West Bromwich, May 20: After 1,500 matches in charge of Manchester United, Alex Ferguson was denied a final victory Sunday to cap the most successful managerial career in British football history.
But there was one final landmark for the 71-year-old Scot at West Bromwich Albion—the first 5-5 draw in the Premier League.
The official retirement party was last week at home when 76,000 fans at Old Trafford saluted Ferguson and the 13th and last of the record 20 English league titles he delivered for Man United.
Referee Michael Oliver blew the whistle on United's season finale—and the last match of Ferguson's career—at the Hawthorns in central England. From now on, the defensive fragilities on display Sunday are incoming manager David Moyes' problem.
Oliver hadn't even celebrated his second birthday when Ferguson took charge of United in 1986. After the match, the manager went over to bow to the United fans who had backed him as he waited until 1990 to win the first of 38 trophies for the club.
United threw away a 4-2 lead to be pegged back to 5-5, and it seemed like fate that Ferguson would witness his team conjuring another memorable goal in stoppage-time goal.
There would be no “Fergie Time” goal, however.
“What a mad result!” United defender Rio Ferdinand said on Twitter. “Lets be honest the boss was never going out with a boring 0-0!!”
Ferguson signaled he's ready for a quieter life by placidly watching his players rip West Brom apart and then showed none of the usual anger at their capitulation.
But the scorers on this day will be long forgotten—it was all about the manager in the opposition dugout.
Now a former manager.
A son of a ship-builder from Govan in Scotland and a top player in his native country from 1957-74, Ferguson entered management with East Stirlingshire in 1974. He moved to St. Mirren later that year and was hired by Aberdeen in 1978, making his mark by breaking the dominance of Rangers and Celtic.
After a brief taste of international football with Scotland at the 1986 World Cup, Ferguson was lured from Aberdeen to United in November 1986.
Since then he has won 13 Premier League titles, the Champions League twice, five FA Cups, four League Cups, the European Cup Winners' Cup, the UEFA Super Cup, the Club World Cup, the Intercontinental Cup and 10 Community Shields.
Little wonder that even West Brom fans were buying the commemorative scarves being sold by enterprising salesman outside of the stadium.
Ferguson could see them from the team bus as it pulled into the ground. In the stands were affectionate banners, including “Thank you dinosaur.”
Before kickoff, West Brom's players formed a guard of honor for the champions and were then joined by the United team to usher Ferguson onto the pitch.
Just like in every one of his previous 1,499 matches, Ferguson featured an academy graduate in his squad—a hallmark that has helped to deliver such unprecedented success.
It was a party atmosphere from the start, with red flares being set off in the United end.
Ferguson, though, was the calmest United representative when Shinji Kagawa headed his side in front from Javier Hernandez's cross after six minutes.
West Brom gifted United another inside three minutes, with Jonas Olsson turning Antonio Valencia's cross-shot past his own goal goalkeeper, and Alexander Buttner grabbed a third in the 31st minute.
Just when United looked like inflicting a humiliating result, James Morrison pulled one back five minutes before halftime.
Substitute Romelu Lukaku reduced the deficit five minutes into the second half by tucking the ball inside Anders Lindegaard's right post.
Robin van Persie's restored United's two-goal lead, lifting the ball past goalkeeper Ben Foster from Valencia's cross.
Ryan Giggs, who has featured in every one of United's title-winning teams, came off the bench to set up Javier Hernandez to tap into the net to make it 5-2.
A cruising United was too relaxed, and West Brom spoiled the party with goals from Lukaku and Youssouf Mulumbu in the 81st.
It was Lukaku who bundled the ball into the net to complete his hat trick—a treble that few will be talking about.
When the end came, Ferguson shook hands with West Brom manager Steve Clarke before being ushered by Giggs to thank their visiting fans.
The home fans showed their appreciation, too. They got to witness the end of an era.