There is an entire wing to the team's museum dedicated to that crash. And a stark old-fashioned black and white clock marked simply "Munich" looms outside the stadium. Yet it is still hard for me to put into words what that tragedy and the team's comeback means over here. Maybe this will do it: More than once I've heard the Munich crash compared -- with a straight face -- with the JFK assassination.
This is just one of those areas, I'm afraid, where no matter how much time or energy you invest, it's difficult to understand the cultural gap between our two countries and our two most beloved brands of football. Over time that could change. It already has to some extent, it's just that neither group of fans wants to admit just how frighteningly similar we are.
It's no coincidence that Nick Hornby's book "Fever Pitch," about the suffering that is central to being a proper soccer fan, could be so seamlessly recreated as a movie about the Red Sox. In the wake of the Glazer takeover, it was eerie to see how lifelong Man U fans were wearing the exact same stunned, pale, death mask that Cleveland Browns fans displayed after Art Modell moved what they once thought was their team to Baltimore. The recent news that Glazer now owns 98 percent of the club and proposed boycotts of the "Trailer Park Tycoon" have had almost no effect on ticket or merchandise sales. But it has only deepened the fans' "dog's dinner" malaise and their simmering anti-American sentiment.
I feel for the true, local Man U fans, the ones who built this club into a world-wide phenomenon only to be discarded by the very monster they helped create. But at the same time you just want to say to them, Uh, hey fellas, welcome to the real world. Football fans, both here and abroad, lead with their hearts. And the people who control the sports they love lead with their wallets. That incongruity is not specific to America or Malcolm Glazer. One trip around Old Trafford proves it's nothing new to the UK or soccer, either. How it seems to have snuck up on the world's most passionate and informed fan base is beyond me.
Sadly, the crass concept of sports as big business is universal.
In a storefront window, just up the street from Old Trafford, there is a poster from one of the recent anti-Glazer NOT FOR SALE marches. Not For Sale? Behind that poster, inside the store, you can purchase just about anything imaginable -- frisbees, lighters, scarves, boxers, ashtrays -- emblazoned with the Manchester United logo or a player's likeness. Not for sale? The jerseys here make it look like the team plays for Vodafone, not Manchester. When you log on to the team's Web site, the first thing that pops up is an ad for a low-rate mortgage.
In 1994, a decade after the Chicago Bears first hit the charts, Man U went platinum with a little ditty called: "Come on You Reds." Old Trafford already has a Fan Zone (but no pirate ship yet), 179 luxury suites, its own TV channel, its own police station with three cells, and -- holy Gordon Gekko! -- a megastore under one entire wing of the stadium. Inside, for a measly 100 pounds, you can buy a life-sized hologram of Eric Cantona's foot or a crystal tankard engraved with Busby's sacred likeness. For a few less quid you can take home a Red Army Budweiser beer cooler or a doll of Roy Keane.