EAMON Atkinson took his seat at Old Trafford on Sunday as part of a matchday routine essentially unchanged across decades of supporting Manchester United.
The presence of Sir Alex Ferguson in the home dugout has been a constant element of that experience for Eamon and thousands of other fans across the past 26 years.
But, of course, everything changed at the weekend following confirmation last Wednesday of the long-serving manager’s decision to retire.
Eamon has been a member of the Craigavon branch of the Manchester United Supporters’ Club for around 40 years and the current secretary and attended Sunday’s game against Swansea as the end of an era that brought unprecedented success.
He commented: “It was a bittersweet day. I got caught up in the emotion of it all. Not only was it Ferguson’s last game at Old Trafford, but Scholes was also playing his last home game.
“I was talking to Denis Law before the game and he said to me ‘Enjoy the game’ and I said, ‘The football seems to be irrelevant today what with Ferguson and Scholes retiring’.
“In the end it was a great game which was a fitting tribute to a great player and a great manager.”
Eamon said: “We had heard a few whispers over the season that this could be the final campaign for Sir Alex and I think part of the timing is down to who else is available.
“That maybe accelerated his decision to come out now and step down this season.”
Of the new boss, Everton’s David Moyes, Eamon said: “I am sure the Manchester United supporters will give him time to settle and, personally, I’m happy with the appointment given that he was handpicked by Ferguson.
“I think David coming in would allow us to build something over a long-term basis.
“He has done an exceptional job at Everton on such a limited budget and Fergie has often gone on record in the past of his admiration for David.
“David has worked within a family atmosphere at Everton for so many years but I still consider Manchester United to be a family-orientated club as well.
“Of course, David comes from a similar background to Fergie and seems to share quite a lot of his characteristics.”
Ferguson will walk away from Old Trafford at the end of the season having secured the club’s 20th English championship prize.
A sustained track record of success from the mid-1990s up to the present era includes the title of European champions on two occasions within a string of silverware.
“I have been lucky enough to meet Sir Alex over the years on a number of occasions and the one thing that always comes across is his love for football,” said Eamon. “He has a deep knowledge of the game and real passion for football.
“At a supporters’ conference this season before the Real Madrid match he entertained us all talking about his early days in Scottish football and the various characters he met.
“Over the years he has built some wonderful teams time and time again, sides that play brilliant football.
“He has also brought in some special players and Eric Cantona was amazing, plus the ‘Fergie Fledglings’ era of people like David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville.
“We have had some amazing nights as supporters and the one that stands out personally was winning the 1999 Champions’ League final in Barcelona.
“He understands the game and cares about the people around the club from the tea lady up to the very top.”