Manchester United star Ryan Giggs was crowned 2009 BBC Sports Personality of the Year in Sunday's award ceremony.
The Welsh winger, 36, is the most decorated player in English football with a record 11th Premier League winners' medal secured this year.
Formula 1 champion Jenson Button was second with world heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis securing third spot.
"This is a shock as you can tell by the speech I've prepared," joked Giggs when collecting his award.
"I grew up watching this programme. To see the people that have won it and to be here is unbelievable."
A surprised Giggs is the first footballer to claim the prestigious trophy since England midfielder David Beckham in 2001, with Michael Owen (1998), Paul Gascoigne (1990) and Bobby Moore (1966) the only other football winners.
Giggs reflects on his prestigious career
With the public choosing their favourite from the shortlist of 10 by phone on the night, Giggs received 29.4% of the vote (151,842 votes) ahead of Button (18.74% - 96,770) and Ennis (15.58% - 80,469) with a total of 516,473 votes cast.
This year has seen Giggs win the Professional Footballers' Association Player of the Year award for the first time in April and the Wales Sports Personality of the Year award, and in a United shirt he has made his 800th appearance, scored his 150th goal and helping them reach the Champions League final.
The Cardiff-born star added: "I am playing for the greatest manager that has ever lived and I'm playing for the greatest club. Perhaps I've become more appreciated as I have got older.
"It's unusual for a 36-year-old to be playing with a team like Manchester United for 20 years but I am enjoying it and long may it continue."
After Ferguson revealed on Friday that his veteran playmaker had been offered a new contract for next season, Giggs said: "It was the first I had heard of it the other day so I was quite pleased. Hopefully there will be another year after that."
One of the most emotional moments at the Sheffield Arena was Spanish golf legend Seve Ballesteros - watching on a video screen from home - being honoured with the Lifetime Achievement award.
The 52-year-old, still recuperating from a brain tumour that required four life-threatening operations, received a standing ovation before receiving the award from a tearful compatriot and golfer José María Olazábal.
Other vote totals were: cyclist Mark Cavendish in fourth (55,960), gymnast Beth Tweddle (38,907), Daley (36,929), tennis player Andy Murray (19,936), Strauss (17,237), boxer David Haye (13,916), athlete Phillips Idowu (4,507).
After the 10 contenders were introduced to a packed audience at the start of the evening, Major Phil Packer received the Helen Rollason award.
The Sussex-born man was awarded for his extensive charity work - which included running the London Marathon this year - and revealed he would be setting up the British Inspiration Trust after leaving the army next February.
The 15-year-old diver Tom Daley, who was already in the list of 10 for the main Sports Personality award, began the night in grand fashion by getting his hands on the Young Sports Personality trophy for the second time.
Next up was comedian Eddie Izzard looking a little more refreshed than three months ago when the 47-year-old was finishing his 43rd marathon in 51 days in aid of Sports Relief.
Seve honoured at Sports Personality
After being handed the BBC Sports Personality special award, Izzard said: "Everything was painful. People asked me if I enjoyed the running, but I enjoyed the stopping! I staggered, I ran and I crawled."
The team award went to the England men's cricket team following their Ashes success against the Australians this summer, led by captain and top 10 Sports Personality contender Andrew Strauss.
Strauss, in South Africa with the team, said: "What I am most proud about is that we have stuck together in some pretty tough times. That is what got us over the line in the Ashes and this award can act as a spur to achieve more in the future."
Fabio Capello was named Coach of the Year on the back of the 63-year-old Italian guiding England to the 2010 World Cup, while Olympic and world sprint champion Usain Bolt claimed the Overseas trophy after his fireworks on the track.
The 72-year-old swimming instructor Doreen Adcock from Milton Keynes won the Sports Unsung Hero award.
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