Manchester, so much to answer for
Sunday sees the nouveau riche of Manchester City host the aristocratic soap opera that calls itself Manchester United.
Like any crosstown rivalry, the derby gives City and United fans the chance to lord it over their rivals. Be it in the office, the factory, over the dinner table, or in the pub, victory in this game will give Blues and Reds the opportunity to mock and make merry.
The lines have been demarcated for generations. City fans say ''rags'' (an acronym for red arrogant gits) support a club that sold its soul to commercialism and most of whose glory-hunting fans don't even come from Manchester, like the club itself, which has a postcode in the adjoining city of Salford. United fans label their blue cousins "the bitters" and take pleasure in reminding their rivals of the length of time City have gone without a trophy (32 years and counting).
While United, in the past decade and a half, have had their eyes on other prizes, City fans have found that victory in this fixture can almost make up for another season of disappointment. However, recent events may have overtaken those traditions and this latest fixture may well be heralding in a new era in Mancunian football. Why is this the most anticipated derby in years? Or, at least, since the last one?
Despite United sweeping all before them in England and Europe last season, the one place they were not dominant was Manchester itself. Two derby defeats gave City fans smiles like the Cheshire cats some of them are. A Geovanni thunderbolt settled matters at Eastlands and a deserved 2-1 win at Old Trafford ruined United's commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster. Sven Goran Eriksson became the first City boss to secure a double since the legendary Joe Mercer in 1969-70.
Some of Sir Alex Ferguson's darkest days have been in this fixture. Back in 1989, fans were calling for his head when City thrashed United 5-1 on their old Maine Road ground, after which he confessed to going straight home to bed and pulling the covers over his head. That day of pain renewed his vigour for the battle and his team then went the entire 1990s unbeaten against struggling City, gaining vengeance for 1989 with a 5-0 win in 1994.
This decade has been a different story. Five wins apiece but City have been in the ascendancy in recent seasons, winning both their last derby at Maine Road and the first at their new City of Manchester Stadium at Eastlands. That said, United all but secured the 2006/07 league title with a nervy 1-0 win at their rivals' ground.
This fixture dates back to 1881 when West Gorton (St Marks), City's progenitors, lost 0-3 to the future United, Newton Heath. Overall, the record book states 59 United wins to City's 41, with 49 draws. Top scorers in the fixture are two 'Citizens' in Joe Hayes and Francis Lee on ten with United legend Bobby Charlton just behind on nine.
The Manchester derby's golden era was in the 60s and 70s when United's legendary triumvirate of Charlton, Denis Law and George Best took on City's glory trio of Lee, Mike Summerbee and Colin Bell. Perhaps its most famous renewal was the 1974 derby in which Law, now playing for City after being released by United, backheeled a goal that looked like it had sent United down to be relegated. The game ended prematurely when United fans rioted in an effort to get the game stopped while Law wept openly. In truth, other results meant United were headed to the Second Division anyway.
Half a century of being the poorer relations ended for City when they were purchased on September 30 by the somewhat ironically named Abu Dhabi United Group. From being troubled by debt under previous owners, with disgraced former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra never matching his promises with spending, City are now cash-rich and, thanks to their new owners' oil billions, able to outspend even Chelsea.
United have long been in the elite of big-spenders in England, breaking transfer record upon transfer record. Their turnover continues to be huge, yet the spectre of debt haunts them after a highly leveraged 2005 takeover by Floridian trailer park magnate Malcolm Glazer, owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While City fans are happy to appropriate tea-towels and put them on their heads in tribute to their new owners, United fans have never welcomed the Glazer family to Manchester.
All that oil lucre meant City suddenly had money to burn at the close of the summer's transfer window. They tried to hijack United's purchase of Dimitar Berbatov from Tottenham. The Bulgarian striker ended up at Old Trafford though City's interest had driven United's outlay up to £30.75m.
By then, City had their own blue riband signing. The hijacking continued and this time Chelsea were the victims. Brazilian striker Robinho ended up at Eastlands for a British record £32m fee when Chelsea had already printed replica shirts bearing the former Real Madrid man's name. City fans surrounded the ground in celebration and Robinho has been an instant hero since, scoring nine goals and has even taken the time to find out about his new home - on a public bus.
Sunday sees Robinho face Cristiano Ronaldo. A summer of speculation saw Robinho offered up as makeweight during Real Madrid's tedious courting of United's jewel. United were not interested though some wags claim that Robinho joined a different 'Manchester' to the one he thought he was signing for amid the chaos of the transfer window's final hours.
Ferguson's 22 years in charge have seen him face no less than 10 City managers. Eriksson was sacked after a single season, but the eleventh boss is no stranger to the Scot and his club. Mark Hughes was a hero of Ferguson's early United teams, a scorer of great goals and a scorer in this fixture too. His acrobatic bicycle kick was United's consolation in the 1989 thrashing and he was also on target in the 5-0 win. Fans on both sides of the divide had mixed feelings about such a United legend becoming City's boss.
Part of a coterie of former Fergie charges managing Premier League clubs, Hughes has done the best of the bunch. However, his relationship with Ferguson is not a close one. Hughes left United under a cloud in 1995 for Chelsea and has spoken of being an ex-United player but not a fan. His Blackburn team had a decent record against Ferguson's teams and in 'Sparky' City have a manager who knows all about the Manchester derby.