Many Manchester City supporters may have had the same traditions once the new season’s football fixtures were released. Opening match, first home match then the enemy.
It was the fixture blues fans looked forward to, particularly in the dark days. Other fans thought we were crazy. Why would we look forward to a match that would surely end in defeat to our fierce City rivals?
Manchester United were the media darlings. At the start of the Premier League era, everything was about them. There’s no hiding the fact that they were the best team with the best manager in the league. They were winners and more often than not, they continued to find a way to win.
In the final First Division season of 1991/92, City fans labelled United’s title bid as ‘the unthinkable,’ and were looking to Leeds United to prevent the unthinkable from happening. The Yorkshire side didn’t disappoint and denied the reds a first title win since 1967. The faithful had been spared.
But, just like Judgment Day in Terminator 2, doomsday had only been delayed, not averted.
The following season, the inaugural PL campaign, the faithful weren’t so lucky. It was unbearable. They won it again 12 months later and it was even worse two seasons after that as United won their third title while City were relegated.
But, in all that time, blues fans still looked forward to derby day.
City’s abysmal 90’s derby record
How we would love to say that City’s awful record in the 90s was a song released by the blues before an FA Cup Final, which used to be a very strange tradition. But sadly, no. It refers to City god awful record against United. Between thrashing the reds 5-1 in 1989 and relegation in 1996, the two teams had played 14 derby matches, with United winning nine and the rest ending in draws. This included a losing streak of seven straight matches, with City’s worst derby result since 1960 (5-1 at Old Trafford) coming in November 1994 as the reds hammered us 5-0.
City didn’t get their first Premier League win over United until 2002, when Shaun Goater grabbed a brace and embarrassed Gary Neville as City won the last Maine Road derby 3-1. But it was visiting Old Trafford that was a huge problem. City’s last win at the home of the Stretford Rangers was April 1974, when Dennis Law backheeled United into the second division*. Since then, City faced United on their soil 27 times and came away with 16 defeats in all competitions. Not exactly a record that screams ‘I can’t wait for derby day.’ Yet, for some bizarre reason, that’s exactly what we did.
Why did we love derby day so much?
It may be down to the fact that we’re an odd bunch of supporters. I mean, this is the faithful that decided to take inflatable bananas to matches in the late 80’s that started a craze across the country. Maybe it’s because we had such a bad away record around that time that we started singing blue moon, as we only won away once in a blue moon. There must be something wrong with us as we used to average crowds of around 30,000 in the third division. How many teams can truly say they have achieved similar attendances?
Or it could simply be down to the fact that we had nothing to lose against United except city bragging rights. And, let’s face it, United had held them for so long that we wouldn’t know what to do with them even if we had them.
United were the kings and City went into every match as underdogs. No one expected us to win and if we came away from Old Trafford with a draw, it gave us a little hope. United had been dominant for so long that any great performance from us was actually dismissed as an off day for them. But it didn’t matter, we hadn’t lost a derby. That was some achievement back then.
But it was simply an opportunity for us to put one over them. The faithful weren’t nervous going into derby day, quite the opposite in fact. We desperately wanted to win, but deep down we knew we wouldn’t. In the days we were equal with them, in other words before the Premier League when United started spending s**t loads of money on players, there was a slight fear mixed with optimism with fans genuinely looking forward to a great game from Manchester’s finest. Once the reds started benefitting from their success, they simply accelerated away and left us in their wake.
Derby day was nothing more for City fans than hope rather than expectation.
How derby day has changed
Back in the day, we were happy with a point against the reds. Some fans won’t agree with that statement, but any team going to Old Trafford in those days would be happy to take something away from them. As realist supporters, we knew we couldn’t compete, so we settled for thwarting them at any available opportunity. But, in the last 10-12 years, we’ve looked forward to derby day for different reasons and on Sunday, we go into the match with confidence that we can win it again.
How times have changed.
From going into this particular match with hope that is gradually crushed over a 90-minute period, we now face these matches with high expectations, the anticipation of three points and bragging rights as the blues walk away victorious. In the 90s, United fans used to view derbies as just another game, while for us it was a chance to put one over them. The tables are now turned and that’s the way many United fans feel now as they go into the derby.
But, with the change in anticipation comes a little apprehension from the faithful. It’s the same feeling United fans had in the 90s and early 00s. The blues, as United used to, go into the match as favourites to win and while the confidence is high, there’s also an air of nervousness amongst the faithful.
If City win, it’ll be just another victory for the champions. Lose, and we’ll never hear the end of it!
*We know that by the time Law scored United were down, but come on, give us something to laugh at.