire in his belly to be the best. Love him or loathe him, he will always be one of the game’s greats. For me, and so many others, he is Manchester United. Whoever replaces him will have the biggest shoes to fill in world of football.

Thank you for leaving fans around the world with such found memories. Especially one last one for a young boy and his dad.

Enjoy retirement Sir Alex.

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