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Ferguson: At my first club I had no keeper

As Alex FERGUSON prepared to end his magnificent managerial career, he cast his mind back 39 years to the start – at East Stirling, with eight players and no goalkeeper.

At West Brom tomorrow, Ferguson's 1500th and final game as Manchester United boss will bring down the curtain on the most remarkable career in British football history.

With 49 trophies, it is by far the most successful, ensuring the 71-year-old will go down in the history books, never to be removed.

As he prepared for the end, Ferguson could not help recalling where it all began, at Firs Park in Falkirk, home of East Stirling.

"I have had 39 years as a manager," he said. "On that day in 1974 when I started at East Stirling, I had eight players and no goalkeeper. Today I have six goalkeepers and about 100 players.

"I remember the old chairman, Willie Muirhead, he was a great chain smoker. When I asked him for a list of players, he started to shake. His cigarette was going 100 miles an hour.

"I had to remind him a couple of days later. He gave me a list of eight players and no goalkeeper.

"I said, 'You know it is advisable to start with a keeper, are you aware of that'?"

And so Ferguson began building the first of many squads he has assembled during his time in the game. And he did it on a shoestring.

"My first signing was a lad from Partick Thistle called Tom Gourlay.

"He was big. My god he was big. I paid £1,000 for him. All the rest were £100 signing-on fees and free transfers."

Glamorous it was not. Yet as Ferguson sees it, the lessons learned in those early days, sweating for a living in the lower reaches of Scottish League Division Two, provided an invaluable education for what was to follow, first at Aberdeen and, for the last quarter of a century, Old Trafford.

"It is an education for anybody," he said. "In management, anybody should start out in that kind of way. I spent £2,000 on five players."

Major interest around his last game concerns whether Wayne Rooney will be recalled after the forward's recent transfer request.

Ferguson has already confirmed Anders Lindegaard will start in goal, with Jonny Evans and Phil Jones due to be partnered in central defence.

Meanwhile, Robin van Persie believes Monday's Premier League trophy parade debunked the myth that all Manchester United fans come from outside the city.

Van Persie did not get that impression on United's open-top bus as it made its way from Old Trafford to the centre of town, where it was greeted by huge crowds.

"I spoke to Nigel de Jong a couple of years ago when he was playing for City," Van Persie said.

"He said in Manchester there were only City fans and United's come from different cities all over the world.

"It sounded a bit weird. I have to adjust him on that now and say it is definitely not true.

"It is at least 50-50, or, after last Monday, maybe it is 80-20."

After playing a key part in United's 20th title triumph, the 29-year-old certainly will not forget Monday in a hurry.

"It just came out of nowhere," he said. "I saw people on roofs, on balconies, on traffic lights. They were absolutely everywhere."

Providing Gareth Bale does not smash the Premier League record for goals in a game, Van Persie will also claim the Golden Boot prize for the second season running.