Manchester United parade: Sir Alex Ferguson farewell packs city

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Manchester United parade trophy and mark Alex Ferguson's retirement

There was singing. Lots of singing. There was also chanting, whistling, horn blowing and flag waving. It was some street party. Not even an afternoon of hail and thunder could rain on Sir Alex Ferguson's final parade.

"Manchester has never seen anything like this," said Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand as he looked out onto a mass of red outside the city's town hall.

Ferdinand and his team-mates had seen thousands of fans lining the streets, from Old Trafford and along Sir Matt Busby Way right into the city centre. The central defender was MC in chief, mic in hand, conducting a medley of chants as the customised red double decker bus snaked through the streets.

"Championes! Championes!" the United squad and their fans sang. Each spectator craning their necks, jostling for position; some standing on the ledges of shop windows, others on scaffolding, many fathers with their sons or daughters perched on their shoulders.

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Ferguson issues title challenge

It was an occasion everyone wanted to witness; families, pensioners, teenagers, gangs of men, groups of young women, even waitresses in some of the nearby restaurants could not help but peek at a moment of Manchester United history.

The city had been preparing for a parade ever since United captured their 20th league title at the end of last month. What few anticipated was that this would be their last chance to see Sir Alex, the retiring septuagenarian wearing a black quilted jacket and a baseball cap for the occasion, lift the latest, and last, of his many trophies.

The end of Fergie time perhaps explains why, at midday, a man with four children in tow was standing by one of the barriers which surrounded the neo-gothic town hall. If the teenagers were supposed to be at school then it did not matter, this was a lesson in history they could tell their teachers about in the morning, and, perhaps, one day, their grandchildren. 'I was there', they will say.

Everyone wanted to be there. Manchester has become accustomed to such parades - Manchester City enjoyed one just 12 months ago. Celebrations in spring time have almost become an annual fixture.

But the final party for the greatest of the greats had many stepping onto the city's streets to wave their flags for the first time. "How do we get there?" one gentleman asked as he stood at a tram stop with a gaggle of children, preparing to begin an unfamiliar journey to Old Trafford.

Regardless of how they got there, by late afternoon thousands had made their way to the Theatre of Dreams, dodging the downpours.

Sensibly, season-ticket holder Angela Bates had brought a pink waterproof poncho with her from her hometown of Cardiff.

But even though the 64-year-old's outfit gave her some sort of refuge from the elements as she attended her first victory parade, it could do little to protect her from the emotion of the occasion.

"I've cried and cried and cried," said the mother of four, explaining her reaction to Sir Alex's retirement, before wiping away a few more tears.

"He means the world to me. He's an amazing man not just for what he has done for Manchester United but for the history of British football."

What the man from Govan has done for the club he devoted 26 years of his life to was win 38 trophies, including 13 league titles.

It was of little surprise that the fans savoured another opportunity to show their gratitude to the Scot who had relentlessly accumulated trophy after trophy for them.

Painted in black, on a gigantic white sheet, were the words: "Sir Alex, nobody wants you to go but we all want to say thank you for staying so long." And there were hundreds more flags displaying the simple words 'Thank You, Sir Alex'.

Capturing a glimpse of Sir Alex was enough to tempt even one or two Manchester City fans to Old Trafford.

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Ferdinand sings for retiring Scholes

"I'm here to see Fergie! He's a legend," laughed student Nkhwa Nana of Bolivia, revealing his true, light blue colours while walking towards the stadium with his two United supporting pals.

There was so much to commemorate, to celebrate - a 13th Premier League title and the retirements of two of the club's greats, Sir Alex Ferguson and Paul Scholes - that even the souvenir stalls were running out of stock by late afternoon.

"We sold out of scarves on Sunday," said Claire Atherton, a worker at one of the stalls outside the stadium.

"It's been colossal. We've not experienced anything like this since we won the treble in 1999. I only wish they'd given us a bit more time to manufacture more!"

Many fans would wish it was possible to produce another Sir Alex but football, even British sport, will never see his like again.

The 71-year-old appeared atop the double decker to the biggest cheers of the day and at the end of the journey he brought a joyful occasion to a conclusion by lifting the Premier League trophy that has so often been his property one final time.

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