Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson in touching tribute to heroes
MANCHESTER United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has spoken of his great respect for Welsh troops returning from Afghanistan.
The 70-year-old Scot, who has spent 26 years at the helm at Old Trafford, thanked soldiers from 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh for the way in which they had served their country.
Sir Alex, who gave the soldiers their medals at Chester Racecourse, said: "I want to thank these lads for the service they've given our country — without them Great Britain wouldn't be Great Britain.
"I want to give them some encouragement, that we all depend on them."
Yesterday, was the first time the football manager had taken part in awarding medals to the troops.
Sir Alex revealed his grandfather was gassed in the First World War and died years later after suffering from the effects of what happened to him.
He added: "Anyone around my age will have a relative who was involved in the First or Second World Wars.
"My father couldn't join the Army because he didn't have a thumb.
"He lost his thumb in a machine accident when he was young, so he worked in the shipyards during the war which played its part in terms of building the ships for war.
"I've got great respect for the Armed Forces.
"One of my best friend's son was lost in action so I know exactly what it means."
The battalion, who returned from Afghanistan in October, marched through Chester before the medals presentation took place.
The parade was led by the Regimental Goat, Billy, and the Band of the Prince of Wales's Division.
During their time in Helmand Province, they were involved in a security and ground holding role in Helmand Province, along with mentoring the Afghan National Police and Afghan Army, and protecting the population from the security threat.
Sir Alex, who has recently been involved in helping to raise funds for two forces charities, said: "I think we all owe them a debt.
"There's a fantastic feel for all the troops from the whole of Britain."
The head of the Army in Wales, Brigadier Philip Napier, Commander 160 (Wales) Brigade, The Lord Mayor of Chester, Councillor Pam Booher and The Lord Lieutenant of Cheshire, David Briggs, also met soldiers at Chester Racecourse.
Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Webb MC, commanding officer of 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh, of Penllergaer, Swansea, said: "I'm so grateful to Sir Alex for taking the time out and presenting medals.
"It makes the day all that more special."
He added: "We have had so much support from the communities around Wales and Chester while we've been away and the soldiers are so grateful for that. To return home and take part in these events provides us with an opportunity to say thank you for that support.
"It was a long tour and so much was achieved, but not without sacrifice."
Former Swans apprentice, Captain Stephen Healey, and Corporal Michael Thacker, both died on their tour of duty.
Lieutenant Liam Maguire, 27, from Sandfields, Port Talbot, of the battalion, said: "It's great to see Sir Alex Ferguson. He gave a cracking speech.
"He said he always tells his men to show courage in every tackle but added it does not compare to what we did on tour.
"We all idolise him and it's touching that he idolises us."
He added: "I am huge Manchester United fan and I sent a letter to the club saying a lot of my lads are Manchester United supporters asking if they could show us a bit of support in Afghanistan in turn.
"Wayne Rooney sent a signed picture to the Men of 10."
Captain Mark Lewis, 28, of Tycoch, Swansea, also of the battalion, added: "It is such an honour to have such a distinguished guest like Sir Alex Ferguson giving the medals.
"The qualities he has in leadership and management embody the training in the Army.
"Myself and Liam had torn loyalties when Swansea went up into the Premier League — we support Swansea first and foremost and Manchester United.
"There were a number of things sent out from the club to the guys in Afghanistan.
"It makes it a bit special when people you hold on a pedestal are sending you things."
He added: "It's a good way to round off a week of parades."