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The Manchester Derby: A history spanning many an era

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banner_350_560Among the greatest sporting traditions that still exist, the Manchester derby surely is one of the most hallowed in terms of history, and most fierce in terms of competition. The two clubs, originating in the North-West of England, have shared a deep-rooted history and rivalry, dating back to the 1800's, when Manchester United and Manchester City were still called Newton Heath and St. Mark's respectively, being their parent clubs. A lot has happened since then, with the duo now being reckoned as two of the biggest clubs in England as well as the world.

The arch-rivals currently hold the two pre-eminent trophies of English Football - the Premier League and FA Cup respectively, and are set to meet each other in the 160th Manchester Derby in the FA Community Shield on 7th August 2011 - the annual curtain raiser to the English Football Season. This represents only their second clash in the friendly cup-final, previously called the Charity Shield, but one can safely assume that it'll be anything but friendly. The fraternal call is least summoned in our times, as City's rise as a major financial player in world football post Sheikh Mansour's acquisition has launched them to the horizons of immediate success and sent shockwaves in the established World Order of Football, whose epicenter certainly lies at Old Trafford.

 

Whether, City will be able to mount a steady challenge on all fronts contesting United from pillar to post in the League, Domestic Cups and Europe, remains to be seen. Today, we whet our appetites about the prospect of the great Manchester tussle by taking a look back at all the major clashes, conflicts and stories through their 159 previous meetings and what has been a conflagrating rivalry spanning the better part of a century and a half.

The two sides first met a little lesser than 120 years back, when Manchester City (called St. Mark's (West Gordon) then) hosted Newton Heath, which was the Red Devils' name before 1902, with the Heathens winning the encounter 3-0 away from home. After many failed attempts, both sides finally joined the Football League in 1892, with Newton Heath offered a spot in the First Division, Ardwick on the other hand only making the newly-formed Second Division. Yesteryear Mancunians used to support both sides till the Second World War, after which the antipathy between the neighbours arose.

The bad blood however seeped in only by the 70's, when the two teams stopped seeing eye-to-eye, and games between the two sides took a more rambunctious turn. The friction was built around United great George Best's tackle on his opposite number Glen Pardoe in the winter of 1970, a challenge that almost led to the Manchester City player losing his leg. Best became a public hate figure in the blue part of Manchester, with City striker Francis Lee blaming Best for play-acting and diving during their encounter the following season. In a league derby in 1974, Mike Doyle (United) and Lou Macari (City) both received their marching orders from the referee, only to stand their ground on the pitch, refusing to leave. The referee then, seeing no alternative, had to abandon the game till the players left the field of play.

However, one of the decade's greatest moments came in the Manchester derby on April 27, 1974, when the Red Devils, struggling to keep their First Division status, hosted a Manchester City side, knowing that they needed a win to avoid the drop. The City side on that day included a certain Denis Law, who previously had spent 11 great years with Manchester United, winning the league, the European Cup as well as the crown of Best European Footballer of the Year in his time with the Red Devils. Having joined rivals City in the twilight of his career, Law found the net with a back-heel, a goal that gave City the win and all-but-confirmed United's relegation. A distraught Law, realising the consequences of his strike, left the field immediately after the goal with his head in his hands, and never played professional football again, saying later : "I have seldom felt so depressed in my life as I did that weekend. After 19 years of giving everything I had to score goals, I had finally scored one which I almost wished I hadn't."

City went through a period of decline in the 1980's, getting relegated from the First Division twice, seeing a succession of managers come and go, many of them frivolously spending the club's money on poor signings. However, on their return to the big time, Citizens witnessed arguably Man City's greatest win against Manchester United to date, with the game played in the September of 1989 etched in history as the Maine Road massacre. Crowd trouble disrupted play at the start of the game, but when the players took the field again, the newly promoted Manchester City side played like a team possessed, thumping the then-struggling United 5-1 in the early years of Sir Alex Ferguson's tenure, leading to the Scot calling the game the most embarrassing defeat of his managerial career.

