Saturday, November 1, 2014

COCKS OF THE NORTH

The Manchester Derby arrives again with those steady trophy winning megaliths getting ready to try and deal with their nearest and dearest upstart puppy neighbours. The wannabes, the noise merchants, the great unwashed. The team full of household names squaring up to a rush job hotch potch sellotape and pritt buddy attempt to get rich quick. The seamless wonderboys, all sleak and gleaming, against the rag tag army where anything can and often does happen. The pin-your-last-fiver-on-us brigade versus the cup for cock ups eleven.

But which is which these days?

A sea change that caught Alex Ferguson on the hop has not only happend in his lifetime but, rudely, impolitely, whilst his revolving chair is still comfortingly warm with that little dent in the middle where his regal Glaswegian backside once nestled.

Football, dynamic unpredictable vortex that it is, has sucked us all in and thrown us out the other side in somebody else's trousers.

Current Manchester Status actually has the record league champions portrayed as a somehwat humbled band of hucksters, down on their luck and clawing their way towards the light in a painful, belly-scraping operation along the Chester Road. City, the proud cocks, the dominant beasts, all feathers and strut, are Kings of the North with their two titles in three years (also two in 46 years, but let's skip the fine print for now) and slew of other baubles and trophies that have been collected since the desert sandstorm blew in over Moss Side.

If only power shifts were so simple.

Fast it most certainly has been. To see the two clubs juxtapoosed as they are today less than two years since Ferguson departed the scene muttering and grunting is a fair eye-opener. The speed and height of City's climb and United's descent has been eye-wateringly decisive, crunchingly distinct.

And yet. Football's delicious ability to trip up the arrogant, to dispose with the cock-sure and put leeches in the bed of he who carps to long and too loud, means the first Manchester Derby of season 2014-15 brings together an all-conquering City side in the middle of a giant stutter the like of which has not been seen for seasons and a down-on-their-luck United side actually beginning to believe that the nightmare of the past season and a bit could be evaporating to reveal a clear blue horizon to aim at.

City fans are fretting away and so are United's. As ever the potential for spilled custard is immense.

City's recent form is that of the addled old man heading home sideways from Yates Wine Lodge whilst United have a gleam in their eye that can only come from a period off the fizzy stuff. The Reds are suddenly realising things aren't as bad as they may have thought. Despite this, the calibre of player on both sides means there will be no falling to press speculation of pitfalls and the tittle tattle of the latest majestic swerves of common opinion. Van Persie, Aguero, Kompany, Rooney are seasoned pros who know just how good they are and what they are capable of in the collective from.

The Blues may have followed up a dreary second half in Moscow and an unhinged performance at West Ham by producing something even less appetizing to go out of the Capital One Cup against Newcastle reserves, but they are better than this and we all know it. More importanly Mr Van Gaal and his cohorts know it too, as does Señor Pellegrini.

City in recent years have specialised in shattering records that have stood for decades. The FA Cup victory v Stoke after waiting to replicate the feeling of 1969, a first League Cup win since 1976, a league title after 44 years twiddling thumbs and wringing hands. It is also 44 years since City recorded four consecutive derby victories. Not since those Malcolm Allison-inspired days of bravado when the coach would saunter gently up to the packed terraces of the Stretford End before the start of the game and raise the number of fingers that he thought City would win by have City had such a clear upper hand. Even the United victory in 2012 masks what went before it, another City double and the great six-one.

When one thinks back to the harrowing mid-nineties, when United's rise to be the first Premier League power coincided with a City fall from grace that swept us all away to the 3rd division, the shift is seismic. Nobody in their right mind could have come up with this scenario whilst watching André Kanchelskis whip in three in a truly horrible 5-0 defeat at Old Trafford in 1994. To dream of a time when City could easily outflank their rivals in this twice-yearly festival of insults and abuse would have been akin to signing up for enrolment at the local funny farm.

Since the heady days of Allison and Joe Mercer, when the Blues were top dogs in the city, only a spell in the mid-to-late seventies really felt like something approaching parity might be reached. In that vibrant, unfettered atmosphere of early segregation on the terraces, with United still fresh from a brief sojourn in the 2nd division and City at the top of thei powers, the tension and expectation was colossal. Since then, the Resd have wracked up their twenty win advantage in the history of this fixture, going great stretches of the 80s and 90s untouched by City's slingshots and puny arrows.

Time, though, stands still for no one.

So here we all are. Still sane, still alive. Hair a bit scorched, clothes dishevelled, ever so slightly the worse for wear, admittedly, but still here, hearts beating and eyes shining bright with hope and fear in equal measure. Manchester City have outgrown those days of tremble and bluster. They stand now as the team to be measured against, even if your name happens to be Manchester United.

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