LONDON (AFP) - Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson has attempted to clear the air with supporters of Newcastle United after describing their side as "a wee (small) club in the north-east".
Ferguson made the remark during a spat with Newcastle coach Alan Pardew, who had suggested the United manager was fortunate to avoid punishment for arguing with match officials during a match between the teams at Old Trafford.
However, Ferguson has now attempted to clarify his comments, saying that Newcastle's fans are "up there with the best supporters in the game".
"It was never my intention to belittle Newcastle fans," he told British weekly newspaper the Mail on Sunday.
"I want to clear up any misunderstanding that may have arisen over what I said. I have nothing but the highest regard for Newcastle fans and I always have had. They are up there with the best supporters in the game.
"Their passion, commitment and fervour have never wavered, even though they have had little to celebrate.
"They have turned up in numbers to get behind their team wherever and whenever the games have been played.
"When I take a team to St James' Park, I have stressed to the players that not only have they got to beat the opposition on the field, just as important is coping with the atmosphere created by the fans.
"Sadly, results have not matched their loyalty. If Newcastle's achievements had matched the support of the people who pay to watch them play, the club would be among the game's giants.
"It's tragic that they haven't been able to win a league title for over eighty years."
Ferguson also claimed that he had been contacted by Newcastle supporters who expressed dissatisfaction with the way that their club is managed.
"Among the criticism, there were also messages from people who feel they have been let down by the club and that it has not matched their own ambitions for success," he said.