When it comes to football fan rivalries, the one that exists between Manchester City and Manchester United never seems to get the air time it deserves. This could be down to a few reasons. One is that United have so many out-of-towners who just don’t understand, it has become widely perceived to be a rivalry that doesn’t really matter. That said, judging by what I see on the internet, these people from the far flung reached of the UK and beyond get a vicarious thrill by hearing songs sung about City at the game; they repeat jibes about City fans coming from Stockport that they don’t fully comprehend and they sing about killing City with ‘hatchets and hammers, and Stanley knives and spanners’ when it’s doubtful they’ve even met a local City fan. It’s these people who have perpetuated the myth that the only game United truly care about is the one versus Liverpool. People like Ronnie Irani, (from Bolton, supports Wigan Rugby and Man Utd, you get the picture), but let’s be honest, if you weren’t brought up with City on your doorstep why would you care? Just over ten years ago we were in the third tier of the entire league so if you follow United just for the shiny baubles the rivalry with City wouldn’t even be on your radar.
The thing is, the local United fans do care about City and they always have done. I’ve heard, “I hate Liverpool but the derby’s the big one for me” countless times from Mancunian and Salford reds, even when City were languishing in a division, or divisions, below the Premier League. I’ve even had a heartfelt, “I wish you’d get promoted. We miss it when you’ve gone.” So what is ‘it’? Well it’s not easy to pin down and I can well understand why it’s been given the swerve by most. You see, it’s rare that families are divided on Derby Day like on Merseyside; there isn’t the religious bigotry of Glasgow; and there isn’t the cross-town hatred, which exists between Newcastle and Sunderland. It’s hatred though, there’s no mistaking that.
I was born in March 1976, a month after we won the League Cup, the last trophy we lifted before 2011’s FA Cup win. For many years I thought it was all my fault and considered walking away for the good of the club. Luckily I didn’t, but I think Colin Schindler did. You might have heard of Colin Schindler, he wrote a book called “Manchester United Ruined My Life”. I’ve not spoken to a single local City fan who likes that book. The title alone paints City fans as the victim. The poor, downtrodden Blue permanently living in United’s shadow and cursing their very existence ever day. Nothing could be further from the truth. Look, we hate United. The song goes “We only hate Man United” It’s true and I make no apologies for that. I live my life in a two-club City. You are supposed to hate the other lot with a passion. Them’s the rules. The tricky time for me came around the time City were plummeting the divisions and United were heading towards an unprecedented Treble. I’ll happily admit the lines between my love for City and my hatred for United became somewhat blurred. United weren’t ruining my life though. City were doing that.
United still cared though. God how they cared. It was our journey through the divisions which gave birth to many anti-City jibes which I still read and hear used by United fans every single day. For example, It was decided that the description of MCFC as a ‘Massive Club’ by players, staff and the fans had got too much and MASSIVE was now the word to use at every possible opportunity (if you’ve got a minute type “City Massive Club” into Google and marvel at the results). So much so that the aim for top reds at the time was to phone up a national football phone-in, pretend to be a City fan and lament this massive club’s predicament. An example from David Mellor’s phone-in back in the day, “I mean we’re a massive club, how can this be happening to us? In fact, we’re bigger than massive. We’re enormous. No….WE’RE GARGANTUAN!!!” Of course, Mellor didn’t twig did he? The pr*ck. Keep an ear out as it still happens believe it or not. If it’s ‘Bertie (Magoo, the Bitter Blue) from Stockport’, it’s a bored red with too much time on his hands, turn it off. It was also our season in the third tier which meant we got a crowd of 3007 against Mansfield in the Auto Windscreens Cup. That was a game too far in a season we regularly got in excess of 30,000 at Maine Road against such footballing giants as Macclesfield Town. Next time you meet a red from the Manchester area, scribble down ‘3007’ on a piece of paper, show it to them and watch their reaction. It’s ingrained on their brain. That’s how much they cared.
As with all these United fanzine driven in-jokes though (we’re ‘the divs’, ‘the bitters’, ‘Berties’, we all come from Stockport) I actually don’t mind it too much coming from people from the Manchester area. It’s the way it should be, and in the interest of fairness, the description of United as ‘Munichs’ has gradually slipped into common parlance at the match to the point where it’s used casually by many without any thought. This is hardly going to endear us to them is it? It’s often used by people who, and this might be difficult to grasp by many, wouldn’t dream of singing a song about the air disaster itself. I’ll be honest, I’ve described them as such in the past as a kid and tried to justify it with an ill-thought out explanation relating to United ultimately benefitting from the disaster by virtue of attracting fans from all over the country and beyond. It’s not a line I peddle now I’m in my mid-30s. Although the Munich songs are more or less extinct at games now, this is the nastier side of the rivalry, and it’s always been there and always will be.
