Friday, March 21, 2008

UF's Rivalries Series: Liverpool vs. Manchester United

As anyone who follows the EPL will already know, there are several potentially epic matches coming up in the next few weeks between title contenders and lifelong rivals.

In light of this, we here at UF decided to reach out to some longtime fans of the big clubs, asking them to explain what these rivalries mean to them from their perspective.

Being the cheeky bugger I am, I decided to take this one and run with it, because let's face it, we can't let Sir Alex Ferguson and co get away without a retort. Hit the jump for my vitriol.

The primary root of all hatred in my life is jealousy. I think the same could be said for almost anyone. A heady blend of envy and jealousy can spark the most irrational of hate in any of us, even in the most mild-mannered of people. A pithy comment here, an unexplained outburst there; over time, the hatred builds, growing to such an unmanageable size that it is there to stay.

Growing up, I was jealous of the classmates who ended up getting into Oxford and Cambridge, something my father always hoped I would do. While they were reading history and classics, I was embarking on a move to the United States, where I’d set up my life and settle down, something that my old friends always derided and looked down upon. I became the joke, the kid who tossed away that privileged life in search of something else, and it took a long time to shake that moniker.

I guess now, in footballing terms, Liverpool has become the butt of the joke. In my infancy, Liverpool were busy accumulating Viking-esque stockpiles of gold and silverware, trophies in all major competitions, making a true dynasty. It was never pretty, but they got the job done. As I grew up and the Premier League was born, we reached our twilight, and since then, we’ve got relatively little to show for the last 17 years of trying. In that time, we’ve won domestic trophies here and there, and found success in Europe, but the Big Kahuna has continued to elude us for two-thirds of my life, the one that we used to find ourselves winning almost automatically.

Over time, our mystique has dwindled, the days of Dalglish, Shankly, Keegan, Souness, Beardsley, Barnes, Rush, Hughes, Hansen and Clemence are long behind us. We have new talismans now, but it’s hard to argue that we’re still as competitive and successful as we once were. Over the last decade, we’ve shrunk considerably, resigned to fighting for table scraps from the new English elite, Manchester United.

We still have the all-time records over our rival 30 miles away, but we’re always craning our necks upwards to catch a glimpse of them running away with things, and the growing jealousy of the mid-90s has blossomed into full-on hatred in the 2000s.

I hate Manchester United. I hate what they’ve become, everything from their harmonious owner-manager relationship [jealous of that, of course, thanks to our current Hicks & Gillett vs. Benitez mess] to their Portuguese wunderkind [we have our own Spanish genius, but he’s playing catch-up] and his psychic connection with strikers Rooney and Tevez.

I hate that they’ve replaced us as the dominant English force, always competitive for the league while we battle and gnash to secure that final Champions League spot each and every Spring. I hate that they waltz into Anfield and always get results, stealing wins home and away and making us look toothless. I hate John O’Shea, I hate Alan Smith, I hate the bit players in this rivalry. I hate that they score so freely. I hate that Sir Alex Ferguson, a whinger and moaner of the highest order, is still manning the helm from the sidelines, keeping his team happy and content while mine bickers to anyone who will listen.

My hatred is not relegated to the current era. Pick a villain: Brian McClair in the FA Cup, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s godlike strike rate in the late-90s, Eric Cantona, a player that we had first dibs on according to Graeme Souness’s legend. The efficient and ugly, homegrown back-four of Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Denis Irwin and a young Gary Neville. Peter Schmeichel, the prototype for arrogant goalkeepers, David Beckham’s best years, Fabien Barthez, Norman Whiteside. Roy Keane.

Of course, I still cling to any pyrrhic victories we’ve accumulated since our last League title in 1990. The game I've always clung to happened in 1994, and saw Man United jump out to a 3-0 halftime lead in front of a stunned Kop end. In fact, it was 3-0 within 24 minutes. Steve Bruce lumbered the first in, Ryan Giggs had a ridiculous chip after breaking the offside trap to make it 2-0, and then Denis Irwin curled in a cracking free kick to make the lead 3.

