Next Sunday afternoon, Anfield will be packed to the rafters, Sky Sports cameras will be rolling and the eyes of the world will be firmly locked on the pitch as the two most successful clubs in the history of English football lock horns once again.
Even though Liverpool and Manchester United are far from the best of friends, nobody can deny that this fixture is and always will be a special occasion. Both clubs are separated by a mere 30 miles of the M62 motorway, however, when it comes to matters on the pitch, they could not be further apart. The rivalry shared between these two is like no other, on every possible level. Both sets of fans despise each other, literally. When the fixture list is released, both sets of fans will immediately look for this fixture and when they finally come face to face, the atmosphere is always ferocious, whether it be at Anfield or Old Trafford. Losing simply isn’t an option.
Both clubs have racked up over 50 major trophies each since they were founded in 1892 and 1878 respectively. No other English club can boast achievements anywhere near that scale and both have millions of fans from all over the world. So, with this in mind, some people may find it difficult to understand why these two massively successful clubs could hate each other so much when both have enjoyed so much success. Unbeknown to many though, their rivalry and hatred runs deeper and much further back than many people realise.
The burning passion that divides us…
The whole thing started as a city rivalry, dating back to the early 19th century, when trade issues prior to and during the Industrial revolution caused bitter resentment from both cities. Liverpool, being ideally located near the River Mersey, built docks which enabled them to become accessible to the rest of the world and the city prospered greatly; more money, more jobs and a higher standard of living.
Manchester did not have this privilege and therefore, their people were resentful. However, Manchester eventually began to grow economically as a result of an unforeseen boom in textile manufacturing. They were able to build the Manchester Ship Canal in 1894, which opened up a host of new avenues for Manchester. They were now accessible to world trade too and naturally this eradicated some of Liverpool’s trade, causing the people of Liverpool to become somewhat resentful.
Heading back to football matters, both clubs later formed and issues on the pitch have fuelled tensions further between the people of Liverpool and Manchester. The success of both clubs has played a massive part. Manchester United became the first ever English club to win the European Cup in 1968 which catapulted their reputation worldwide. Liverpool responded by dominating the 70’s and 80’s, claiming 11 league titles and four European Cups during this era.
In May 1994, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson won the title with United for the first time and Liverpool fans responded by erecting a banner at Anfield which taunted Manchester United about Liverpool’s past successes. It read ‘AU REVOIR CANTONA AND MAN UNITED…COME BACK WHEN YOU’VE WON 18!’
United subsequently went on to dominate the 90’s and 2000’s and in 2011, they claimed their 19th title, surpassing the record of 18, previously held by Liverpool. Still mindful and holding resentment for that banner Liverpool fans erected in 1994, Manchester United fans erected one of their own in revenge…inside Anfield. It read ‘M.U.F.C. 19 TIMES.’
As it currently stands, Liverpool have won 18 league titles while Manchester United have won 19. However, Liverpool won the European Cup for a fifth time in 2005 and as a result, were able to keep the European Cup in the Anfield trophy cabinet permanently. Having won 3 European Cups, Manchester United, as yet, do not have that privilege.
Recent spats between players have intensified the rivalry, most notably, the Luis Suarez/Patrice Evra racism row.
Shortly after the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United in October 2011 at Anfield, it emerged that United defender Patrice Evra had accused Liverpool striker Luis Suarez of racially abusing him during the game. The FA investigated these claims and Suarez was found guilty and as a result he was fined and handed an 8 match suspension. Liverpool offered vigorous support to Suarez both before and after he was found guilty because the language used by Suarez was acceptable in his own culture and therefore, Liverpool believed he had a strong case.
Nevertheless, Suarez served his 8 match ban and shortly after, returned to Old Trafford to face Manchester United and Patrice Evra for the first time since the incident the previous October. Prior to kick off, Premiership players are expected to shake hands with players of the opposing team. However, when faced with the hand of Patrice Evra, Luis Suarez allegedly refused it and walked past him. United went on to win the match and Evra made a point of celebrating their victory in the face of Suarez, who was exiting the pitch. Both events reignited the racism case, antagonised players and both sets of fans.
Since the incident, Liverpool fans have since come up with a chant which rebuffs claims that they are a ‘racist’ club but instead, targets people from Manchester. The chant, ‘We’re not racist, we only hate Mancs’ by Liverpool fans has become very popular in the Anfield stands but will no doubt do very little to defuse the fierce hatred shared between both sets of fans.
