Comment: It's hard to escape comparisons between Brazil football team tragedy and United's fateful Munich air disaster in 1958
For English football fans, no visit to Old Trafford is possible without the eye being drawn to the Munich Clock.
On a wintry night in 1958, eight of the "Busby Babes" - including Irish player Liam Whelan - were among 23 who lost their lives after their plane crashed in the snow.
Yesterday as the scale and nature of the disaster in the mountains of Colombia unfolded, comparisons to Manchester United's fateful evening were hard to escape.
Also hard to avoid was the sense that a beautiful story had been wrecked, just hours before its crowning glory. A Brazilian football romance that was compared to Leicester City's English title win was brought to a brutal end on the eve of the biggest match in the team Chapecoense's short history.
Three players from the giant-killing side from Brazil's provinces were among only six people to survive. Seventy-one lives were lost when the plane carrying the side to play Colombian opponents in a major South American cup final came down.
Chapecoense, founded in 1973 in a city of 200,000, were held up as emblems for small clubs across Brazil as they progressed to the final of the Copa Sudamericana, South America's equivalent of the Europa League, where they were due to face Atletico Nacional today. As three days of mourning were declared in Brazil, the players and staff of Atletico Nacional called for the trophy to be awarded to Chapecoense.
The squad - which plays in a stadium that holds just 22,000 fans - had set off for Colombia in high spirits.
The president of their guiding committee, David de Nes Filho, told a Brazilian radio station: "It was not just a group founded on mutual respect; it was a family. We lived in harmony, with great happiness. Before boarding the flight, they said they were going to turn their dreams into reality. The dream ended this morning."
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Among those expressing shock were Brazil's best player, Neymar, who wrote: "It's impossible to believe this tragedy, impossible to believe what happened, impossible to believe that the plane crashed, impossible to believe that athletes, human beings were on this plane, impossible to believe that these people left their families."
The Munich air disaster was both a tragedy and the birth of a tradition that still shapes the club's identity. United's great 1968 European Cup winning side was built from the refusal to yield to the terrible losses 10 years earlier, when a golden generation of young players was almost wiped out.
Matt Busby, who twice received the last rites as he lay in a Munich hospital bed, recovered to construct the team of Bobby Charlton, George Best and Denis Law. Charlton, who survived the Munich crash, became the symbol of United's defiance, adding a World Cup winner's medal with England and becoming the spiritual father of the English game. Like United, Chapecoense were challenging for honours beyond their own borders.
They had beaten the big name Argentinian sides San Lorenzo and Independiente en route to the final.
Air disasters in football are more common than we might think. Italian giants Torino lost their whole first team in a crash in 1949, as did the Peruvian club Alianza Lima in 1987. Zambia's national team was erased in 1993.
Relatives of other victims on the flight to Medellin might feel aggrieved to be overlooked. But there is no ignoring the particular resonance of a small-town team from the provinces being cut down so close to a kind of glory none could have dreamed of before the club rose to Brazil's top league in 2014.
The players who survived the accident will acquire hallowed status, as Charlton and others have.
United's recovery was long and painful, but sustained by Busby's faith in youth. Sir Bobby recalled recently: "It was our quest that Manchester United win the European Cup because if it hadn't been for that accident we would have done it that year [in 1958] - of that I'm certain. We feared no one, no challenge was too big.
"Matt Busby said it would be five years before we would win a major trophy. Almost five years to the day we lifted the FA Cup. And 10 years later we were champions of Europe.
"Winning the European Cup was a debt of gratitude to those that died - they had started the cause that we were fighting."
At least Chapecoense know where to look for inspiration. (© Daily Telegraph, London)