In the wake of Manchester United’s victory over rivals Manchester City last night, my jubilant facebook posts caught the attention of one of my Aussie friends, Zena.
She asked me about the history of this rivalry between the two Manchester clubs.
I’m a great believer in the importance of following your passions and living your dreams, so for me, sporting contests are where we see some of the greatest human moments, where people strive to be the best they possibly can at what they love doing.
I love football – always have, always will. From kicking a ball against a wall as a kid to playing amateur league and veterans soccer, to watching my team at every opportunity. As I (partly) jokingly say, ‘Women have come and gone, but football will always be there for me.’
The following was my reponse:
Zena – you could say there are more than two Manchester teams if you include surrounding areas.
Football superseded religion in a way as it gave the everyday working man something exciting and entertaining to look forward to on the weekend. It gave rise to local heroes and it was the dream of every child kicking a ball against a wall in the back lane to play for his local team and emulate his heroes. It’s tribal and it’s very, very passionate, even with the influx of mega-rich mercenaries – professional players who will go where the money is despite having no geographical connection to the club where they ply their trade. You can’t blame them for that – it’s their career.
The old and great clubs are steeped in tradition, where fans can remember the feats of star players of a bygone era. For me it was players like Charlton, Best and Law. For my City friends it was Lee, Bell and Summerbee.
United formed originally under the name Newton Heath in 1878 and were mostly a team of railway workers. They changed their name to Manchester United in 1902 and moved to Old Trafford, their current stadium in 1910.
City was founded by the Rector of St Mark’s Church in 1880 in industrial East Manchester to help reduce crime and for social and charitable support for the community, becoming first Ardwick AFC and eventually Manchester City in 1894.
The rivalry has always been there, though there was always a mutual respect, with City even allowing United to use their ground at Maine Road when Old Trafford was damaged by German bombs in World War 2, though they wouldn’t let them use the home dressing rooms!
United suffered one of the most disastrous setbacks to any sporting team ever when the plane carrying the team back from Munich crashed on take off in 1958, killing most of the team in one foul swoop. (Munich Air Disaster) United were the first English team to compete in Europe. On a wave of national sympathy, the club rebuilt the team with youngsters and refused to fold. Sir Matt Busby survived the crash (just) and though it took him ten years, he finally rebuilt the team, won the English title and took them back into Europe, winning the European Cup in 1968.
I watched that game on TV in Jersey as a 7 year old, with my heroes Best and Charlton both scoring. Interestingly, the other goal was scored by Brian Kidd who was later to be United’s Assistant Coach and is now City’s Assistant Coach. Denis Law also played for both teams and even Matt Busby was a City player before becoming United Manager.
Under the reign of Sir Alex Ferguson, arguably the best Manager of all team, United enjoyed a spell of dominance through the nineties, and on til last year, winning 12 EPL titles, while City endured traumatic decline and relgation to lower leagues. Their fans stayed loyal though and they bounced back to claim the Premier League title from United on goal difference only with the last kick of the season in a thrilling finale.
For many years, Liverpool were the dominant force in England. United knocked them off their perch, then faced a challenge from Arsenal. Then came the financially backed challenges to United as mega-rich billionaires made English soccer their plaything. United has seen off Chelsea, but now have to battle it out with Arab-owned City, while United has fallen into the hands of Americans. I’d love to see all of the clubs back to being owned by the people for the people, but I fear those days are long gone.
As a child, I remember there was magic and respect for all clubs and all players. The English Premier League is still the most exciting league in the world because you can never predict what is going to happen from week to week, but I fear that money has spoiled the sportsmanship and mutual respect that was always there.
On the other hand, the money has enabled sponsors to set up satellite TV so I can watch the games live wherever I happen to be in the world.
It’s a game with more passion than I can possibly explain. If you want to understand it, go to a match, preferably a derby game like City v United and see how it affects people in workplaces where the winners will give the losers stick about the result from one game to the next.
Go for a drink in the local pub and hear the fans singing the songs. It’s tradition, passion and a sense of connection with history. Like when JFK was shot or Diana died, people look back and remember where they were when United won the European Cup or when City pipped United at the post last season. It’s so much more than Eagles v Dockers.
Bill Shankly, Liverpool Manager summed it up, ‘Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.’