The Most Important Manchester Derby Since The Last One
It’s been a big week for Manchester. First of all the Manchester Egg was, thanks to the Food and Drink festival, brought to the wider audience it deserved, smashing out of the cult snack niche in to mainstream acceptance, and in doing so being treated with the same sort of awestruck reverence that greeted Marty McFly’s guitar playing at the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance. Then the Manchester Evening News reported that FC United of Manchester’s new ground in Moston was expected to be given the green light in next week’s planning meeting, subject to conditions. After six years of schlepping all the way to the top end of the tram line, the most Mancunian of all of the Mancunian football clubs (please don’t ask me to justify this, I can’t and shan’t) finally looks to have a home of its own.
And finally, The Stone Roses reformed, announcing two summer 2012 gigs in North Manchester’s Heaton Park. The news was greeted with a mixture of unbridled giddiness, buzz-harshing cynicism, and total, stony-face indifference. And, in some sickeningly hypocritical cases, all three at once. But for those who cared, the news brought people together in a loving embrace not witnessed since the Roses’ late 1980s heyday, possibly caused by the double dropping of Mitsubishis, the taking of which was timed so they’d come up off them just as the extended version of I Am The Resurrection kicked in.
It’s fitting, then, that this of all weeks should end with the first Premier League Manchester derby of the season. The media are united in agreement that this Manchester derby is at least the biggest since the last one. Indeed, such is the rate of growth of this fixture that by 2015 it will control the tides and the changing of the seasons. Ever since Sheik Mansour poured his pocket money in to Manchester City, the games against United have taken on even greater importance than they did before. This isn’t just about local bragging rights, this is about winning pots and cups, both domestic and European.
Take, for instance, last season’s FA Cup semi-final. Universally acknowledged of course as the biggest derby for at least two months, City’s win meant so much more than civic one-upmanship. It enabled them to end their hilarious/tragic (delete as applicable) thirty-five year long wait for a trophy. That Manchester United chose that day to secure their nineteenth league trophy not only signalled the club’s usual immaculate sense of historical timing, but also that Manchester will now likely be ruling the football roost for some time to come. I doubt whether the two sides of the rivalry will take time out to bask in the glow of a unified success, with each wishing the other nothing but years of barren wilderness. But if they do, the pride they feel should be tempered by the fact that in order to reach these dizzying heights both clubs have had to all but sell out everything that once made them unique and special.
For perhaps the first time since 1968, when United won the European Cup at Wembley and City became the champions of England, Manchester has two teams it can be rightly proud of. But you could also argue that it also has two of the most odious clubs in the modern game. These are two clubs that have seemed intent – albeit in different ways – on providing the purest examples of how a football club shouldn’t be run: corporate greed, spiralling ticket prices, idiot chief executives, whinging, over-paid players, and a complete disdain for the local fan. Not that any of this will matter one jot come half past one on Sunday afternoon. I can best describe myself as a lapsed United fan. Non-league programmes across the North West will have me desbribed as being either disenfranchised or disillusioned, depending on which part of the FC United Wikipedia page they cribbed their info from. But do you think my irritating, preachy, newfound love and respect for the greater good of the game infringes on derby day? Does it fuck.
When Nani broke from the half way line in the last minute of the Community Shield the furthest thing from my mind was a moral and ethical protest concerning, well, anything. When Yaya Toure scored in the Cup semi last season my first thought wasn’t a fraternal well-wishing for the City fans who have had their club ripped from their clammy, dirty fingernailed hands, it was about getting to work and giving the resident City fan three or four good, if metaphorical, digs to the wind pipe. Because it matters. And it will always matter. Whether played out in front of tens of thousands in front of a global audience of millions with trophies riding on it, or whether it’s four lads in replica shirts battling it out on a pitch strewn with dog shit and broken bottles, there’s nothing that can or will replace that gut-wrenching nervous sickness that derby day brings about. And long may that continue.
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