The strangest relationship on earth is the one between Death and Football.
It is like a marriage and a divorce rolled into one; a bittersweet existence of tears, of awkward silence, of respect and of appreciation.
It was when George Best died, on that depressing morning in November 2005, that the truth of it all hit me: nobody, not even the great religions, has perfected the art of bereavement better than football.
We have reached the period in human history when the best place to embrace the sanctity of life is not inside a church but inside a football stadium.
But, just lately, there has been a little too much bereavement; too many one-minute silences; too much pause for reflection. It is as if the pre-match lament has become an integral part of the schedule, much like the brass band of a generation ago.
And yet how can one call for perspective when football seems to be the best place for the bereaved to find that perspective?
For the family of Antonio Puerta, the right context was the European Super Cup in Monaco last Friday night. Puerta would have been playing that night, for Sevilla against AC Milan, had he not suffered a heart attack in the Spanish La Liga the week before. The shock of his death transcended sport.
There is something about the death of a footballer that defies logic. How can a super-fit athletic, aged just 22, so young and yet so powerful, be so vulnerable? And so mortal?
It was not just the supporters of Queens Park Rangers who were asking the same questions in relation to Ray Jones, it was all of us. The death of the 18-year-old striker, in a car crash on the morning of QPR's scheduled match against Burnley in August, touched a nerve. Supporters nationwide were, briefly, united.
Life went on, of course (it always does), but this death needed more than a one-minute silence. This warranted an outright postponement. People were not in the mood to watch. And who wanted to play?
Then there was the touching tribute at Goodison Park for Rhys Jones, the unintended victim of a gang war, when Everton played Blackburn Rovers on the same day that Ray Jones died.
Rhys Jones was an Everton fan, aged just 11, yet his demise touched the city of Liverpool as if it was a football tragedy. There was no one-minute silence but, appropriately so, a wall of noise from 40,000 people in memory of an innocent schoolboy.
Practice makes perfect - and football has been forced into too much practice over the years. The Munich air disaster of 1958, which claimed the lives of virtually an entire Manchester United team, was the first tragedy to touch the collective heart of an entire nation. Then came Hillsborough, the crush that cost the lives of 96 Liverpool fans, in 1989.
I ghost-wrote John Aldridge's autobiography in 1998 and found how even the most hardened of professional footballers can have the same insecurities as us all. "Liverpool players openly wept in front of each other," Aldridge wrote of Hillsborough's aftermath. "That was incredible. Prior to the tragedy, we spent all our time taking the p*** out of each other. Not now. Hillsborough pulled down the facade and showed us up for what we were: vulnerable human beings."
Vulnerable human beings - I like that. In normal times, we confer upon footballers a kind of immortality, but they can suffer and hurt and die just like we can. They can even die, as did Marc Vivien Foe in France in 2003, while playing live on television in front of millions of viewers.
It should not be more shocking when a footballer dies, but it is. I realised that in 1976 when my father told me about the death of Peter Houseman, previously of Chelsea, but then of Oxford United. Houseman was in my football sticker album, which, to my mind, made him immortal. Well, I was only seven.
Then there was the death, in 1993, of Bobby Moore. This did not just happen to him, it happened to all of us. It was the same when George Best died.
How do we respond? When they die, we canonise them and give them an immortality they did not even seek. Bobby Moore is more famous now than he was when he was captain of the England team that won the World Cup in 1966. He is part of our social history. Best, like The Beatles, has become the permanent embodiment of the Sixties.
We do not suffer their pain because we only remember them as being superhuman. It is as if their deaths were like that of Ophelia, who, in the John Everett Millais painting (1852), casually placed herself into a pond, cast her eyes towards the heavens, sang songs of unknown origin, and then slowly faded away. Death was never more serene or beautiful. We do not think of Moore's cancer or Best's liver failure.