I apologised to Sir Alex Ferguson after Liverpool accusation - but my dad loved what I said

Sir Alex Ferguson
-Credit: (Image: (Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images))

Even now, over 11 years later, it still remains a moment spoken about by Liverpool supporters.

In September 2012, Liverpool took on Manchester United, It was a poignant afternoon as the Hillsborough victims and families were remembered in moving scenes before kick-off. It also turned out to be Sir Alex Ferguson's last visit to Anfield as a manager.

The game was the Reds' first at home since the publication of the report into the Hillsborough disaster. The Hillsborough Independent Panel absolved the club's supporters of any responsibility for the 1989 tragedy, which ultimately claimed 97 lives, and criticised South Yorkshire Police.

Flowers, shirts and cards were placed outside the Shankly Gates and by the memorial to the victims of the tragedy. Both teams emerged from the tunnel wearing tracksuits bearing the number 96, while United legend Sir Bobby Charlton presented flowers to Liverpool counterpart Ian Rush before Steven Gerrard and Ryan Giggs released 96 red balloons.

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A mosaic was also displayed around three sides of the ground during the traditional playing of 'You'll Never Walk Alone'. Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra also put their past problems to one side to shake hands.

On the pitch, the match will also be remembered for an incident that happened during the opening 45 minutes. With six minutes to go before the break, Jonjo Shelvey was shown a straight red card by referee Mark Halsey for a two-footed lunge on Jonny Evans.

As he left the field to make his way to the home dressing room, Shelvey looked at Ferguson on the touchline, and he had a few choice words for the then-United boss as he pointed his finger at him.

Barely in the game for long periods, the Red Devils fell behind when Gerrard fired past Anders Lindegaard a minute into the second-half. However, United responded with a spectacular equaliser from Rafael Da Silva before Robin van Persie scored from the spot nine minutes from time to seal all three points.

The result left Liverpool without a league win in five attempts and in the Premier League's bottom three. However, all the talk in the national media following the game was about Shelvey’s outburst.

Writing for The Times, Oliver Kay observed: “Nearly two hours later, Halsey left the pitch to the sound of jeers, the pantomime villain, on a day when Liverpool had 96 extra reasons to lust for victory over United. Halsey had sent off Jonjo Shelvey, the Liverpool midfielder, in the first half and then, with the game in the balance, awarded United a controversial penalty, converted by Robin van Persie with nine minutes left.

“Halsey will have more relaxing days at the office. By today's rules, he was right to send off Shelvey for a dangerous lunge at Jonny Evans in the 39th minute, but the better question was whether, as Brendan Rodgers felt, Evans should also have been shown the red card for the way he contested the challenge."

Over at the Daily Mail, Matt Lawton wrote: “In his eyes Mark Halsey was no more justified in dismissing Jonjo Shelvey after 39 minutes than he was in awarding United what proved a decisive penalty for what he considered the softest of challenges by Glen Johnson.

“Liverpool's manager was right about one thing. The better team lost, the hosts playing the superior football even after Shelvey's red card. United were lacklustre; lacking in energy as well as inspiration. But was Halsey right to send off Shelvey? Yes. And was it a penalty? Yes again.

“In fairness, Luis Suarez should have had a penalty too and Rodgers had a point when he said Jonny Evans was also reckless in the challenge with Shelvey. But Evans did not appear to have lost control in the manner Shelvey clearly had, the Liverpool midfielder's finger-wagging attack on Sir Alex Ferguson further evidence of that.

“When the frustration and anger has subsided, Rodgers will also have to concede that his team are reflecting on a third defeat in five Barclays Premier League games because of that failure to replace Andy Carroll before the transfer window closed."

Writing for The Telegraph, Chris Bascombe reported: “Shelvey was granted a standing ovation and felt justified in giving a verbal volley to Ferguson as he departed. He later apologised.

“Shelvey has been fortunate in several games this season, needlessly diving in with tackles that have added ferocity as both feet leave the ground. He has been punished lightly for worse offences than yesterday's.

“The only debate was whether Evans should have received a red card too for his own arguably reckless challenge. Van Persie was fortunate to escape punishment for a similar tackle on Suso in the second half."

The ECHO’s Ian Doyle, on match report duty for the Liverpool Daily Post, wrote: “But, with Shelvey’s the more forceful and less controlled challenge, referee Halsey was only ever going to show the red card to one man.

“In truth, Shelvey’s was a sending-off that had been coming for weeks. The youngster – who went from hero to zero following his two-goal cameo at Young Boys in Berne on Thursday – remains a rough diamond, and such tackles are yet to be smoothed from his game.”

Taking to Twitter after the game, Shelvey wrote: “I apologise to the fans for getting sent off but no way was I pulling out of that tackle in a game of that importance. I'm sorry.

“I have also apologised to Sir Alex, just where I come from people don't grass people up to get someone sent off.”

Reflecting on the incident some years later, the midfielder revealed that not only did he apologise in person to Ferguson after the match, but the the Scot actually praised his behaviour.

“I was a bit immature then and a bit silly. I pulled him aside afterwards and apologised to him and he was spot on with me,” Shelvey said.

“He said, ‘no I like it. It shows you’ve got a bit of balls about you’. I got a few high fives around town for the next few months, but it was silly from me on the professional stage. You don’t do something like that.

“I was young and I was starting for Liverpool against Manchester United, games don’t come much bigger. Growing up, I always thought the FA favoured United and things like that.

"I looked over when I got sent off and saw Fergie in the fourth official's ear. I don't think the ref was going to send me off at first because it wasn't a sending off.

"I put a picture downstairs and it shows Jonny Evans going two-footed and me just coming in from the side. It wasn't a sending off but it is what it is. I saw him looking over at the fourth official so as I was walking off the pitch, I just said, 'It's your fault I got sent off'.

"As soon as I got sent off, I got in the changing room and rang my dad and he said, 'It wasn't a sending off, mate. Don't worry. What did you say to Fergie?' I told him what I said and my dad's gone, 'Good boy!'

"I've seen him a lot of times since and it's just one of them things that happens in football. You live and you learn."

Shelvey played 69 times in three years at Anfield, departing in the summer of 2013 to Swansea. Following his time in Wales, the now-32-year-old moved to Newcastle United before joining Nottingham Forest.

However, he departed the City Ground after just seven-and-a-half months during the summer of 2023, joining Turkish club Caykur Rizespor on loan for the rest of the season.