Ladies and gentlemen, if you have sick-bags to fill, prepare to fill them now. If sugary treacle and soft-sawder syrup is your thing, get ready to drown in the stuff. “Sir” Alex Ferguson is departing the stage, and there won’t be a dry seat in the house. Sky TV are preparing for an extended weepathon as their hero who hated them, their idol who despised them, climbs down unsteadily from his throne of purchased glory and totters off upstairs to chew gum and glower balefully down at his hapless successor David Moyes.
This afternoon’s live TV offering has a delicately-scripted path to follow. There will be a soft-focus montage of many of the Purple-Nosed One’s finest moments – Steve Bruce’s 98th minute winner against Sheffield Wednesday to a background of Martin Tyler’s shrieking climax as Man U all but clinched their first plastic Title. Giggsy-Wiggsy’s finest FA Cup goal of all time as the Arsenal defence parted like the Red Sea and we were treated to an unsolicited view of the Husband of the Year’s chest-rug. A selection of van Persie’s catalogue of sublime finishes from the Dutchman’s “One Man Title-Winning Season” collection. It is doubtful however that Eric Cantona’s exposition of martial-arts skills from his South London Show of 1995 will make the cut.
After the moonlight and roses video softener has set the correct ambiance, and armchairs all over Devon and Cornwall are already bedewed with manly tears, we may have an actual interview with the dearly-lamented Departing One. Subtitles will be provided for this section of proceedings, and yet it won’t so much be what He says, but more the way He says it. As an example, if you hear a glottal noise along the lines of “Thiznaequayshtyunabootthaaaaat” it means that S’ralex is saying something he wishes you to accept as undisputed fact. This happens a lot. But those craggy and broken-veined features of pasty pink splotched with purple may at some point break into a grimace not unadjacent to a smile, and this will be the cue for the suits in the Sky Studio to howl with unrestrained emotion as the tears flow anew. It’s going to be a harrowing afternoon, and we’re nowhere near kick-off yet.
At some point we will have testimony from a group of the usual suspects as to the essential saintliness and unmatchable achievements of the man. Lou Macari, Paddy Crerand, Peter Schmeichel, Steve Bruce, Bryan Robson and other such neutral witnesses will speak their lines to camera with all the sincerity and conviction of a tailor’s dummy. Ron Atkinson and Tommy Docherty may even appear if time permits, and attempt to mask their burning resentment at being consigned to the dustbin of history with a few clamp-jawed soundbites of faux admiration, before shambling off, clutching Mr Murdoch’s fat cheque.
And then, the game. It has been thoughtfully arranged that the final day opponents at the Theatre of Hollow Myths should be a footballing side of attacking ambitions. The script will call for them to make pretty patterns in midfield whilst offering no great threat to Man U’s rocky defence, where Phil Jones will be frantically gurning in an attempt to frighten off any Swansea attacker who dares venture too close. At regular intervals, an uncharacteristically misplaced pass from the away team bit-part players will gift possession to Man U, who will then – according to the stage directions – “swoop to score another magnificent goal for the Champions.” Ecstasy will ensue in the stands and the commentary box, and flowers will be thrown at the feet of the gum-chewing Govan Guv’nor as he performs that annoying little staggery old man’s dance from under the dug-out canopy, champing away in a Wrigley’s rictus of triumph. It is an image that will be burned on the retinas of a whole football-supporting generation.
After the match – whatever time that might be depending upon how long it takes Man U to score The Winner – we shall have post-game interviews, more video footage to the accompaniment of weeping strings and synth, rambling reminiscence from the assembled sycophants – and maybe a final word from the abdicating Emperor himself, who will remind us, via an interpreter, that there’s “aye anither game tae go yet, by the waaaaay.” And the crowds will sigh and depart for all points south, the lights will go out at the Theatre of Hollow Myths and the scene will gradually darken as a rainy Salford day fades into the night, as we all must sooner or later. All that has been missing is the trademark Lone Piper, but he is reserved for even more solemn occasions, and his time is not yet.
And so it will be over. It will be time for the Sky suits to heave a gigantic, shuddering sigh signifying end-of-an-era grief and regret, and then they must reluctantly move on. A new hero awaits, and he’s sadly lacking as yet in the trappings of success and the aura that the commercially-aware would wish for him. A project is to hand now that S’ralex has faded into the sunset, and that project is the reinvention of an Honest Pro into a Demigod, the Greatest Manager Of All, for such is the requirement of the twinned Hyperbole Departments of Sky and Man U for the unsuspecting Mr Moyes. It’s a work in progress even now, but the momentum will gather as the new season approaches and the threat of upstarts such as Chelsea. Arsenal, Man City and even Liverpool, which has to be repelled for another year. It will need to be business as usual, even without the Blessed Fergie. Life goes on, and today was merely the schmaltzy climax to the long-running soap-opera which was Man U under S’ralex. It’s time to dry the tears and count the money.
Now where IS that sick-bag?