In Manchester, a lot of pubs and bars will shut on Derby Day but if you find one that’s open it’s not always wise to just wander in and order a drink. I was in a City Centre boozer two seasons ago after Paul Scholes had broke City hearts with a last minute winner, the third last minute winner we had to endure that particular season. This was about three hours after the final whistle and the drink was easing the wounds. I was stood near the door and I saw 5 lads walk in, well dressed with no colours. Instantly eyebrows were raised by many in the pub and people started nudging each other, “Who are they? Do you know em?”. Within minutes all hell had broken loose. These lads were indeed United and had wandered in the ‘wrong’ pub. I got out sharpish, as did the United lads (although they took a different exit). It’s not all about blue and white jesters hats and green and yellow scarves you know?
This might sound daft but you can differentiate between City and United fans in Manchester quite easily just by looking at them. I’d like to say it’s a gift I have but it’s really not as I’ve spoken with loads of people who say the same. I know United make it easy by dressing themselves head to toe in black but even the ones that show a little bit more imagination with their dress sense carry themselves in a particular way. I also find they tend to be moody c*nts. It works both ways though. I was in a boozer in Manchester in the late 90s and I went to the Gents. Some lad clocked me, “Alright mate. Enjoy the game last night?” City, unusually for us during that period, had won a midweek game. “Yeah. Where’s your seat at Maine Road mate?” He laughed, “I’m a red mate. I can just tell you’re a Blue.” Now before you start, I wasn’t in full Kappa Lazer Blue, carrying an inflatable banana with a moustache (that’s another one by the way – we’ve all got moustaches apparently) but before I had chance to ask he’d gone. On another occasion, Mani, yes him, did exactly the same to me and my mate. This was just after we’d beaten United in a Derby as well so it can’t be put down to the worry lines and the haggered faces. It must just be a sixth sense we all have.
From my perspective, what has riled Blues most is the arrogance of United fans and their mocking of City over the years. I’ll never forget hearing in a pub, “We’ve not got a cat, so when I’ve had a bad day I take the p*ss out of City and I feel better.” I’d say that covers it quite nicely. What has really gotten our Goat though has been some of the players deciding to get in on the act. It’s derby day this weekend so I’m sure it’ll happen again. We’ve had Scholes, Beckham, Evra and others dismissing us with a sneer on various occasions, usually the week leading up to the Derby. You’d have thought Gary Neville’s experience might have taught them a lesson. You see, our Gaz thought it would be great, before the last derby at Maine Road, to tell the World that he had never witnessed City beat United at any level, from schoolboy to first team. Of course, we won 3-1 and Neville made an almighty f*ck up to present Shaun Goater with the second goal. We sang his name with great gusto that day.
The thing is though, times are changing and some United fans are struggling to come to terms with it. Only the other day, I’m on a Stag Do and tried chatting with a member of the party I didn’t know about football. Within minutes I’d had the full repertoire, “Do you enjoy watching a bunch on money grabbers?” followed by “You’ve no history” and concluded with the quite brilliant, “Wait ‘til the oil runs out.” What’s the point in arguing with that? We’ve assembled a squad of players good enough to challenge for the league, we’re now doing it with style yet we still get ridiculed. In their eyes the natural order is being retained – City might be good, but United are doing it ‘the right way’ with youth. Of course, the ‘youth’ of De Gea, Jones, Smalling and Young all were bought at individual prices in excess of Vincent Kompany’s price tag but this doesn’t fit with the story so it’s ignored. The reality is we’re both expensively assembled sides which include a good proportion of high quality young players. It’s that simple.
If both clubs continue to develop as they are doing the rivalry is only going to get more and more intense, and with that intensity comes the friction, it’s inevitable. City fans have taken too much sh*t over the years to let it slide if we are successful and United have their position in the pecking order to defend and it is unthinkable to them that we can get anywhere near United on the pitch. This was never ever on the agenda for people of a certain age who just presumed that no matter what happened, City were there to be laughed at for ever more. Even if United went potless for a season, City could be kicked to make them feel better. It was always presumed in red quarters that City (just because it’s City) would mess this up. Of course, there’s no telling what might happen in the future but the proposals for the regeneration of the deprived East Manchester area (which wouldn’t be happening without Sheikh Mansour’s money in these times of austerity) and the amazing plans for the creation of City’s training and Academy facilities which have just been unveiled have brought many to realise that City are a threat who might not be going away after all.
Of course, the oil could run out and we’d be completely knackered. Arf!
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