DID THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY REALLY UNITE THE CITY OF MANCHESTER?
FFC columnist Emily Brobyn reviews the rivalry between the two halves of Manchester and examines how the recent emotional derby day may have benefited the relationship that exists between the two clubs.
Every football team has a rival. Arsenal and Tottenham hate each other, as do Cardiff and Swansea. Spanish giants' Barcelona and Real Madrid despise each other. Liverpool have got two main rivals, Everton and Manchester United. But perhaps the most bitter and passionate rivalry lies in the City of Manchester, between arch enemies City and United.
It is a rivalry that has simmered for decades, that cooled when City fell out of the top flight during the mid-nineties, but one that is now back in the spotlight following City's double derby day success this season.
In the blue corner is Manchester City; the eternal underdogs, where the fans bleed blue to their core and sing their hearts out come rain or shine, ever hopeful for some long overdue success. Celebrity fans include David ‘Frank Gallagher' Threlfall, and Noel and Liam ‘Oasis' Gallagher.
In the red corner is Manchester United; the treble winning, trophy-laden current champions. Their fans come from far and wide, from Kent to Singapore, to catch a glimpse of Ferguson's Red Devils. Celebrity fans include Eamonn Holmes and James Nesbitt.
Passion or devout hatred for the opposition always drives derby encounters, but this year's derby had added significance with it being scheduled around the 50th anniversary of the 1958 Munich air disaster. Fans were in uproar with the decision by the F.A. to let the fixture stand; United fans feared that the occasion, and notably the minute's silence, would be completely disrespected by their neighbours. City fans feared that the malicious minority would spoil it for the majority who could stay silent.
It was the first real time that all talk preceding the game had centred around the fans. The eyes of the world would be firmly fixed on the 3,000 travelling blues to see whether they would put aside years of animosity and, arguably envy, to fall silent and at least recognise the importance of the occasion.
For years a minority of City fans have chanted songs glorifying the Munich tragedy; addressing the United fans as ‘Munichs', and raising their arms aloft to simulate aeroplanes in a spiteful and sadistic manner.
When you follow your football team home and away for years, certain things can get completely bred into you. Referring to our arch rivals Manchester United as ‘Munichs' was one of those things. I was completely uneducated on the tragedy that happened on the icy Munich runway that night, as I am sure is the case for many City fans under a certain age. But ask any City fan and they will say that they hear references to it all the time, whether home or away.
It was only when I watched a documentary on the disaster that I opened my eyes. I woke up and came completely to my senses. 23 people, human beings, had died on that runway. The Busby Babes, the flowers of Manchester. Some of the most talented footballers around, perished, along with former City player Frank Swift, and the survivors fought a long and hard battle to recover. The dead left behind families and loved ones wracked with grief; it was a tragedy for Manchester, for football, for the world of sport.
I recently did some filming at both Old Trafford and the City of Manchester stadium for a university assignment. I visited the Munich memorial at Old Trafford and it moved me completely. I have always lived my life naively believing Bill Shankly's statement that football is more than life. It isn't. Football can dominate your life, can dictate you life, and can completely influence the way that you live your life; but that is it. I defy any football fan to visit Old Trafford and claim that they are not touched by the tributes and memorials, it is a complete reality check and puts everything in life into perspective.
On the same day of filming, I interviewed former City player Gary Owen. He had attended a private memorial at Eastlands for the anniversary - it is a low-key memorial that City conduct annually to pay their respects. Gary confirmed that it was a tragedy that had completely rocked the City of Manchester to its core and added that it would only be the ultimately ignorant few who would risk tarnishing the reputation of City fans as a whole just to express their biased and uneducated opinions.
When the day, 10th February 2008 arrived, City fans behaved immaculately. Manchester was a City United for at least a whole minute. Humility won through and City went on to win the game 2-1. The media made a point of recognising the relief felt by all that the silence had been respected, but claimed that the occasion could have affected the United players' performances. Why couldn't they give full credit where it was due and admit that City simply was the better team on the pitch that day?
Looking back, I am glad that the F.A. refused to move the derby fixture. I will continue to despise United as they are the rivals of the team that I support, and that is what rivalry is all about, but definitely no more of the ‘M' word. I have learned a very valuable lesson and my attitude has completely changed. If I hear fellow City fans using the ‘M' word I will make my feelings known - freedom of speech entitles everybody to their own opinion and although I could never want to be a spokesperson for City fans, I can advise fellow blues to take a trip to Old Trafford to wise up and educate themselves.
The silence that City fans' respected at the recent derby at Old Trafford said more than any mindless thug could every utter. The spectacle of two sworn enemies muted, scarves aloft, both honoured and mourned the 23 lives that had been lost. Football fans should continue to honour the memory of all the lives that have been taken in such disasters by not using these events in a malicious and evil manner against the fans of the club who suffered the most. Banter is one thing, but disrespecting the dead is quite another. Football is the most beautiful game; lets try and keep it that way - both on and off the pitch.