The attitude of a couple of local players has added significant fuel to the rivalry too. Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard was born in Merseyside, has spent his entire career at Liverpool and is renowned for being one of the best football players in the world. The fact he is a local player and has been so loyal towards Liverpool has meant that he has attained a legend-like status at the club. He once invited a film crew inside his home to show off his collection of football shirts that he had swapped with opposition players at the end of games. He pointed out that he had never swapped shirts with a Manchester United player and would never have one of their shirts in his home, reinforcing his loyalty to Liverpool and publically identifying Manchester United as an enemy.
Similarly, former Manchester United defender Gary Neville was born in Greater Manchester and he spent his entire career at Manchester United. Like Gerrard at Liverpool, local player Gary Neville was regarded very highly in the eyes of Manchester United fans. Neville has publically expressed his extreme dislike of Liverpool on several occasions and often antagonised Liverpool fans deliberately by celebrating and kissing his United badge in front of them and having angry altercations with fans during games. Neville’s dislike of Liverpool is so well known and respected amongst Manchester United fans that they dedicated a chant to him; ‘Gary Neville is a red, he hates scousers.’
It is needless to say that both Gerrard and Neville are idolised by their own club’s fans because their attitudes mirror those of their own fans. It is also needless to say that both Gerrard and Neville, for the same reason, are fiercely despised by the opposition fans.
The terrible grief that unites us…
If the rivalry ended after the discussion of success, players and on field incidents, there would be no problems and we could wholeheartedly look forward to their upcoming clash on September 23rd. However, there have been incidents down the years that have marred this great sporting occasion; ones which have crossed the boundaries of a football rivalry and crossed the boundaries of humanity.
The incidents largely consist of chanting. Not ordinary chanting though, far from it. The chants in question mock and celebrate the death of other people. I must point out that this chanting has only been carried out by a small minority of fans of both clubs. Nevertheless, the number of fans involved is much higher than it should be and is high enough to strain the already shattered relationship between both sets of fans.
I don’t want to go into too much detail regarding the ‘lyrics’ of these sick, inhuman chants. Firstly, they are despicable and quite frankly, too disgusting to repeat. Secondly, they will unquestionably cause many people unnecessary pain.
The chants in question relate to three disasters, all of which have led to the loss of life.
The first of the three disasters was the 1958 Munich Air Disaster, which killed 23 people in total, including 8 Manchester United players. 19 people were left injured, including two Manchester United players who never kicked a ball again.
A very small minority of Liverpool fans have mocked the disaster during games between the two teams.
The second disaster was the 1985 wall collapse in Heysel Stadium, Brussels, which killed 39 people, the majority of whom were Juventus fans. Another 600 were left injured. The disaster occurred during acts of hooliganism between Liverpool and Juventus fans in the build up to kick off in the 1985 European Cup final. Liverpool fans charged towards the Juventus fans after a sustained period of missile throwing from both sides, the Juventus fans retreated backwards and the perimeter wall collapsed under the pressure. As a result, UEFA banned all English clubs from all European competitions for five years. Liverpool were banned for six years.
Since the disaster, a minority of Manchester United fans have used the disaster to attack Liverpool fans, branding them ‘Murderers.’
The most recent and most deadly disaster was the 1989 Hillsborough crush, which killed 96 Liverpool fans and left another 766 injured. A series of policing errors led to severe overcrowding of the central pens in the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough Stadium, where the Liverpool fans were situated. At that time, there was high steel fencing separating the fans from the pitch. As more fans were continually directed into the overcrowded central pens, the fans at the front were crushed to death against the steel fencing.
Once again, a small minority of Manchester United fans have mocked the disaster. Following the disaster, the Sun newspaper printed a disgusting front page story titled ‘The Truth,’ which was filled with everything but the truth. They spread sick, horrific lies about Liverpool fans and claimed that they were completely responsible for the disaster. Although the Sun have since apologized for the article and branded it ‘the worst mistake in its history,’ some Manchester United fans have ignorantly chosen to believe the lies and again, use it to attack Liverpool fans and reinforce the ‘murderer’ label, which they assigned after the Heysel disaster.
However, the real truth about the Hillsborough disaster was released earlier this week after a 23 year battle and it was revealed that the blame lay firmly on South Yorkshire police. It was revealed that they then covered it up and instead, deflected the blame on to innocent Liverpool fans with the help of the government and the media. Upon being caught, most parties involved have been forced to apologize. After 23 brave years of tireless campaigning, the real truth is now out there for the world to see: Liverpool fans were completely innocent on that fateful day in April 1989.
Obviously, the fight for justice for the 96 victims will continue but in terms of the rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United, what better time to put an end to the vile chanting and mocking of death?
I have focused on the Hillsborough disaster because firstly, I am a Liverpool fan. Secondly and more importantly, I am a scouser and have lived in Liverpool my entire life. After seeing the pain and anguish caused to friends and families of the 96 victims for the last 23 years, the release of the real truth was in some ways, a massive relief. Not just for the victims and their familes and friends, it was a relief for Liverpool Football Club and the city of Liverpool in general.
