Blues 'brothers' meet at Etihad

Posted by Simon Curtis

Of all the opponents City could have picked to play next, after a serious drubbing in midweek at home to a Bayern Munich side playing the music usually associated with angels carrying harps, most people's last pick would have been Everton.

The Toffees, who visit the Etihad Saturday, have had a mesmeric hold over City for some years now, always keen to get in among the Blues' well-paid internationals and upset their delicate balance with a good, strong tackle and a 90-minute workout. Although the full metal jacket that used to be the set dish at Goodison Park has been trimmed, tamed and remodelled into something more akin to the soaring violins of Shostakovich, one hazards a guess that the Merseyside version of City are not about to give up providing their Manchester cousins with a fully fledged headache, despite all the pretty sounds emanating from Goodison Park these days.

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Until very recently, Everton and City looked upon each other as blood brothers in the unequal fight against the red menace afflicting their respective Northern cities. There has always been a kind of thinly stretched affinity with the Blues of Merseyside, despite the scratchy accents and the omnipresent danger to the contents of your pockets.

Living in the shadows of the local behemoth is a sad fate that befell both these grand, old clubs from the late 1960s onward, fostering a shared and instinctive hatred of the colour red and a hair-trigger, morose sense of humour born out of a million-and-a-half wretched disappointments.

As Liverpool and United have grown into all-consuming megaliths for the consumption of a global audience of millions of football neutrals, the route taken by "the other two" has been a tough and tricky one, paved with potholes and dotted with diversion signs.

Things changed suddenly when City hit the jackpot. Almost overnight, the Toffees were left alone to kick their ball against the lamp post on the darkened street by the railway sidings. City had gone to join United and Liverpool in European football's train grand vitesse. In fact, worse, much worse, was to come for the city of Liverpool, as the Reds disappeared under the table to feed off the dropped crumbs while City joined United in the first-class buffet car to sink their teeth into the creme brulee (but not the bavaroise, obviously).

This had an eventual effect on Everton's relationship with both their city neighbours and their provincial foes. Many Evertonians began to look at City in a different light now that they had traded in the scruffy trousers and scuffed shoes for a tuxedo and bow tie, even if the tie did still occasionally revolve slowly while squirting coloured water.

The ugly cousins had come of age, provoking ire and disdain. It is, after all, a little difficult to stick to your bedraggled principles of self-loathing and self-deprecation when the coffers are overflowing and you have swapped the Alan Harper of old for the Sergio Aguero of today.

Harper, in fact, represents everything about the old relationship between the sides. A journeyman midfielder wearing a constantly surprised expression, he trod the middle furrow for both sides in the 1980s and '90s, when City and Everton regularly switched personnel in search of better days.

Mark Ward, Andy Hinchcliffe, Paul Power, Terry Phelan, Peter Reid, Neil "Dissa" Pointon, Earl Barrett, Bobby Mimms and a host of others played in both the light and dark blue shirts within a few years of each other. Good, honest pros, proud to don the shirt and put in a proper shift.

That tradition is maintained today by the likes of Sylvain Distin and Gareth Barry, two proper footballers from a bygone age. Joe Royle, Peter Reid and Howard Kendall all came and went from the respective dugouts, too, cementing this impressive history of shared employees.

But it has always been about more than just the individuals. The clubs shared other common points: the atmospheric stadiums, the dark, old alleyways and terraced houses, the heaving paddocks and terraces, the swaying Gwladys Street and Kippax Stands, scene of a thousand and one hyperbolic Gerald Sinstadt commentaries ("...and Whittle's done it!"..."Latchford at the far post, oh my word!"..."Oh yes, a touch of the real Rodneys...."). Too hemmed in by the crumbly tenements of the Scottie Road, of Claremont Road, no sign of the glistening executive boxes and corporate lounges that would later pop up like mushrooms around the Premier League grounds.

The Z Cars theme that still to this day blasts out on match days, matching the doleful hopelessness of Blue Moon, the girls with baskets of toffees, the gangs of banana-wielding City fans, the perimetre advertising shouting Hafnia, Pukka Pies and Trumans For Steel.

Saturday, Everton and City stand face-to-face once more, with the dark blues on the brink of what might be an important breakthrough. They have offloaded a manager whose emphasis often fell on the less-aesthetically pleasing aspects of the game and installed an out-and-out advocate of the beautiful game.

Already, the man who oversaw Wigan Athletic's FA Cup final victory over City last May has put his new team into the top four. Ironically, if Roberto Martinez maintains this progress, Everton will be shunted into the same alien world City shot into in 2008, shuffling about between the Reals and the Borussias of this new world order. If that was to happen, Evertonians would once again look to their Manchester rivals and enjoy the delicious irony of yet another shared experience.

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