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Sir Alex Ferguson made me fall for football

By Bradley King



BARCELONA, SPAIN: players of Manchester United jubilate with the trophee after winning the final of the soccer Champions League against Bayern Munich, 26 May 1999 at the Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona
BARCELONA, SPAIN: players of Manchester United jubilate with the trophee after winning the final of the soccer Champions League against Bayern Munich, 26 May 1999 at the Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona

I vividly remember May 26th, 1999. That was the day that affirmed my love of football.

We all crowded around the minuscule television in my grandma's house, a scene akin to those nostalgic men harp on about when they discuss the old days of cup finals. There was my grandma herself; a woman who identifies with top-level sport as much as I empathise with the inner workings of a motor vehicle (not very much. I passed the theory stage of my driving test by pointing to a general area of what I presumed was the engine and hedging my bets).

There was my grandad; a Wolves supporter, so my dad later told me, but I had no idea about that as he was a quiet man and kept many of his thoughts to himself. There was also my dad; a rugby enthusiast who I have to thank for memories of playing Jonah Lomu Rugby on the Playstation in my formative years.

And then there was me. A rounded, wide-eyed nine-year-old with a passion for...well, not much as far as I can recall. I liked to draw, I think. Music was just beginning to make an impact on me, if you can define Craig David's offerings as music per se. But football hadn't really taken hold.

On the evening of May 26th, 1999, that changed.

Don't get me wrong - I had flirted with football. In the previous campaign, my local team - Grimsby Town - had achieved promotion to the second tier of English football through the play-offs and won the Auto Windscreens Shield (the artist now known as the Football League Trophy) in a duo of Wembley appearances. The latter was even won with the now-extinct 'golden goal' by Wayne Burnett - the pinnacle of drama in sporting theatre. Or it was until May 26th, 1999.

The first 89 minutes or so of the Champions League final that year were fairly unspectacular. Mario Basler's early goal looked set to win the trophy for Bayern Munich, and in the process deny Manchester United an historic treble. But as the match entered injury time, the turnaround begun. The rest, as they say, is history.

Teddy Sheringham equalised first and I greeted it with a fist pump. But when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's toe poked in United's 93rd minute winner, I leapt out of my seat with unbridled joy, twisting my ankle in the process. I didn't even support Manchester United. My grandad let out an audible cheer; I'm sure my grandma even gasped sincerely. They didn't even like football.

What we had just watched wasn't just 22 young blokes kicking a ball about in Barcelona. United were down and out; the one chance they would probably ever have to lift all three major trophies in one season was over. They had blown it. But from the jaws of defeat, they had snatched the most unlikely of victories.

This was a narrative which convinced me of the values of life and sport's tendency to mirror it. It was one of resolve. One of teamwork. One of hope.

It may have been Solskjaer's foot which was directly to thank for that but the man behind the whole operation had moulded the team which made it all possible. This month, that man retires. I would like to thank Sir Alex Ferguson for 26th May, 1999 and cementing my love of football.