It took two second-half goals from a restless Nigel Clough, the second as improbable and cheeky as the first, and then that equalizer. Man, that equalizer was something else.

Neil Ruddock, a rather portly, average defender drafted in from Spurs the season before, rose above the masses on an out-swinging cross from the left and thudded the ball deep into the net, hurting his forehead in the process. I’ll never forget seeing him stagger away from the box having scored the goal, clutching his head while a spritely Jamie Redknapp jumped all over his broad shoulders.

By then, of course, the sea change was complete, and we were always playing second fiddle. The days of confidence and pomp were long gone, lost in the 80s and Craig Johnston’s greasy jheri curls, replaced by caution, uncertainty, and a massive, almost unmanageable, inferiority complex. We had to be content with 1-0 cup wins against their second stringers [Fergie was undoubtedly the pioneer of playing reserves in the trophies they didn’t care about, something that spoke volumes of their arrogance] or sneaking scrappy, dull draws wherever we could.

I’ll never forget the Man Utd/Sheffield Wednesday game in 1993, where Fergie seemingly bartered for nine minutes of injury time that saw Steve Bruce score twice and Sheffield Wednesday go home with nothing instead of a well-earned 1-0 win.

The jealousy extends far beyond the confines of Anfield and Old Trafford, two grounds that used to share a working-class charm until they unveiled fresh stadium plans and a modernity that we have yet to match. Their seating capacity swelled while ours seems stuck in the relative Stone Age. For all the noise we make at the Kop End, Man United still has 30,000 more attending their games each week, and the Glazer family rakes in the profits while spending more than enough to keep them atop the league.

I rarely go to Manchester, just because it’s never the sort of place I felt comfortable. They brew Boddington’s, a beer that’s popularized around the world and back, and we brew Cain’s, a gorgeous bitter that still seems sad, tiny and provincial by comparison. Our city struggled with the dwindling of the dock business that made us powerful beyond compare at one point, while Manchester thrived with new business, urban expansion, and renovation at every turn.

It’s hard not to feel jealous, but then again, it’s harder still not to feel hate.

Every empire has its turn in the sun, and we were the undisputed Kings of England back before I was born and while I was still too young to enjoy it. Instead, I had to be content with UEFA Cup heroics, the 5-4 win against laves in 2001, Mark Walters rescuing us in ’92 against Auxerre, and then, of course, Steven Gerrard. He brought us back from a hopeless place in 2005 against the aging but resplendent AC Milan, and then once more in the FA Cup the following year against a punchy West Ham side. Let’s not forget his goal against Olympiakos right at the death of the Champions League group stage, a goal that stunned the nation and kept us in the competition before our fateful encounter with Maldini’s boys in the final.

It says a lot about my team that we’re always looking for last-minute heroics to snatch a point or extra-time when all seems lost. I’d give my right arm to once again enjoy a position of power, one where goals are never far from being scored, and where we don’t have to scrap and pray for a moment of magic.

Magic’s hard to build around, but Man United don’t have that problem. They can score on will, assert their authority and put a game out of reach after it’s only just begun. That’s what I’m most jealous of, and it’s an envy that hurts most of all.

I dream about Sir Alex retiring and the team falling into disarray, but I suppose I must hope for that like I hope for stealing points from the Big 3 like some pauper in a Dickens novel nicking bread from the table while his rich bosses are looking the other way.

We've never won a Premier League title, something that I get reminded of each and every fucking day.

The jealousy for Manchester United will never subside, and nor will the hate. I hope upon hope that this Sunday, I get to witness the beginning of the sea change back in our direction.


Bigus Dickus said...

ahhhhhhhh. My heart bleeds. We never won the title either. Lets cry together.

The Likely Lad said...

we still await the arsenal commentator. i won't wait up though, he's probably all tied up, pinky deep in a chunk of brie...

Anonymous said...

*non-sarcastic slow clap*

But... Alan Smith is now a Barcode. But... He's stlll a cunt.