Over the course of a lifetime, we're touched by many things, but only one is mandated to remain with you from the moment that you're born until the moment that you die: your football team. Accordingly, only a football team will necessarily chart your life from beginning to end, and it's only a football team whose history necessarily becomes your history.
So memories that mean something – births, marriages, divorces and deaths, friendships, fallouts, blackouts and revelation – are all tracked by football, just like the ones which mean nothing at all. It's why nothing else provokes comparable levels of lunacy and nothing else takes the same peculiar hold over the psyche and the soul of so many apparently sane people.
For almost 27 years, Alex Ferguson has inhabited, directed and dictated the lives of Manchester United supporters, and consequently, the days of his life are the days of my life. It's not easy to accept the fact that a man you'll never meet has improved your existence immeasurably and unfathomably, but it's also unarguable: being me is better because of Alex Ferguson.
And it's not simply a matter of success; though success is pleasant, humans are not obsessed by it. We're obsessed by stories, and we're obsessed by happiness, and Alex Ferguson has provided indecent amounts of both, such that listing the bare facts of his achievements, however impressive they are, would be completely to miss his measure. The numbers are simply an aspect of the attributes that make him such a compelling and extraordinary character.
When he arrived at United, he found a club in decay. Slowly, and with ruthless toughness and love, he rebuilt – not solely in his own image, but with sensitivity to his place in history, committed to the exhilarating beauty of youth and rebellion, football taught by Matt Busby.
Anything you might demand from a Manchester United side, Fergie's teams have had it: enterprise, intensity and creativity, aggression, testicles and zest, qualities not just to respect, but to imitate. Deliberately gathering genuine and disparate characters, men that only he could sculpt and control, his ability to appreciate, motivate and agitate egos is unrivalled; as with the finest politicians, actors and writers, his talent is underpinned by an instinctive understanding of humanity.
But like most geniuses, and like most people, he has a dark side; he can be stubborn, selfish, avaricious and duplicitous, and there are some things that it's tricky to forgive. And yet, without those elements, he'd be a different man, a different man who might never have introduced the same wonder to the world. Among those to have worked with him and competed against him, there are plenty who have fallen out with him, but of that group, there are remarkably few who feel lasting antipathy and many more who have admitted their culpability.
Accordingly, his retirement is a loss not only to those with an affiliation to United, but to almost all who share the football obsession – even supporters of his club's greatest rivals will feel differently in his absence. This is because Fergie is never boring; he never lets us forget that we're alive, because he never forgets that he is.
And this gift extends far beyond football. He has a majestic turn of phrase, a wide and deep range of interests, and perhaps the most absorbing, rhapsodic, infectious, enormous smile in the history of faces. No one enjoys joy quite like him, and this, above all else, is his eternal lesson: the buzz of being alive is a good one; be damn sure to make the most of it.