A strange kind of loving

Posted by Simon Curtis

A few weeks ago, I initiated a small survey on Twitter. It had to be small given the relatively sparse number of people who deem me interesting enough to follow. This is a moot point in our family, as my cousin, a simple boy who supports Manchester United, thinks having nearly 2,000 people prepared to stick their necks out and gamble on my sketchy ability to A) write something coherent and meaningful, B) say anything even vaguely momentous or -- when all else fails -- C) raise the occasional laugh, titter or even forced smirk elevates me into the realms of the Prince of Wales, Simon Cowell and Lou Macari, other mortals who he believes to be "just a little bit special."

I counter with the simple argument that, given that the world's population is 7,194,440,575 and growing by the millisecond (watch it grow here, my little group of "cosmic friends" is like a barbecue in the back garden. Nevertheless, one is always grateful for anyone showing even the vaguest interest.

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I digress, but also in a way I do not, because my cousin, bless him, has supported United for as long as I have supported City: 40 long, tortuous and arduous years. Or in his case, 20 long, tortuous and arduous years and 20 years of absolute top class, honey-coated blissful bathing in the glory of being winners of everything in sight over and over again.

And this is part of why City fans still have a problem with United. Obviously, local rivalry, history and the battle -- if we can call it that -- for Manchester bragging rights have played a big part in hoisting United to the top of any true City fan's list of "most hated." We all hate our local rivals, right? If we secretly don't, we don't mention it. This is a part of football folklore so sacred as to be sacrosanct. You are deemed not worthy and a tiny bit weird if you think otherwise.

In City's case, it comes with slices of bitterness and great tranches of envy and jealousy. It accompanies feelings of guilt, of being ignored by the country's media and laughed at by everyone else. There was always a bizarre kind of joy in being a City fan when things went wrong, because people loved us for it. City were no threat to anyone, bar the occasional overbooked psychiatrist. Deep down it hurt, however, and we have of course never forgotten this.

These days, City and United find themselves on an even keel, battling for the game's top prizes with only a feather-width between them for talent, potential and power. The rivalry is electrically alive, as it now comes from both sides in more or less equal measures.

But where else must one now direct this irrational hatred, our buckets of bile, our need to "release"? This is what I decided to ask Twitter, and the answers were fascinating, as they show historical enmities are being eroded by new relationships with some drawn from the most bizarre roots.

Whom do City fans dislike, I asked, with the caveat that we presumed the Mighty Reds would be and will forever be No. 1. The answers flooded in, and it would seem modern worries have started to overtake traditional ones in some quarters. Arsenal, with their luxury away tickets, Everton, with their annual David Moyes-inspired dogs of war victory over City, and Stoke, with their version of Thunderball under Tony Pulis, all rated highly. There were historical hats doffed to the likes of Leeds, lost but not entirely forgotten, Liverpool, the ancient threshing machine that used to chew City for breakfast twice a season just like clockwork, and Middlesbrough, thanks to many dark days spent chewing on the Arctic breeze and returning with nothing but bronchitis up on Teesside.

There were some crafty votes for Ipswich Town, based on one single match, when the home support rejoiced in relegating City with a banner inscribed with the never-to-be-forgotten legend "You are the weakest link, goodbye!" That City passed them on their way down, as the Blues headed toward the stars a couple of years later, was, it seems, particularly satisfying to some Mancunians who were in Suffolk that miserable night in 2001.

But to find the team in second place to United in this league table of shame and petty mindedness, this correspondent had a shock in store. There is no great historical reason for this. Therefore, this must be a relatively modern phenomenon that has gradually built up over recent years. The place in question was always an interesting visit as an away fan, with plenty of public houses that were no-go areas and plenty of moments when the favours were tucked just that little bit more firmly inside the coat flaps, but who would have thought that this weekend's visitors to the Etihad would come in second to United?

Take a bow, Tottenham Hotspur.

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