It could never be described as a victory though because the painful fact remains that those 96 innocent people are never coming back home. However, the families know the truth now and hopefully, they can begin to take some comfort from that.
The long, hard fight for the truth was a brave one and everyone involved has been a massive inspiration. The 96 victims would be proud of each and every one of them. Hopefully, justice will now follow.
Being a scouser, it makes me so proud when our city pulls together when times are hard. It made me proud to see ‘Remembering the 96’ printed on the back of the Everton shirt in their store window on Wednesday. It made me realise that we have a city to be proud of.
It would be amazing if that unity could extend to the visiting section of Anfield next Sunday. As a Liverpool fan, I hate Manchester United in a footballing sense. I don’t wish them well in terms of success on the pitch so I won’t lie and pretend that I do. I still expect the atmosphere to be electric, I still expect to win and I still expect that it will hurt terribly if we lose. That is just the way the rivalry is and I do not want that passion to disappear at all because that is what makes our rivalry so special.
However, we must remember that we are all human beings. Scouser or manc, it doesn’t matter, we all bleed in the same way. We have all felt grief and we all know how painful that is so we shouldn’t inflict it on others.
Although the Munich disaster isn’t quite the same as Hillsborough in that it didn’t involve fans, the fact remains that people lost their lives. Although the circumstances and aftermath were very, very different, i.e. the lies and corruption of Hillsborough, that does not mean that the friends and families of the Munich victims did not suffer too. Same goes for the 39 families of the Heysel victims. Nobody deserves to go out to watch or play in a football match and never return home, regardless of the team they support or play for.
As I mentioned earlier, some Manchester United fans blame us entirely for Heysel and call us ‘murderers,’ which I think is a bit harsh to say the least. We accept that some of our fans behaved appallingly that night, as did some Juventus fans but at the same time, nobody could possibly have known that their actions would cause the wall to collapse and kill people. The fact is, Heysel Stadium was unsafe and was never fit to host the game in the first place. Nevertheless, some of our fans were prosecuted and we served our European ban. Sure, other English clubs were punished too but that was a decision made by UEFA and they obviously felt it was justified at the time. I’m sure they will have examined the behaviour of other English fans in general prior to Heysel before making such a huge decision.
When we put aside the causes and circumstances of the Munich, Heysel and Hillsborough deaths, we are left with the fact that 158 people lost their lives. Those 158 people were somebody’s mother/father/son/daughter/brother/sister etc. They all had families and friends grieving for their loss and out of sheer respect for them and the memory of the victims, any chants which relate to their deaths need to stop because each time it happens, it cuts the families and friends that little bit deeper and prevents them from moving forward. They have already suffered enough so any additional hurt is completely unnecessary and cruel.
Two air crew members, a travel agent and eight journalists were amongst those killed in the Munich crash; people who were not directly connected to Manchester United Football Club. Some of the people who chant about the disaster probably won’t even know this, let alone give them a second thought.
Let’s not forget the 1380 injured survivors from these three disasters too. They will be mentally scarred enough without mindless idiots bringing it all back up each time we play United.
Some things are more important than football. Life is more important than football. The majority of us know this. I just sincerely hope that the childish minority from both sides realise it too and put an end to their despicable chants. I’m sure they would think twice if any of their family members had been killed after all.
Now that our fans have been officialy cleared of any blame at Hillsborough, United fans will know for certain that the things they read in the Sun were false and realise how disgusting and hurtful those accusations really were. They, as human beings should be able to sympathize with our fans and respect the families and the memory of the victims.
Similarly, we can sympathise with the families of the Munich disaster and respect their memory in the same way we expect for our own. It isn’t much to ask.
We have both been hugely successful on the pitch and have both been affected by disasters, so we have more in common than we may think, whether we like it or not.
The majority of fans from both sides are very respectful though and I thank every United fan who has supported our fight for the truth and justice. Most of them have been supportive, so when a mindless idiot makes a sick comment, responses such as ‘typical manc’ from our fans are inaccurate and unacceptable. Same goes for when an idiot mocks Munich. United fans too, have to realise that those despicable views do not reflect the majority of Liverpool fans and must refrain themselves from labelling all scousers in the same way. It is ignorant to assume that the views of one or two individuals represent those of a whole club and city.
Let’s hope everybody unites and makes the game memorable for positive reasons, relating to the game itself.
May the best team win. Hopefully that will be Liverpool, of course.
RIP to our 96 angels, the 23 killed in Munich and the 39 killed in Heysel.