It’ll be a traditional affair: Red against Blue, the metropolis divided, philosophical debates emanating from the salons of Wythenshawe and many other arrondisements of the greatest city. It’ll also be carrying on the tradition of being proclaimed the Most Important Derby Ever (MIDE). Just how many of the previous 161 have been unimportant events where no-one’s really been too fussed about the result? Do I remember too many people saying may the best team win, it’s your turn chap, and play up and play the game?
Therefore, I leave aside the following as I gallop through the decades. A spirited clash exactly 100 years ago in 1912 after which United’s first great manager Ernest Mangnall deciding to pack it in and try his luck with City (imagine Ferguson and Mancini deciding to do a job swap, and you’ll get the idea); thrilling affairs that pitted the Busby Babes against the legendary Bert Trautmann and a bunch of City outfield players of outrageous inconsistency, eccentricity and more than occasional brilliance; the 1968 win from behind at Old Trafford for City that paved the way for their title victory – Best, Law, Charlton, Lee, Bell, Summerbee all on the pitch, all in their prime; the 1970 game that included a George Best tackle that ended the much-loved Glyn Pardoe’s career (and arguably left emotional scars on Best that catalysed his personal and professional decline); a 1975 game that all but retired Colin Bell; and as if I could forget, a 1974 tale (almost 38 years to the day of this renewal at Old Trafford) involving Denis Law, a backheel, a riot and relegation for United. By the way, it’s always a good way of blowing your kids’ minds to tell them about the day Manchester United were relegated (and yes, it was on colour television). They presume there is either an Act of Parliament of a Law of Physics that prevents this. All candidates for MIDE.
Just in the last quarter century (the time that my parents have allowed me attend the games on my own), there have been the following MIDEs. September 23rd 1989, City, back in the big time with no money but a young team stuffed full of local lads against the big money signings of the unpopular, under-pressure, too expensive to sack United manager Ferguson. Part of the population of Manchester would like name a public space in the city 5-1 Square. Another part soothes the pain years later in the knowledge that however good that City group of young players unquestionably was, United had a younger group of teenagers harvested from the city’s outer suburbs that was far, far better.
By the way, it’s always a good way of blowing your kids’ minds to tell them about the day Manchester United were relegated
A year later, Ferguson had won the Cup and bought time. City had bought Howard Kendall as Manager and players like, Peter Reid, Mark Ward, Colin Hendry and Niall Quinn while selling one of their best young players (Andy Hinchcliffe) and losing to injury their best player, Paul Lake, with terrible results for City as a club but more importantly Lake as a man. This was two powerhouses meeting as equals at Maine Road, both desperate to challenge the titan of the English game, Liverpool. They served up an unforgettable, completely preposterous 3-all draw. Kendall then walked out on City and when the return fixture came round the following spring, Ferguson decided to give a chance to a young boy called Giggs. That was 21 years ago.
In April 1992, it was United against Leeds for the last old first division title, and City with their usual great timing had just saved their best performance of the season for a 4-nil hammering of …..Leeds.
City fans went into work to be politely thanked by their United workmates for handing the Reds their first league title in 25 years, and looked forward to the next match, United’s coronation game at Old Trafford – a derby game no less. For an hour, City played along falling behind and throwing in a comedy sending off to keep the atmosphere going. Then United unilaterally lost their bottle, 10 man City equalised, should have won the game but only drew. However, this was the match that turned the tide, United cracked, Leeds forgot about their aberration at Maine Road and won the league.
In 1993 and 1994, revenge was sweet. United were not so much moving ahead as moving out of sight. At Maine Road, United gave City a two goal half time lead. But United had better players and with sickening predictability won in the last minute. United fans sang: “Blue Moon, you started to sing too soon”. A year later, United saw City’s 5-1 and raised them a Cantona-inspired 5-nil. This should explain to anyone the significance of a 6-1 scoreline at some date in the future. The day after the 5-nil was unquestionably the most excruciating of my working life.
In 1996, there were not one but two MIDEs. In February, a hopelessly outgunned City side with one genius in the team travelled with hope and nothing else to a cup tie at Old Trafford.
But Gio Kinkladze played David to United’s Goliath and a wonderful pass put through Rosler, who scored. If City got to half time ahead, with United unable to get near to Kinky, then City had a chance. All you need to know is that the penalty given just before half time was the sort a United fan that thinks Red Issue’s only fault is that it is distressingly non-partisan admits was possibly a little generous . United took the ref’s gift, won the game and lifted the Cup, beating Liverpool and their cream suits while City cursed their atrocious luck.
In April 1996, an exciting game at Maine Road at the absolute pinnacle of Oasis’s popularity saw an entertaining Uwe Rosler goal celebration and an astonishing if slightly fortunate save from Schmeichel. But Cantona not so much played in the game as directed the whole thing, United were always going to win, City were deservedly relegated and United added the league to the aforementioned Cup. This match is a candidate for MIDE as it perfectly encapsulated the direction of travel of both clubs.
By 2002, Kevin Keegan had got City back in the top division with an entertaining but fragile team.
This Derby is a very strong compromise candidate for MIDE. It was the last at Maine Road, and surfing on a tide of emotion, City got their first Derby win in 13 years, and the central character in the game, Shaun Goater, is such a likeable and admirable man that not even Reds can object to him.
Goater pushed Laurent Blanc into retirement and explained to Rio Ferdinand the standards required of a United player
Additionally, a stone cold United legend, Peter Schmeichel, was playing his one and only Derby for City. His win confirmed a personal record of Derby successes that will surely never be beaten .
But if City won on the day, United were longer term victors.
Keegan’s City surgically exposed the faults in the United team. It was as if Ferguson had employed them as mystery shoppers. Gary Neville’s horrific error was forgiven as a freak event, but Goater pushed Laurent Blanc into retirement and explained to Rio Ferdinand the standards required of a United player. Danny Tiatto ensured that Seba Veron barely pulled on a red shirt again. United won the league that season. Had City not turned them over that tearful, happy, noisy November lunchtime, they would have fallen short.
Then there’s 2008, when City’s fans showed themselves capable of being the perfect guests on the 50th anniversary of the Munich Air Crash and their dignity was rewarded with a surprise but deserved win, their first at Old Trafford in 34 years. Six months later, Sheikh Mansour pitched up, City as a club transformed overnight, there was an astonishing 4-3 United win at Old Trafford and a series of games dominated by gentlemen called Tevez ( a matchwinner for both clubs in this fixture) and Rooney.
Then there’s 2011 and three MIDEs – while a blue like me will always champion Hinchcliffe’s 1989 goal (let’s agree that it’s the greatest team goal in Derby history) – Rooney’s overhead kick must have a claim as the greatest individual Derby goal. Then the teams met for the first time at Wembley. The cup semi final wasn’t a great match like the others here, but the tension, the height of the stakes and the unique atmosphere with equal numbers of fans in the ground make it a candidate. Then there was a game at Old Trafford in November – the one United fans refer to as “the seven goal thriller”.
And the one renewal in 2012 only had enormous controversy, great goals, a thrilling fightback and a frantic finish . Nothing new there.
So do enjoy the game on Monday night wherever you watch it from. The162nd derby is likely to be the sort of non-event so many of the other 161 have been. It’s the Most Important Derby Ever. Just like all the other Most Important Derbies Ever.
Other stories you should read
Click here for more articles on Football and Sport
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Twitter
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Facebook