It has been one of the longest-running feuds in football: Sir Alex Ferguson versus the BBC; the most successful manager in the business against the national broadcaster he once described as "arrogant beyond belief" with an "inability to apologise".
But finally, after seven years of the silent treatment, the dispute is over.
The news was released in a joint statement from Manchester United and the corporation, announcing that "Sir Alex Ferguson and the BBC have decided to put behind them the difficulties which led to Sir Alex feeling unable to appear on BBC programmes". Ferguson, in other words, will be returning to Match of the Day and presenter Gary Lineker can stop apologising for the conspicuous absence of the United manager.
Ferguson's fall-outs with the media are legendary, but the lifting of this ban has shocked even his colleagues, particularly as there has been no apology at any point of the complex, tortuous process. It culminated in the BBC's director general, Mark Thompson, travelling to Manchester to meet Ferguson face to face and hear his grievances about the 2004 documentary, Father and Son, about him and his son Jason, then working as a football agent, which had led to Ferguson severing contact.
Ferguson felt Jason had been unfairly portrayed as somebody who exploited his father's influence and position to his own ends in the transfer market. However, he did not ask for the apology he had always demanded and one was not offered. As such, it represents a major coup on Thompson's part. Senior figures at the BBC admit they had little expectation of a peace deal ever being arranged.
Ferguson has also re-admitted Sky's television cameras into his weekly press briefings. They had been banned after showing press-conference footage of Ferguson trying to identify a reporter from Associated Press who had asked a question he did not like about Ryan Giggs. Ferguson, not realising his words had been picked up by the microphones, could be heard telling one of his press officers: "We'll get him. Ban him on Friday."
That was in May, whereas the BBC's ban dates back to 2004, when Father and Son was shown on BBC Three. Ferguson would later describe it as "a whole lot of nonsense, all made-up stuff, brown paper bags and all that kind of carry-on". He said: "It was a horrible attack on my son's honour and he should never have been accused of that. But it is such a huge organisation that they will never apologise. They don't even care if you sue them or whatever, because they are so huge and have insurance. They carry on regardless and it's breathtaking."
The clear sense at both Old Trafford and BBC headquarters was that the ban would be sine die unless Ferguson received a full apology, and the club had even been prepared to pay his fines for contravening the Premier League rule requiring managers to speak to major broadcasters and rights holders. The rule was introduced at the start of last season, specifically to tackle Ferguson, after complaints from the BBC that their financial commitment to the league was so great that they had every right to speak to the manager of the biggest club.
Ferguson immediately made it clear he would not comply, no matter how much he would be fined. The tariff was initially set at £1,000 per match, escalating as the season went on. By now, it could feasibly have been more than £100,000.
As it turned out, Ferguson was not fined a penny because, before the Premier League had decided the exact structure, the BBC asked them to delay the punishments, with Thompson indicating he would become personally involved if a meeting could be set up.
That process has not been easy. Nobody at Old Trafford, not even Manchester United chief executive David Gill, has been prepared to get involved. But Richard Bevan, the chief executive of the League Managers' Association, has acted as mediator, and Sir Dave Richards, the chairman of the Premier League, was instrumental in setting up what was described behind the scenes as "the last shot". From start to finish, it took seven months before the meeting was confirmed.
Apart from Ferguson and Thompson the only other person present was Peter Salmon, the director of BBC North. He and Thompson tried to make the point that the issue had already gone on too long and it was time to shake hands and put it behind them, particularly now that BBC headquarters have moved to Salford and are in such close proximity to Old Trafford.
Ferguson was civil but made his point that he felt it was his duty to protect his family from what he considered unfair treatment.
According to the statement, the issues were "resolved to the satisfaction of both parties" and "Sir Alex will now make himself available to the BBC for Match of the Day, Radio 5 Live and other outlets as agreed". That will begin with an appearance on Match of the Day 2 on Sunday, to reflect on his team's performance against Arsenal.
Lineker has frequently felt it necessary to apologise for Ferguson's no-shows, when United's assistant manager, Mike Phelan, usually steps in for the post-match interviews. But Lineker has also angered Ferguson by describing him as "childish" for not speaking to a show watched by so many United supporters.
Ferguson later responded: "Gary Lineker – a bright boy from the BBC – says I'm childish. Well, he should know about that himself. He's been subjected to a lot of stuff in the media himself and he's had stuff stopped from getting in newspapers from time to time. So he'll understand what childishness means, because he is childish. I don't think I'm childish at all."
What is not clear is whether Ferguson will be willing to speak to Alan Green, the BBC Radio 5 Live presenter and commentator. The two men have a grudge dating back almost 20 years.
Robbie Savage, once a United youth-team player and now another of the station's presenters, also appears to be on the ignore list, writing in his autobiography that the 69-year-old Glaswegian frequently blanked him – despite living next door to him for six months.
Manchester United manager's media feuds
Ferguson refused to talk to the club's own television channel earlier this year. He was incensed after the FA charged him with improper conduct for comments he made about referee Martin Atkinson in an interview with MUTV. He also refused to speak to the channel in 2005 when a presenter said he would prefer the team to operate a 4-4-2 system rather than 4-5-1.
The channel may have provided Premier League clubs with a fortune over the years, but that hasn't stopped Ferguson banning its reporters. He told interviewer Geoff Shreeves to "fuck off" in 2007 after he asked Cristiano Ronaldo whether he had dived for a penalty, then refused to give an interview after a Champions League match in 2008 when two Sky pundits, Phil Thompson and Paul Merson, criticised Wayne Rooney.
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Associated Press reporter Rob Harris became an unlikely casualty of Ryan Giggs's affair with the reality TV star Imogen Thomas. Giggs missed training during the fallout from the affair and Harris asked Ferguson how important the midfielder was to the team. Ferguson was later caught on microphone instructing the Manchester United press officer to "ban [Harris] on Friday".
Ferguson has had run-ins with the majority of British newspapers over the years and many reporters would say something was amiss if they hadn't felt the managers wrath at some point. Punishments vary from a tongue lashing to being banned from Ferguson's Friday press conferences.
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