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Maine Road Daze: My First Ever Manchester Derby

A supporter’s view of the derby.

Me and my mate Jack before the derby

The jet black sky was illuminated by a flash of lightning before an ear-bashing boom of thunder jolted the small gathering of expats who were sheltering from the torrential downpour. For nearly ten rumbling seconds, the enraged thunder perpetuated its deafening din. We were clustered together in a beer garden on the tropical island of Koh Lanta in southern Thailand during the rainy season. I’m from Manchester, so rain is second-nature to me, but the monsoon storms here are a different kettle of fish.

Six-year-old Keira was thunderstruck and started shaking. She burst into tears before racing into her father’s arms. Her dad, Jack, was swaggeringly sporting his brand-new United top with the word “Ronaldo” emblazoned across the back. I was hoping it would be Jack’s turn to be tearful in a couple of hours’ time, after his revered Red Devils had been conquered by God’s own team.

Yes, it was Derby Day in Manchester, and here in exotic Siam, it was raining lizards and monkeys. And this northern monkey was tingling with both excitement and foreboding, for as any football fan knows, the outcome of the derby means everything. You’ll feel on top of the world, with a big grin glued to your face, with a victory, but a defeat, will leave you down in the dumps with a face like a slapped arse.

On Monday morning, you will swashbuckle into work with a massive grin on your mush or pussyfoot into the office as quiet as a church mouse in a futile attempt to sidestep the enemy’s jokes and taunts. The bragging rights mean everything.

I was becoming increasingly concerned that the storm would wipe out the power, as it frequently does on our island when Mother Nature throw a wobbler. I had everything crossed that Lady Luck would smile kindly on us tonight and that the leccy would be up and running till the end of this must-see game.

My friend Jack was a Cockney Red and I was a Manc Blue. I teased him about this, and he hit-back with, “Just an oil money team.”

The banter had started.

The rain stopped suddenly. Jack grabbed his daughter and rode his scooter back to his nearby apartment. I grabbed Alfie, my 8-year-old English Staffie, and drove my trusty old banger along the waterlogged roads back to my jungle home.

Many dogs are terrified of thunder, but Alfie wasn’t the slightest bit bothered. Nothing seems to faze him except when the local monkeys invade his territory. Then he goes absolutely berserk, barking, “Get back to the jungle, you cheeky devils.”

I made sure Alfie had food and water before jumping back into my motor and heading to Jack’s gaff. I arrived just as the teams were walking onto the pitch. Jack was sitting on the sofa with a bottle of Thai beer, and I sat next to him, clutching a glass of council estate pop.

Since my battle with stage four mouth cancer about ten years ago, I hardly ever touch dirty beer. It doesn’t taste the same to me, and it stings when I take a sip. I used to be a bit of a beer monster and would quaff shedloads while watching the derby, but no more. At least, I wouldn’t be waking-up with a vicious hangover from either celebrating our victory or drowning my sorrows if we lost to the enemy. Always look on the bright side of life.

My City-mad heart was racing as my sky-blue eyes were transfixed on the large flat-screen telly on the wall. City took command right from the off and started playing beautiful football, just as they had done against Chelsea and Liverpool. They were rewarded in the seventh minute when Eric Bailly deflected a Cancello cross into his own net.

“Get in!” I roared as I leapt into the air.

Jack took a swig of his beer and shook his head from side to side.

Except for a Ronaldo volley that was adroitly saved by Ederson, City continued to dominate the game. However, they were unable to put the ball in the onion bag, which almost brought tears to my eyes. And United’s keeper, De Gea, was playing a blinder. But for his heroics, City would have been four or five in front.

In the 45th minute, City made it 2-0 after a 26-pass move that lasted one minute and 38 seconds. I originally thought that it had missed, but upon watching the reply, I saw that Bernado Silva had expertly flicked the ball into the net.

I sat on the sofa smiling like a Cheshire moggy, relieved that we had snatched a second goal just before half-time. Jack walked over to the fridge and grabbed a bottle of booze.

United had lost 5-0 to Liverpool in their previous match at Old Trafford and were down by four goals at halftime. Jack confessed that he didn’t bother to watch the second half of that game. They were only trailing by two goals in this, their next home game, so Jack didn’t do a vanishing act. He sat back on the sofa, hoping and praying that his team would steal victory from the jaws of defeat with a miraculous comeback.

It wasn’t to be United’s or Jack’s day because, in the final 45 minutes, City were in complete control. Phil Foden came close to adding a third, but City had taken their foot off the gas and the final score was 2-0.

I smirked from ear to ear, ecstatic that we had defeated the enemy and seized the bragging rights. I contemplated chanting, “It should have been ten, it should have been ten, you lucky no-dads, it should have been ten.”

