When the NBA Allstars of the USA basketball team came to town this week, Manchester's glitterati were out in force. Aping those pictures they had seen of David Beckham courtside at the LA Lakers, the local camera fodder had been artfully positioned on the front row of a packed MEN arena. All the better to take in the important things of the event. Like Lebron James's slam dunks and Kobe Bryant's convincing demonstration of the little known fact that man can indeed fly. Not to mention the close attentions of Kiss Cam, those candid camera shots of lovers smooching beamed to the watching television audience, the very thing that recently caught out President Obama and his wife.
And boy, were there a lot of stars on show. So much so, those two lesbians from Coronation Street had to be quietly moved back a row or two when someone more important turned up late. Mind, when that somebody more important turns out to be Harry Kewell and the former sportsman turned full-time attender at the opening of an envelope Danny Cipriani, then you know precisely where you stand in the celebrity alphabet. And it's not on the A list.
This being Manchester, sportsmen were naturally to the fore. There was glass-jawed pugilist Amir Khan, the England footballer Joleon Lescott, plus Chris Smalling, a player born in Maidstone but dressed — in his reverse baseball cap and bowling jacket - as if straight out of Compton. It was good to see Fabrice Muamba there too, looking healthy and happy.
But the man who seemed to attract the most attention was the sandy-haired fellow sitting next to Jordan Henderson. When it was announced by the evening's giddily over-excited compere that Darren Fletcher was in the house, the ovation rang round the packed arena. True it wasn't as loud as that which greeted Bryant's gravity-defying contributions, but it was significant nonetheless. There was real meaning in the applause. Not that he will have enjoyed the meaning. Noteworthy as it may have been, the disappointing thing for the combative Scotsman was this: his ovation had the tone of a sympathy cheer.
The noises coming out of Old Trafford suggest that Fletcher's battle with the debilitating bowel complaint that has dogged him for the last couple of years has been far from won. Not only is he certain to miss yet another season, the probability is he will never turn out in Manchester United's myriad colours again. His manager Sir Alex Ferguson has already prepared the ground for his retirement by insisting there will always be a coaching role for him at the club.
For someone just 28 years old that is a bleak prospect. And the timing could not be more savage. Just as he was finally being recognised as a crucial contributor to the red cause, just as he was winning over a crowd who for years remained agnostic to his talent and importance, his career is brought to a premature end. Bad luck barely covers it.
And the bad luck is not simply confined to Fletcher himself. It is unfortunate for his manager, his team mates and his club's supporters alike that his career's demise should come precisely at the point it appeared to be achieving lift off.
The thing about Fletcher was he was never a star performer. He was not a James or a Bryant. In the parlance of the Tour de France, he was a footballing domestique, a member of the peleton whose role was to work his socks off to clear the platform for others to shine. His was not a game of silky skill. It was one of work-rate, of leather-lunged effort. And only latterly was it recognised quite how important his contribution was to his side.
Indeed, he has been a player whose reputation has soared in absentia. That was a trend which started when he was suspended from the Champions League final in 2009. No way would Fletcher have allowed United to be overwhelmed by Barcelona in the manner they were became a common talking point that summer. Similarly, as he was removed by illness from contention last season, so United — by no coincidence whatsoever — showed a porousness in midfield which would never have been allowed had he been around.
Fletcher was one of those guys every team needs: the work horse. Eric Cantona may have dismissed the role by coining the term the water carrier to describe Didier Deschamps, but the Scotland captain's influence on United should not be underestimated.
Nor should it go unmarked. Once he gave an interview to United We Stand magazine in which he talked about his love of putting more celebrated opponents under pressure. There was nothing he liked more, he said, than chasing Steve Gerrard or Frank Lampard over every blade of grass, harrying them, worrying them, making their life infinitely more uncomfortable.
In many ways, that is as vital an ingredient of football as the lollipop or the nutmeg. Darren Fletcher may have been a footsoldier. But it is only now he is no longer around that we realise every army needs his sort.