The people of Manchester are fiercely proud of their city. Proclaiming you don’t care much for Oasis or sneering at the lack of a good restaurant in the town centre won’t win you any friends in the north-west. Being someone who spends a good deal of time there, the sense of camaraderie becomes obvious when two people from Manchester meet outside the city. They’ll talk about favoured pubs and taxi fares as the day is long.
However, when the subject almost inevitably turns to the blokey-ridden depths of football, these two strangers may very well profess their loyalties to either the Red or Blue halves of Manchester. Sometimes this leads merely to a cheeky jibe about the mental state of the clubs star centre-forward, but often the hopes for a glorious friendship are dashed amongst the vile-chant of “Munich” or a sick joke about Marc-Vivien Foé. In light of the recent Manchester derby, the inevitable torrent of bragging rights from the red faction will last at least for another six months, and frankly it’s getting pretty old.
Obviously this is not just confined to Manchester. This could happen anywhere when two football clubs share a close proximity. Why on earth however should these feelings come about? Many football fans – whatever their allegiance – often agree that they love the city, but just can’t stand that piece of shit down the road. Were it not for some dynastic football quirk that originated from their granddads, they could very well have ended up supporting the very team that they profess to hate.
When someone is brought up into a hardcore football family, many ridiculous years of division and suspicion is drummed into their brains, and slowly the belief that the rabble across the road live within a perpetual state of crapness is instigated forever into their minds. It’s difficult not to hate them when, after all, they probably hate you just as much. I realise that many fans take the local derby for what it is, a game of football, but many others really do feel that this is the chance for all that disrespect and hatred to come gushing out in one inglorious evening. The gladiatorial expectation becomes so high that when it almost certainly does result in a defensive 0-0 draw both sets of fans have to abandon any ideas of bragging rights and settle instead to drunkenly slashing tires because the car in question bears a scarf that reads “blue moon”. Neighbours across the country need to be consigned to flicking V’s at each other because all they have ever known each other as is “that _____ fan across the road”.
Gone are the days when one week you would be at Goodison Park and the next at Anfield. Indeed, openly confessing to going to your “rivals” stadium would probably see you castigated from the inner-circles of local fandom. Like a man desperately attempting to appear completely heterosexual at all times by asserting his manliness through darts contests and arm-wrestling, supporting your local team and unilaterally despising the other local team not only makes people act stupid, but often thuggish, violent and downright moronic. Battering someone over a dispute about which team they support is not “part of the game” It’s a ready made excuse to start some rough-and-tumble in the town centre.
Rivalries in football seem to be far more interesting when the historical context goes beyond the simple “they are near, hence they are the enemy”. The Liverpool-Manchester United game often seems to eclipse both teams’ city derbies. You’d have to be quite the contrarian to admit to enjoying the local Madrid match more so than the always-entertaining El Clásico, and honestly, who really cares about watching England vs. Scotland? Give me Argentina any day. The countless contextual factors that surround a football match means that any game could in theory become a classic. The west London derby of Chelsea-Fulham seems to be devoid of any meaningful reason to be interested compared to say, a juicy relegation dogfight such as Wigan against Birmingham.
Alas, the one thing that most people would agree on is that the atmosphere at a local derby is sensational. The electricity in the air that surrounds the penultimate moments on derby day – just before you take your seat – could rival that of the salvation and fear brewing in the heart before witnessing the second coming of Christ. Yet in football it seems that it is not the atmosphere that makes the game, but the game that conjures the atmosphere. When Tottenham ended their embarrassingly long losing streak at the Arsenal, the response was muted dissatisfaction from the home side and the occasional chorus of “When the Spurs go marching in” by the visitors. No one doubts the importance of the result surrounding the fixture; however to Joe-neutral it didn’t really capture the imagination. One side played so badly in each half that by the end no one was surprised. When Newcastle completed their comeback of Istanbul-proportions against the Gunners however, the resulting noise and preposterous emotions captivated the nation in a way unseen since Winston Churchill declared “We shall never surrender” and no doubt Joey Barton was having the same thoughts.
The last English city-derby to create an atmosphere that the romantics would be proud of was the Manchester derby at Eastlands earlier in the season. A game that was so bad – purely because of the hubba-bubba surrounding the occasion (and stereotypical Italian tactics mind) that by the end the reverberating tears of boredom were the only things resembling a witty chant. The two sets of supporters probably couldn’t wait to return to a dead-rubber midweek European fixture to watch their B-team win 1-0 against Slovenia’s finest.
In short: Local rivalries are always stupid, often boring, and a bizarre mystery considering many people’s affections for the city that they live in and everything it holds. It distorts good ol’ fashioned football pub-banter in favor of repetitive clichés about how any given player is a whore should they decide to play for a team that’s a 15 minute drive from your own house. Rivalries that ascend from the depths of history eclipse anything a groan worthy Sky Sports montage can do about “A city divided, with one half united” We’ve globalised everything else about football, why not the rivalries?