Jonathan Schofield puts his eighties togs on and anticipates Sunday’s match
THE first derby I saw was at City’s then home, Maine Road, on a September day in 1985. I’d come down with an older brother and his friends from Rochdale, prior to going back to Cardiff University.
United had Ron Atkinson in charge and were in the middle of an unbeaten run. They looked like they might at last take the First Division title after an eighteen year gap. They didn’t. They came fourth. United had a famously tough team that was equally notorious for hard-drinking. They’d be falling out of Ronnies or Henry’s or Muswell’s at 2am with beautiful young women on their arms and then playing the next day and beating teams. At least that’s what everybody said. That was the myth and with Bryan Robson, Paul McGrath and Norman Whiteside in the team it seemed all very possible.
Back then United were owned by a family who’d made their money as local butchers and City by a man who was a hi-fi salesman
We were stood on primitive terracing next to the City home support in the Kippax. We’d parked nearby in a Moss Side which looked like the day after a thermonuclear attack. We were United fans which is why I don’t recall any of the City players. United won 3-0. Robson scored a pen, there was an improbable long-range beauty from full-back Arthur Albiston and another from the other full-back Mike Duxbury.
There were fences around the pitch waiting for a Hillsborough to happen in a stadium totally unsuited for a capacity 48,000 crowd. The refreshments were execrable (some things never change). Female fans made up probably less than 5% of the support. The hairstyles were ridiculous. Before the game the tannoy had played the number one record in the charts, David Bowie and Mick Jagger’s Dancing in the Street, which I hated because of its embarrassing video. And anyway I was already deeply into the Smiths and thought the song dull and safe from knackered old has-beens.
The City fans became angry, goaded by the United fans, and towards the end of the game they attacked our part of the ground. There were fights everywhere and the police came charging in. I dodged two punches and fled. There were more fights on the streets outside. It was very thrilling in a ‘what-fuck-just-happened-there’ way.
Years later, and now living in Old Trafford, a very old taxi-driver told me how in the fifties he and his mate, one a United fan and the other a City fan, would attend a United game one week and a City game the next. There was no segregation of fans. He said all the bitterness and nastiness set in sometime in the late sixties and he didn’t know why. So much for those ‘summers of love’, certainly in the English football game. Has anybody researched this? Why did the violent rivalry emerge?
The world has turned again, now multi-millionaire, multi-nationals dance across perfect playing surfaces earning more per week than all the people put together in one of the stands of that 1985 match. Sober buggers they are as well, not fish and chip eating, beer slugging working boys with British and Irish names, you might find asleep on a pool table in your local after a heavy Saturday night. United are now owned by Americans and City are owned by Abu Dhabians. Back then United were owned by a family who’d made their money as local butchers and City by a man who was a hi-fi salesman. Funny really. But not as funny as the fact that City play in the Etihad stadium - in Arabic 'Etihad' means ‘united’.
The first derby was on the 12th November 1881, 137 years and one day before the upcoming clash. City were called St Mark’s (West Gorton), United were called Newton Heath Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway
Call football a sanitised experience now, call the stadiums safer and cleaner, call out the lack of atmosphere compared to 1985, but in 2018 call the football experience better. There are more women in the grounds, more kids, more people from across the world and the open racism is gone, or rather masked. The football is better technically, although no more exciting.
One thing should change though; that we all have to sit down. It's ridiculous. German grounds show that standing can be safe.
What has not changed in the ‘derby’ is that ridiculous post 1960s nastiness, although in today’s well-marshalled grounds there will be no violence. In the other parts of the region that might be different. What also hasn’t changed is the soap opera.
In 1985 it was Ron Atkinson v Billy McNeill and it was a local affair. Now it’s Jose ‘the sulk’ Mourinho v Pep ‘so very very happy’ Guardiola and it’s a global affair. City are way better than United too, just as United were way better (often in a different league - literally) than City through much of Fergie’s reign.
As Sunday approaches United fans will remember, amongst many occasions, Michael Owen’s goal to win 4-3 at Old Trafford in 2009-10 and Rooney’s overhead kick in 2010-11. City fans will remember Kompany’s header in the Premiership winning season of 2011-12 and the 6-1 humiliation of United at Old Trafford earlier in the same season.
The first derby was on the 12th November 1881, 137 years and one day before the upcoming clash. City were called St Mark’s (West Gorton) and were at home to United who were then called Newton Heath Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. United won 3-0 away. That was the result on my first derby in 1985. As a United fan I’m expecting more of the same. I suspect I might be very wrong.