As Jack was a Cockney Red, I also considered singing, “The city is ours, the city is ours, go back (or words to that effect) to London, the city is ours.”

Anyway, as we were both living on a tropical island thousands of miles away from Manchester and London, it wouldn’t have made sense, would it? As Jack was a good mate, I chose not to rub salt in the wounds and just quipped, “Chin up mate, Oli is still at the wheel.”

I got into my red Honda, ready for the five-minute drive home. You’re undoubtedly wondering, Syd, how can a true blue like you own a red car?

I’ll have you know that my red motor has a black bumper and black trim, so it reflects City’s iconic red and black second strip, which was first introduced in 1968 by the one and only Malcom Allison. It’s all in the mind, and my mind is City-mad.

I returned home after carefully avoiding the branches ripped from the trees and thrown across the roads by the furious storm. I sat in the darkness outside with Alfie. I was still buzzing about our victory against our rivals. I inhaled the pungent perfume of the nearby jungle and went into a dream.

*****

Everything was hazy and faded as I tripped back to the swinging sixties. Through the blurry, swirling psychedelic mist, I saw ten-year old me raising my blue and white city scarf high above my head while enthusiastically chanting, “City, City, City.”

A group of my city-mad friends were doing the same thing. We were standing on one of the long blue benches at the back of the Platt Land Stand. It was 1967, the summer of love, and we all loved City. However, when it came to United, there was no love lost.

It was September 30th, when United visited Maine Road for the first Manchester derby of the season. The atmosphere was electrifying, with a crowd of just under 63,000 excitedly awaiting the start of this crucial clash.

After my first visit to Maine Road about two years ago, my father passed on his knowledge. “The first rule of the City fan Club is that United are the enemy, and in the football world, a “Perfect Day” is when City win and United lose. Never forget that son.”

City were promoted to Division One last season and finished fifteenth, while our rivals won the league. Last year, I didn’t attend the Maine Road Derby, and I can’t recall why my father didn’t take me. We drew 1-1 but lost 3-1 at Old Trafford. I didn’t go to that match either since my dad never took me to away games.

This was my first Manchester derby, and I was well up for it. My father had to work but let me attend the match with my fellow council estate blues. I was tense and nervous as the teams stepped onto the pitch, and just couldn’t relax.

City got off to a flying start, with Colin Bell scoring after just five minutes. The thunderous roar from the City fans almost took the roof off the Platt Lane Stand. My foggy memory reveals me and my pals cheering and dancing as the sky blue crowd went wild. I smiled when I noticed that we, like the majority of the spectators, were wearing bell-bottomed jeans. The warm memory of my mum buying me my first pair of trendy flares danced in my mind..

The United supporters crammed into the open space between the Kippax and the Platt Lane were deafeningly quiet.

Our elation was short-lived, as Bobby Charlton scored twice before halftime. Now it was the red army’s turn to rejoice. Despite the fact that the flower-power era was known for its “All You Need Is Love” philosophy, fights kicked off in the Platt Lane Stand. United fans who had foolishly jumped for joy in enemy territory after Bobby Charlton scored his second goal were jumped on by nearby blues.

Witnessing a fight break out in the crowd was a rarity, but only a few years later, gang fights would be the norm both inside and outside the grounds. If the swinging sixties were the time of love and peace, then the seventies would be the era of the boot boys and football hooligans.

The score remained the same when the man in black blew the final whistle. A 2-1 victory to the enemy The United fans were overjoyed, but the loyal blue army was devastated.

The next mind-movie was of me and my chums walking through the Moss Side streets, with the noisy, euphoric chanting from the United fans ringing in our ears and stinging our souls. I knew the reds in my class would gleefully gloat and taunt ruthlessly about their team’s derby triumph on Monday morning.

As the saying goes, “every dog has his day,” and I knew that one day, I would witness a City victory over United and my tail would be wagging joyfully. As my United-supporting friends sat silently with their tails between their legs, it would be my turn to brag and mock. The sooner, the better.

****

With a satisfied smirk spread across my face, I returned to the present, savouring City’s triumph over United. This time we were top-dogs as reigning champions. I read the match reports and was looking forward to viewing the extended highlights tomorrow.

I gazed into the “Black Night” and marvelled at how I had managed to watch my team beat our rivals, such a long way from home. Live and in hi-definition too. My goodness, in the olden days, I’d have had to have hoped that the game had been selected for Match of the Day so I could have watched the highlights later that evening in black and white.

I never felt more like singing the blues—City win, United lose.

Oh, City, you’ve got me singing the blues.