This weekend saw one of the more unusual days in any United fan’s season. The day when, as a result of Liverpool playing a serious contender to our title, we all turn Scouse. Normally this is considered a case of supporting our biggest rivals in order that they may help our own championship ambitions, and ask any United fan over 40 and this is almost certainly how they will view the situation. Ask an under 25 however and a sizeable proportion offer the view that, given that Man City were side visiting Anfield, supporting Liverpool is a case of supporting our number two foe against the one true enemy.
I find this to be a very strange mindset. The arguments of these fans are that City pose a greater threat to thetitle for the foreseeable future and are the natural local rivals, and so therefore should also be considered our greatest rivals. I have even heard a laughable suggestion from a few fans that given City’s current spending power and the lack of success enjoyed by Liverpool recently, City are a bigger club that Liverpool now.
The idiocy of that argument provides the exact reason why Liverpool are our chief adversaries, and I shall come to that via the more sensible arguments. Consider the situation in Spain around the turn of the 21st century when Barcelona couldn’t win the league for love nor money and the main threat to Real Madrid was coming from Valencia. Even if we were to replace Valencia with Atletico Madrid, would anyone seriously have considered saying the Barcelona were not still Real’s main rivals back then? The resounding ‘no’ to this question comes for one reason: Real and Barca are above local rivalries because they are the only two massive clubs in Spain and, in spite of any current goings on, if asked who will be dominating La Liga in 50 years time these are the two teams that any sane person would guess.
I believe that the same is true in England. For all the spending power of Chelsea and City, the dynasty built by Wenger at Arsenal, the desperate pleas of the Geordie nation that they have the greatest fans in the world ever and the myth that the Premier League has great depth (as proven by our Europa/UEFA cup success over recent years?) United and Liverpool stand out as being far bigger than all the rest. The ingredients that make this true are of course the history and fan base that both clubs have in spades over any other English side. In fact United and Liverpool are two of what I think is only seven clubs worldwide that stand out as being bigger than the rest, along with Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Juventus and Bayern Munich.
This isn’t to deny that City are a big club. At national level they are big in the sense that one would generally consider them a top ten club no matter what the circumstances but this just goes to show that the size of a club is relative to the company they keep. If we take the 50 years time analogy again and suggest that Sheffield Wednesday would be in the Premier League and Swansea in the third tier nobody would be surprised, as we all intuitively accept that they are big/little clubs respectively for their current divisions. The global scene is a different story. Ask any football fan in the world to name three teams that they believe you should try your best to see in your lifetime and they will almost certainly pick from the seven names listed above. Liverpool easily make the list. Manchester City most certainly do not!
So there it is. The reason why United-Liverpool is a bigger rivalry than United-City is that United and Liverpool are so important that local rivalries are of little concern and the only thing that counts is being better than each other. We are competing for global superstardom. But it’s not just that. If told that for the next five years that only City or Liverpool could win the title then I’d want City to win all five. I admit that part of the reason for that is protecting the precious 19 record – which goes back to it being a rivalry between our country’s only two elite sides – but there is definitely more to it.
It’s about proving that Manchester is superior once and for all and getting back at you for all those little things that annoy us about Liverpool. A columnist in the Manchester Evening News a few months back suggested that Liverpool was ‘full of unbearably smug folk who believe they are God’s gift to wit’. By that I think he means that when us Mancs go round telling the world how great we are, the world listens. Except for you lot. You just sit back with a face like Gerry Marsden/Ray Quinn (depending on your generation) and tell us that we never had The Beatles. In spite of all the insults thrown at you and the praise lavished on us by the press (I believe it was Robbie Fowler who said ‘Manchester must have the world’s best PR man’), you can all just come together and sing FerryCross the Mersey. Countless high profile people have insulted Liverpool over the years and all of them have been forced to make embarrassing apologies in the face of relentless Scouse resilience to their comments. Moreover you are able to say from a footballing perspective that your club has a proper, rousing, local club anthem instead of an ode to an American state, a Vietnam protest song or worse still, a re-hashing of an old Spurs chant.
Most of all though, in spite of my strong Mancunian tones, I’ve never had anything but a great time whenever I’ve been to Liverpool as a result of the beauty of the city and the friendliness of the people. In other words, what’s the point in us Mancs squabbling amongst our own when 30 miles down the road is the only city in the world that can claim to be as great as ours? Long may our rivalry continue and long may it be the biggest and best going!
By Laurence – Manc fan and United mole
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