x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Time will never be the same without Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United

His furious temper, his legendary tantrums, his elephantine memory for personal grudges, his viper's tongue combined to make him the perfect leading man.

Sir Alex Ferguson gave Manchester United fans much to rejoice about. Shaun Botterill / Getty Images
Sir Alex Ferguson gave Manchester United fans much to rejoice about. Shaun Botterill / Getty Images

Remind me, what is the name of that weepy WH Auden poem from Four Weddings and a Funeral? Opening line: "Stop all the clocks …"

Perhaps that is why it sprang to mind at the announcement of Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement. The Manchester United manager had an uncanny gift for clock-stopping - for up to six minutes, if necessary.

No, it is more than that. The poem came to mind because I am in mourning.

I am grieving two losses: firstly, a bona fide national institution (in my memory, only the Queen pre-dates him as a public figure) and, secondly, football's greatest character. For those who value the human drama of professional sport more than the athletic endeavour, Ferguson was a gift.

His furious temper, his legendary tantrums, his elephantine memory for personal grudges, his viper's tongue, all leavened with occasional flashes of humour, combined to make him the perfect leading man. In the self-appointed Theatre of Dreams, Sir Alex was a figure of epic Shakespearian proportions.

As both a satirical sports writer and a fan, he really was "my north, my south, my east and west/my working week and Sunday rest".

What am I supposed to write about now? The synthetic, knowing antics of Mourinho? The mid-managerial cooing of Brendan Rodgers? The empty, everyman banter of all the other media-trained automatons?

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood. For nothing now can ever come to any good. Oh dear, I've just googled the poem's name. Funeral Blues? He wouldn't like that. Blue was never his colour.

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