Liverpool and United, United and Liverpool, Scousers and Mancs, welfare sponsored dole dependent bin-dippers, and the scum. They just don’t like each other do they? Do they? Even though they are often the closest of friends, often even bonded by blood, fans of Manchester United and Liverpool Football Club can’t stand to be in each other’s company for very long when talking football. While the melting pot of fans may have been off the boil for a time throughout the 90s and Noughties, the heat has definitely been ratcheted up a few notches over the past year or so.
Scousers will complain, in an accent that sounds like a speech impediment, that United exaggerate the importance of their club, constantly referring to it as the “biggest in the world”, “Theatre of Dreams” and so on, when clearly Real Madrid are the world’s biggest club. Manc scum, in their camp northern drawl, will give out about Liverpool Football Club’s delusional notion that they’re still in the same league as clubs like United and Real. Scousers will maintain that George Best or Ronaldo where not in the same category as Pele or Messi, while United fans will claim that Gerrard is not in the same stratosphere as Keane was in his prime. Old Trafford is a library compared to Anfield’s orchestra, United fans are smug know-it-alls while Liverpool fans, who continually and pretentiously refer to themselves as Liverpool Football Club, are always playing the victim.
‘Pool fans have been lording it over their United counterparts for well over a year now. Their steady progress under Rodgers began to really blossom last season as they stormed up the table with an attractive, swashbuckling style that won admirers from most quarters. They had one of the best three players in the world at their disposal who seemed to light up Match of the Day every weekend with a stunning goal or a breath-taking pass. And that’s not all. Coupled with their dizzying league success was a caveat that made that success all the sweeter, the icing on the cake so to speak. United really struggled.
The Red Devils started poorly. After an initial win against Swansea, United went into the football equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle, a black hole forming triumvirate of David Moyes, Edward Woodword, and an intangible dark cloud of depression and negativity that emanated from a core group of overpaid and self-aggrandising players. It would probably be unfair to say that most ‘Pool fans derived more pleasure from United’s demise than they did from their own short-lived success, but some certainly did. And this season, as the ‘Pool take their place in the Champions League, their fans can bask in the glory of last seasons’ rewards, while United fans try to banish the memory of that cringe inducing “come on David Moyes, play like Fergie’s boys” chant.
But forget the whole David Moyes affair. The most abiding memory for many many schadenfreude fuelled United fans from the 2013-14 season was the fact Liverpool threw the title away. They bottled it, had it in their grasp and let it go, slipped through their fingers and allowed it to fall back into Manchesters’ warm embrace. Albeit the cold, blue side of Manchester.
It is the memory of Liverpool football clubs’ iconic captain, arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder with his band of brothers, leading his team-talk in the huddle, displaying the heart-on-the-sleeve passion that he is famous for, a passion that the TV cameras rarely get to capture; it is this memory that will endure. Gerrard burst into tears after the game, then got a grip on himself before delivering his stirring oration to his slightly more composed comrades. “This does not fucking slip now,” he screams at his teammates following an emotional 3-2 win against title rivals Man City.
We all know what happened next. Stevie G learned a lesson that anyone who studied Shakespeare’s King Lear in the Leaving Cert can tell you; “As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods. They kill us for their sport”. Gerrards’ slip against Chelsea effectively cost Liverpool their first league title in twenty-four years, and was as tragic in scale as any Greek drama ever was, and epic hilarity naturally ensued on the part of United fans the world over. Touche!
The rivalry between the two cities pre-dates the establishment of the football league however. Liverpool was a port city built on the back of the slave trade initially, before the steam-lining industry took over. While steam-trains boomed across the land, factory fuelled Manchester began to flourish, coinciding with the sea-liners decline. Manchester jealousy soon transferred into resentment on Merseyside, resentment that continued to grow well into the Thatcher years when Liverpool became a poverty-ridden forgotten city. Ironically, this was Liverpool Football Club’s most successful period in history, while United drifted through the doldrums. The roles reversed in the 90s, and enmity between fans simmered continually below the surface.
It hasn’t always been like this you know. There was a time when one of these teams would reach out for the hand of the other, in a spirit of cooperation and friendship … and money. A time when Europe was being ravaged by trench warfare, and thousands of young British and Irish men were readying themselves so that they could spill their blood on the battlefields of Flanders and the Somme. It was 1915 and Manchester United was delicately poised over the relegation zone, while Liverpool sat comfortably in mid-table. It was going to be the last League for a while as the competition was to be suspended until the war was over once all the fixtures had been played. Some of the players would no doubt be off to defend their country, while some would be back in the factory or down the mining pit. Not Jackie Sheldon though, he had other plans.
Sheldon had once been a United player but now plied his trade with Liverpool. Noticing that there was a generous price of 7/1 on a 2-0 home win, Sheldon and a few of his mates from both clubs decided they could fix the result. Players who were involved in the scam were advised to “put their houses” on the result of the match, to be played out in front of a packed Old Trafford on Good Friday, April 2nd 1915. George Anderson scored both goals in the two-nil win for United, where the match referee noticed “Liverpool’s distinct lack of commitment” during the game, missed penalty and all!
Handbills and flyers proclaiming the large amount of money that had been placed on the result appeared around the cities and the FA launched an investigation. Sandy Turnbull, Arthur Whalley and Enoch West of United, and Jackie Sheldon, Tom Miller, Bob Pursell and Thomas Fairfoul of Liverpool were all found guilty of match-fixing and given lifetime bans. Some players from both sides did refuse to take part in the fix. One player even threatened to score, and went so far as to hit the crossbar late on causing his teammates to publicly remonstrate with him.
Another United player denied any knowledge of the match-fixing, but stated that he “became suspicious when none of his teammates would pass the ball to him”. The result? Most players had their bans overturned for services to their country, the boys made a nice few bob, and United escaped relegation by a margin of one point above the team in 19th…Chelsea.
Those were the days eh? When men were men, footballers were soldiers, and lions were led by donkeys. A time when fans, whether they be Scouse or Manc, Beatle or Stone Rose, Mersey-beat or Madchester, could sit and chat football, safe in the knowledge that corruption is in the past and all football fans are equal. (Just some are more equal than others).
by Paul Cahill