Saturday, October 6, 2018

DISPATCHES FROM THE OTHER SIDE 7

Notes on the 2018-19 title race with a different perspective. Writing with (and about) the enemy. By Sachin Nakrani and Simon Curtis

Rivals



6th October 2018 – By the end of the 1976-77 season, City and Liverpool were separated by a single point, with the Blues on the wrong side of the tiny gap. 

Liverpool were champions again and City had to be pleased with runners-up spot to Bob Paisley’s all-conquering side. It had been a tumultuous season and the two sides might well have ended up in each other’s finishing positions had the home game for City that Christmas not blown up in their faces with the clock ticking down towards the final whistle.

With the 50,000 crowd bellowing their appreciation, City hung onto Joe Royle's 35th minute opener, until two minutes from time, when a speculative Liverpool attack led to a misheard call from the out-rushing Joe Corrigan to his defence. Dave Watson, that reliable tower of strength at the heart of City's defence, slid a backpass towards what he presumed was safety, but Corrigan had advanced and the ball skipped past him and into the net.

Dave Watson (left) realises what he has done in 1977.

Watson's anguish at the time was compounded by the end of the season, when that single mistake meant the difference between the two sides come May.

City and Liverpool were beginning to create quite a stir. 

A year later another Maine Road full-house saw City wallop Liverpool 3-1 in a match described by the affable Paisley as "the best of British football". City were absolutely flying, but fell away to 4th as Liverpool were pipped by Nottingham Forest, the newly promoted surprise package of the season. 

Instead of a City-Liverpool rivalry beginning to take root, Liverpool began a titanic struggle with Clough's Forest over the next three years, while City fell away to Malcolm Allison-inspired mediocrity.

Worse was to come, of course, with two relegations in the 80s and plenty more moss-covered shenanigans in the 90s, by which time Liverpool had resurrected their original Mersey-Manchester rivalry from the 60s with United. More recently still, a kind of rivalry with Chelsea popped up, after several titanic Champions League battles.

Yet, nothing at all to speak of with City. The 80s mean streets gave way to indifference, even pity. A general Manchester-Merseyside discomfort gradually dropped away, in the case of City and Everton at least. Having seen Joe Corrigan bottled in a rare Anfield win in 1981, City fell off to levels of pathetic that even the Kop couldn't jeer at with any deep-felt feeling. 0-4 and 0-6 defeats at Anfield within four days under Alan Ball's judicious leadership reduced everyone to gales of laughter. City were a laughing stock. No rivalry could or would come from this mismatched clash.

Perhaps, even in their new clothes, the fact that City's Anfield record has remained resolutely execrable, means today there is still no sign of a proper rivalry, despite the fact that animosity levels are clearly on the up and - particularly this season - the clubs are on each other's radars like never before. 

As with Chelsea-Liverpool, perhaps a couple more Champions League games of the intensity seen last season and a continuation of what seems likely to be a two-pronged challenge for the domestic honours, will bring these two great clubs into sharper focus for each other. City fans can drop the Klanfield always the victims taunts and the Kop can desist from shouting about a club that has only existed since 2008, which thinks everyone's got it in for them.

Or maybe it is exactly this that is spawning new levels of fear and loathing between the two clubs. 

This kind of social media fuelled spite may be playing a part in building things up a level or two. Proper hate plays a part in all good football rivalries after all. There are no exchanges of flowers before the River-Boca games or at Ajax-Feyenoord and Porto v Benfica has plenty of over-stretched neck sinew on show. Love and cuddles a proper football atmosphere never made. The signs, therefore, are good! 

Certainly - as we have seen in the past with games on the European stage - a rivalry that endures can pop up from nowhere given the right ingredients. Forest and
League Cup final 1977-78: the start of something big
Chelsea were never going to be the most obvious of hated opponents for Liverpool but the rivalries emerged over time, thanks to those continental clashes. Little animosity existed for any geographical or historical reasons. 

City- Liverpool has much more possible mileage in it than one with an East Midlands side or one from well-heeled West London. Local bragging rights, building on an already historically tense Manchester-Liverpool rivalry can bring this duel into really sharp focus in the coming seasons. If the clashes between the two sides match the drama and smoke of last season's four games, then it will not take long, there can be little doubt about that. If Liverpool are the real deal and intend to slog it out toe to toe this season, the temperature is about to rise. 

Now all that is needed is a battle royale on Sunday and a couple more fragrant Champions League clashes - perhaps a semi final this time - and we will begin to see a new rivalry in English football that is worth its name.    Simon Curtis



6th October 2018    So here we go then, the Dispatches Derby. Liverpool versus Manchester City, a battle between the top two – and best two – teams in the country and a resumption of a simmering rivalry.

Stop. Wait. Scratch that record and go back a second. Liverpool and City – a rivalry? Really? Is it? According to who and since when?

