Two City-Liverpool Boxing Day memories

Posted by Simon Curtis

Yuletide shenanigans featuring Liverpool are not entirely unusual for Manchester City supporters. Through the years, the sides have been pitched together this time on the calendar on several occasions.

This Boxing Day will be the latest in a long line of top clashes between the sides, given extra frisson by the emergence of the Sky Blues as a new force in European football and the rise of the Reds, an old power sparring to unaccustomed heights in recent times. Suddenly, a Manchester City-Liverpool clash has real resonance once again.

Two modern-era City-Liverpool Boxing Day matches are particularly memorable on the blue side of Manchester:

1981: This fixture was slightly odd for a number of reasons. First, City entered the Boxing Day clash at fortress Anfield placed comfortably ahead of Liverpool in the table. This might not carry much meaning to modern-day football supporters brought up on a slightly different status quo, but in 1981, it was something approaching headline news for Liverpool to be in 11th place and City to be jostling for the league leadership.

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Liverpool would later go on an incredible run of wins to top the league by May, but this match stubbornly refused to allow any goodwill for the Merseysiders and instead followed the pattern of the first part of the season.

City took the lead through the indefatigable Asa Hartford and stayed ahead despite all of Liverpool’s efforts on a heavily sanded pitch. Ronnie Whelan eventually scored for the Reds, but not before City had gone further ahead through Kevin Bond’s penalty kick after a typical piece of festive slapstick from Liverpool keeper Bruce Grobbelaar.

Grobbelaar, never a man to do the sensible when a backflip and a fumble were available, made a complete hash of his save on Steve Kinsey, making it obligatory for Liverpool's Phil Thompson to palm the ball on Kinsey’s follow-up shot over his own bar. A third from Kevin Reeves at the near post made it a memorable day in the ice and sleet of Anfield for this battling City side.

Before the end, however, giant Joe Corrigan in City’s goal had been felled by a wine bottle hurled from the Kop. Whilst he lay prone on the turf for several minutes, the Kop opened as the Liverpool fans attempted to reveal the perpetrator to the authorities, and the Liverpool fans rose as one to sing “England’s Number One” to the City keeper as he staggered to his feet before City wrapped up a 3-1 victory (the highlights of which are here on YouTube).

A 4-0 defeat of Wolves two days later would take John Bond’s battling City side to the top of the First Division, but it was not to last, and Liverpool reclaimed their usual spot by the time the buds of spring had opened.

1985: A City side fresh out of the second division, with the likes of Kenny Clements, Jim Melrose and Gordon Davies on board, were struggling hard by the time the festive season arrived. Hovering precariously above a dead-man’s line including Ipswich, West Brom, Oxford United and Birmingham City, the Blues were in desperate need of some points.

In the 1980s, however, the visit of Liverpool to Maine Road was one fixture where the points and a barrowload of self-respect invariably went due west along the East Lancashire Road to Merseyside. Liverpool, a European power of some considerable weight, would plunder goals at will from their trips to Rusholme, and it was always a fixture that brought great foreboding among the home support.

There were fours and fives aplenty, mirroring City’s goal spree this season, but all the scores were being deposited in City’s net by Ray Kennedy, Graeme Souness, Kenny Dalglish and their mates.

This game followed the usual pattern, with the Reds pounding City’s goal for long periods. Come the 60th minute, however, cometh the man. Playing Father Christmas on this occasion -- and stooping to head one of the scruffiest goals of the season -- was Clive Wilson, a left back with a silky touch. “This victory will suddenly fill City hearts with optimism,” chirped Neil Harman in the Daily Mail in the wake of City's 1-0 victory.

A trail of bemused Liverpool faces trooped off at the end, and City faced up to the New Year with renewed spirit for the long haul to survival the following May. Harman was ultimately proved right, as City stayed in the First Division.

Thursday's Boxing Day clash pits two evenly matched sides. With goals hardly in scarce supply, the old images of nets heavy with rain and snow billowing to receive another well-aimed shot will surely be replicated when the two sides take to the Etihad turf.


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