I had recently started in first year infants and City had just won a Manchester derby. It would not happen again until I was at university.
This was an undeniably formative experience for a football fan and a numbness developed around what were our biggest fixtures of those seasons. Going ahead in those games felt like getting your equaliser in first; and the team I knew – not unaccustomed to losing in those years – became unfamiliar: a blurred background to Ferguson’s excellent sides which turned up and brutally carved a path to goal year on year.
Then it got better: City turned United over a fair few times under Keegan, Sven and even Stuart F***ing Pearce. Often in some style as well, although the mass exhalation at full time in the 1-0 at home in 2007 is a particularly fond memory. The entire second half took place in City’s third and Carlos Tevez of all people nodded the ball wide from point blank range in added time. A win which encapsulated that brief era: happy, but wrought with problems upon closer examination.
Football was then promptly ruined as a rich man unprecedentedly bought a football club and spent some money on footballers. Derby games took on a presence outside of their immediate context and wins in those fixtures became the foundations for bigger things. So much that the nature of the actual games themselves are sometimes overlooked. The 1-0 win in the 2012 run-in is the gutsiest team performance in sky blue I have ever seen. Kompany’s celebration after heading in showed a man leading an entire club. The first of three proper heart exploding moments in three games.
The belief exemplified in that run-in had its roots in the FA Cup semi final derby a year before. City grew into that game, proving to themselves that they could go up a level and challenge for honours. This was another game with far-flung consequences, but with details which have faded. Things could have turned out very differently in the moment when Dimitar Berbatov’s touch was genuinely too good: running beyond City’s defence, bringing a through ball down on his toe so effectively that it bounced back off his knee and out of touch. Mario Balotelli led City’s attack that day, looking like the player he was supposed to become: full of running and intelligence before trying one from 45 yards when one goal up in added time.
That game was a reflex to the previous semi-final between the clubs in the 2010 League Cup. City took a lead into the second leg at Old Trafford and served up a bottle job so bad that they were lucky to still be in the tie in added time, where they were dispatched. One among several [CN – Michael Owen] derby heartbreaks around the time.
Even effectual dead rubbers have had this wider meaning in the Mansour-era, City’s 2-1 at Old Trafford against the champions elect showed a side ready to regain an ascendancy which was delivered the following season.
Derby games have since cooled down, a reflection of the changes of management at both clubs. The routines of rivalry since then have been maintained though: combined XI’s are still being produced and bickered over; photographs of trophy parades are still disingenuously compared: and Wayne Rooney still seems to do that daft little jog over to 111 to show off his free shirt-printing: something he obviously considers to be a perk, and the first thing he instructs Paul Stretford to come out with in every round of contract wrangling.
It has all become a little lacklustre though. Rashford’s Eastlands winner last year is the least I have been bothered about losing a derby in over a decade and red mates of mine have also said how with both sides underachieving in the past couple of years these games have become bald men fighting over wet-look gel.
Things have been ratcheted up again, however, with fans latching onto the narrative provided by the appointment of Pep and Jose. Not since the PDF Wars of 2011 (when nobody was left in any doubt as to where IKEA was) have we seen such tetchiness between both sets of fans, albeit with the same habits resurfacing.
“ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE IS S***TING IT” is the common refrain from the sizeable part of United’s fanbase that desperately wants to believe that a good football team beating a mediocre one can ruin family weekends up and down the country. A weird desire to be hated only matched in lack of self-awareness by City’s fans’ strange need for acceptance from everybody outside of the club.
Contrary to claims, a revolution is not taking place at United, rather a deviation to the mean for a club which has invested heavily in top talent over the last few years. Van Gaal did a slightly better job than the one he was credited for. A rebuilding similar to the one Mancini did at City: becoming hard to beat first and foremost, then winning a trophy, any trophy, and you move forward from there.
Through the experience, United’s fans may have learned that there is more to getting back to the top than spending big money; and maybe even that English football is a bit different now with a number of wealthy and well managed clubs throughout the league. Deep down, City’s recent experience has given them more perspective on United’s success that they may have previously been flippant about. Kicking off every game with an undesirable result on the scoreboard is tough, regardless of having such a good squad.
At this point in time, the consensus is that United are closer to where their manager wants them to be, but City have the potential to be better if they can fully implement Guardiola’s plans. Despite this, with tensions so high currently, tactics and inspired play seem to be less important than who will blink first. Saturday might be one of those times where a draw will actually suit.
Written by Gaz
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