The next decade was significant for Manchester United both, for their purple patch, that won Alex Ferguson's side multiple honours, and in the context of the Manchester Derby, their great performances against their city rivals, which led to United never losing a derby throughout the 90's. They were given a good run for their money in 1993 though, when the side that had won the inaugural Premier League in the previous season had to dig deep to overturn a 2-0 deficit, winning the encounter ·3-2 eventually. The City fans packed inside Maine Road had a lot to cheer about when a brace from Niall Quinn had given his side some breathing space, before a couple of goals from Eric Cantona and a superlative performance from Roy Keane in the center of midfield turning the game on its head, taking the Red Devils to victory, and what was to become another league triumph.

Personal rivalries are a huge part of derby games, and easily the most fractious relationship between two players was shared by 'Captain Marvel' Roy Keane, and Norwegian defender Alf-Inge Haaland. Their antagonism began in 1998, when Haaland, playing for Leeds, injured Keane when the central midfielder was through on goal. Keane suffered a cruciate ligament injury that kept him out of the game for a lengthy period, and to add insult to injury, Haaland accused the Irishman of feigning the pain as he stayed on the floor. To say that there was no love lost between the pair was an understatement, as Keane, clearly looking for retribution, flew into a knee-high challenge on Haaland, the Manchester City captain then, which worsened the defender's knee problems and led to an early retirement. Keane, not one to shy away, spoke openly about the tackle being premeditated, saying : "I'd waited long enough. I f****** hit him hard. The ball was there (I think). Take that you c***. And don't ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries." The honesty earned Keane a £150,000 fine and a five-match suspension, but Keane wasn't done yet, later writing in his autobiography : "My attitude was, f*** him. What goes around comes around. He got his just rewards. He f***** me over and my attitude is an eye for an eye."

City broke their 13-year winless run against United in 2002 in the last Maine Road derby with a 3-1 victory, and their results against their more-illustrious neighbours have since significantly improved, claiming a shock 2-1 away win on 6th Feb 2008, a day which marked the 50thanniversary of the Munich air tragedy, in one of the most anti-climatic derbies in the modern era. However, they were still considered as the also-rans, being regarded as second fiddle in most of Manchester, an attitude emphasized by a banner in the Stretford End of Old Trafford which counted the years that City had gone without a major trophy.

Recently though, City's financial clout has made the derby a bit more of a level playing field, with obscene amounts of money injected by their Abu Dhabi-based owners allowing the club to spend lavishly on players and infrastructural development. Proportionally, the City sides have gained higher league positions than ever before, now challenging for Champions League spots and matching the Red Devils stride for stride. In recent times too there has been no dearth of Manchester Derby classics, a contest which features a side at the pinnacle of progress against another striving to reach the summit. September 2009, and Manchester United were welcoming Manchester City in a league clash at Old Trafford. City showed great resilience throughout the game to fight back from a goal down on three occasions, looking likely to claim a draw as the clock edged past the 90-minute mark. But to their despair, Michael Owen, an old scourge of United's, found a winner in an incredible seventh minute of added time to send Old Trafford into delirium. Sir Alex Ferguson later called the game 'probably the best derby of all time'.

Accusations about the time added on were made, but City still weren't seen as true competition. However, the Citizens' steady rise to stature was testament by their close 1-0 win in the 2011 FA Cup semifinal en route to their first truimph in the competition since 1969. If recent matchups are anything to go by, then fixtures between the sides are expected to get increasingly competitive as the years pass.

Off the field too, the feud and hostility between the clubs doesn't seem to die out. After acquiring the services of Carlos Tevez, who previously had played for United, Manchester City installed a billboard which said 'Welcome to Manchester' with the Argentine's face on the sign. The act incited a retort from Ferguson, who spoke about City being 'noisy neighbours' with a 'small club mentality'.

The discord between the clubs is as evident now as it was years before, and that is what makes for a special occasion when two teams with such an enmity go head-to-head on the playing field. Great are those occasions, and even greater is the history that breathes in its tradition.

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