WEST BROMWICH, England – 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 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, Ferguson 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 the former manager.
He arrived at the ground to see scarves featuring his name being sold next to the entrance and witnessed banners including the affectionate "Thank you dinosaur" inside.
Before kickoff, the West Brom players first formed a guard of honor for the champions and then were joined by the United team to usher Ferguson onto the pitch.
Just like in every one of his previous 1,499 fixtures, Ferguson featured a youth team player 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 at the Hawthorns 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 on its way to inflicting a humiliating result, James Morrison pulled one back five minutes before half time.
And substitute Romelu Lukaku reduced the deficit further 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, by lifting the ball past Ben Foster from Valencia's cross.
And 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 to make it 5-2.
United was cruising, but was too relaxed, and West Brom spoiled the party with rapid goals from Lukaku and Youssouf Mulumbu in the 81st.
And Lukaku bundled home to complete his hat trick.
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 had got to witness the end of an era in British football and world sport.