The first thing to say is that no one person is, or can be, the arbiter of what constitutes a football rivalry. Different clubs stoke different emotions in different supporters. For instance, I properly dislike Chelsea but that’s because my life as a regular match-going Red began just as the great Rafa-Jose battles of the noughties were kicking-off. I went to practically every one, including all three Champions League semi-finals in 2005, 2007 and 2008, and when you’ve gone through something like that it’s difficult not to dislike the other lot. The chants stick in the mind, as do the smug faces, not to mention the defeats; the 2005 League Cup final …
THAT league game in 2014.

But for other Liverpool supporters, specifically older ones, Chelsea are an irrelevance. Only Manchester United and Everton matter in the rivalry stakes, with Nottingham Forest and Leeds United coming in a distant second. It’s about context and experience, contests fought.

Which brings me on to City. Rivals? Could be, but not right now. Not for me, anyway.

There’s been a few tasty games between the sides in recent years, no more so than last season. The 5-0 at the Etihad, the 4-3 at Anfield, and the two Champions League games which well and truly lived up to the hype, in terms of drama and quality. But Liverpool have also had tasty games against Arsenal, Tottenham and, heck, Crystal Palace in that time and no one in and around Anfield look at any of those clubs as ‘the enemy’.

I’m aware the situation with City is different given their status – champions as well as fellow title and Champions League contenders – not to mention the enmity that developed on the back of the bus attack, but I simply don’t feel the hate and neither do most other Reds I know.

As is the modern way, a lot of this has been driven by social media. Reds and Blues shouting about how much they hate the other side on Twitter, with most doing so in order to develop their (reaches for the vomit bucket) ‘brand’.

There’s another reason why I don’t see City as a rival and it relates to the thing that appears to rile their supporters more than anything else. The ‘M’ word. Money.

I’m old enough to remember when City were a vastly different club to the one they are now, specifically in the 1990s when, let’s face it, they were absolutely dreadful. Poor players, poor managers, poor results, no more so than during the 1995-96 season when Alan Ball’s side were relegated. That was a season when Liverpool beat City 4-0 and 6-0 in the space of three days and, in general, my memories of coming up against City back then was that it was no big deal. They were there to be beaten.

City improved in the noughties but remained a team not to be feared, and that’s how it felt it was going to remain forever. But then everything changed. Sheikh Mansour strode into town.

Modern-day Manchester City feel  like a different club entirely. It’s City 2.0. A total reboot. Out went the clanking hatchback and in came the sleek sports car hell-bent on roaring past every other vehicle on the road. And fair play, City have achieved that, winning three Premier League titles and currently playing a style of football that may be the best we’ve ever seen in this country. But please, spare me the protests whenever someone suggests all this may have happened because a wealthy Arab made it possible.

The arguments I’ve had with City fans over this. Jesus, you’d think I had accused their club of sending players to people’s homes at Christmas to piss on their kids. Howls of indignation, cries of media-driven conspiracy and, in one case, someone suggesting with a straight Twitter face that City’s success has nothing to do with the 2008 takeover.

Are you shitting me?! City’s best player on 31 August 2008 – the day before the money came rolling in – was Stephen Ireland and they had Jo up front. City’s best player on 31 August 2018 was (and is) Kevin De Bruyne and they had (and have) Sergio Aguero up front. That didn’t happen through savvy scouting and money earned through shrewd accountancy; it happened because the boys in blue won the lottery.

Yes, other clubs have been the subject of takeovers, and yes, other clubs spend lots of money (Liverpool included), but in my lifetime none have gone from nought to 50 in such a short space of time. Enjoy the success but also accept how it’s come about. The overriding factor. The golden elephant in the room.

So no, I don’t see City as a rival. It’s too soon for that and, a decade on from the big bang, I still find it difficult to fully respect the club’s rise to elite level. It’s like when you play someone at snakes and ladders and you’re leading but they then throw a six and land on the square with the massive ladder and shoot up to the end. Yes they’ve won fair and square, but you’re entitled to feel peeved about how they got there.

Onto Sunday’s match. City are going to win, I can feel it. Partly because they’re an excellent team, partly because they’re due a win at Anfield and partly because I’m properly worried about Liverpool following their loss to Napoli. I was there and it was possibly the worst I’ve seen us perform under Jurgen Klopp. Lacklustre, lethargic, disconnected, crap.

No doubt there’ll be a reaction from the boys in red, and the crowd will be up for it, but if City exploit our weaknesses in midfield and take the chances that come their way then I can’t see past an away win, especially as our front three are not up to scratch at the moment.

A defeat will be hard to take but it won’t be a disaster given Liverpool will only be three points behind City having had the tougher start to the season. It’s all good, all fine, all worth keeping in perspective. One thing it’s not, however, is a rivalry.
. Sachin Nakrani



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