The Munich memorial clock is the heart of Old Trafford
A fabulous statue on the right captures the timeless trio of George Best, Denis Law and Sir Bobby Charlton; and it is always crowded by visitors taking photos.
Best looks nonchalant, Law has his right arm raised in his famous goal celebration, while Charlton has a ball in his hand and his shirt tucked in.
Home fan, away fan, or simply a neutral, you can’t fail to be entranced.
Opposite is a statue of Busby himself, the father of United. He is wearing a suit and tie, but also has a ball in his hand. He is a man at work.
Above is the bright neon sign that proclaims the home of Manchester United, and the stadium looks particularly splendid and spectacular at night.
I stop for a moment elsewhere, though, when I visit Old Trafford to report on matches. I stop by the oldest remaining part of the ground further round the big concourse — on the corner of K Stand, near the photographers and disabled entrance.
In Munich I learned that even miracles come at a price
I stop to look at the clock.
On the top it says FEB 6th 1958. Below the simple hour and minute hands it reads MUNICH. It is the most moving memorial to the air crash in which 23 people perished, including eight of the immortal team beloved as the Busby Babes.
On anniversaries of the tragedy, the clock is stopped at four minutes past three to remember the exact time. On Tuesday it will be 60 years since the disaster and a memorial service will be held at the ground.
It is an old-fashioned clock, but it is the heart of Old Trafford even in these days of £90million transfer fees and player wages that are so extravagant and almost impossible to comprehend.
Why do I stop?
It is a moment to reflect on tragedy and fate; to wonder what might have been for English football if the accident had not occurred.
The Busby Babes were a sporting phenomenon; a young and vibrant football team full of style, panache and ambition with players like Duncan Edwards, Roger Byrne and Tommy Taylor.
They might well have won the European Cup in an era now defined by Real Madrid. They were the backbone of a formidable England team that had recently beaten Germany and Brazil, and were heading for the 1958 World Cup as genuine contenders.
It is a personal moment, too.
My father Bill was chief football writer for the Daily Mirror back then, but fate took him on February 6th 1958 to a World Cup qualifier in Cardiff between Wales and Israel, as it did United’s assistant manager Jimmy Murphy.
Eight of the nine football journalists on the Manchester United plane died in the crash, including his Mirror colleague Archie Ledbrooke.
I was born in 1960, the same year the clock at the corner of K Stand was erected.
These days the entrance for the media is down what is now officially called the Munich tunnel. The walls are full of pictures and descriptions of the events of 1958; and they are perfectly presented.
Some years ago I walked past this tapestry of history with Sir Bobby when we met for an interview. I have sat next to him at dinners too. Munich was never once spoken of.
Long time team-mates like Pat Crerand say that he has never talked with them about the crash and the fortune that allowed him to be one of the survivors.
It is only in the eloquence of his autobiography published a decade ago, when reflecting on his incomparable career, winning the 1966 World Cup and the 1968 European Cup and forming a celebrated trio with Denis Law and George Best, that he revealed how he traces everything back to February 6th 1958.
“In Munich I learned that even miracles come at a price,” wrote Sir Bobby.
“Even now, so many years on, it still reaches down and touches me every day. Sometimes I feel it quite lightly, a mere brush stroke across an otherwise happy mood.
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola insists his players should get more protection
“Sometimes it engulfs me with terrible regret and sadness — and guilt that I walked away and found so much. Whatever the severity of its presence, the Munich air crash is always there.”
You don’t have to support Manchester United to know that this history matters to us all, and that on Tuesday it will be right to reflect on a grievous day for sport.
We can all do it in our own way. For me, the clock at the corner of K Stand is the most powerful symbol. It’s why I always stop there for a moment, and always will whenever I visit Old Trafford.
PEP GUARDIOLA is correct, of course he is, that footballers should get more protection from the kind of reckless studs-first lunge that has seen his Manchester City winger Leroy Sane sidelined for six weeks with a nasty ankle injury.
He makes the age-old mistake of demanding that safety from referees.
The truth is that refs are some way down the list of responsibility in this matter.
Fellow players are the first culprits, the ones who do the damage, as with Cardiff defender Joe Bennett’s awful foul on Sane.
Bennett apologised afterwards, saying his attempted tackle was merely “mis-timed”. It was a feeble excuse.
Next on the list are club managers who prefer to downplay reckless lunges like this one, as Cardiff boss Neil Warnock did, with the old chestnut that ‘what do you expect in a physical game?’
This doesn’t wash. Warnock would have been furious if one of his players had been badly injured in the manner that Sane was. By tolerating these incidents, managers allow them to flourish.
Third on the list is the feeble disciplinary process which has no mechanism for delivering a suitable punishment in a case like this one when the player was only booked rather than being sent off in disgrace.
Individual referees can always make mistakes in the heat of the action. That should not mean leniency afterwards when severe foul play has clearly occurred.
SAM ALLARDYCE said he was puzzled that Everton’s talented young winger Ademola Lookman had insisted on a loan move to RB Leipzig for the rest of the season.
I can’t think why.
Bundesliga clubs, in contrast to English teams, have a strong policy of giving youthful players a proper chance, and RB Leipzig are particularly keen to do so.
Lookman was getting very little look in at first team action for Everton, and this appears to be an intelligent as well as hard-headed decision by the 20-year-old.