United vs Liverpool: History of a century-old animosity

United vs Liverpool: History of a century-old animosity
January 15 00:47 2017

By Scott Patterson

There weren’t many things that Louis van Gaal got right when he was manager of Manchester United and he certainly saved the best until last, when winning the FA Cup at Wembley. But one thing that he perfected during his two seasons at the club was getting a result against Liverpool.

Van Gaal won all four games he faced against Liverpool in the Premier League, beating them twice at Anfield, which earned him some brownie points with the supporters. That’s not to say he was forgiven his many failings because of these results but it certainly bought him greater respect from the fans.

It doesn’t matter where United or any other club is in the table; the team they want to beat the most is Liverpool. There have been fierce rivalries with Chelsea and Arsenal when they were challenging United for the title and there’s plenty of animosity between United and local rivals Manchester City, but United and Liverpool hate each other.

Unlike rivalries with other teams, Liverpool and Manchester have a history off the pitch as well as on it. It dates back to the late 1800s when Manchester overtook Liverpool as the economic capital of the North thanks to the creation of the Manchester Ship Canal. No longer did Manchester have to rely on Liverpool’s ports for trade and lots of jobs were lost in the city as a result.

On the pitch, the story is slightly different. Despite United being the first English team to win the European Cup, the success Liverpool enjoyed was the envy of those in Manchester. Liverpool were flying high in the 1970s and 80s and it felt as though United would never come close to catching, let alone surpassing, their success.

The ill feeling between them heightened as a result of the tragedies the two clubs faced. Liverpool fans sung songs about the Munich Air Disaster and at Heysel in 1985 even held banners that read ‘Munich 58’. When Hillsborough happened four years later, United fans eagerly dished back all the hurtful chants, and while the songs are rarely heard inside the stadiums anymore, certainly not en masse, you’ll hear plenty of fans using the disasters to score points away on the streets around the grounds.

Having gone 26 years without a league title, when United visited Liverpool as champions in 1994, the home supporters held up a banner which read, “Au revoir Cantona and Man United. Come back when you’ve won 18.” At that time, United had a further 10 titles to win to match Liverpool’s record.

As the years have gone by, United crept up on Liverpool’s record, before taking it in 2011. When United won the 18 title, Eric Cantona did as their banner instructed, and was at Old Trafford for the game between the two sides. The scousers never would have believed it could happen, or at least, by the time United reached 18 they would have been on 20 or 30. Surely. They’re now the side who have gone 26 years without winning the league.

During this time there have been plenty unsavoury moments that neither club can be proud of. In 2005, when FA Cup semi-finals were still held at Old Trafford and not Wembley, Liverpool fans vandalised United’s stadium with comments about Munich and Harold Shipman when they played Chelsea.

Liverpool had knocked United out of the competition earlier in the season at Anfield. Liverpool stadium and operations manager, Ged Poynton, wrote to United after that game to apologise for their fans throwing excrement at United’s.

During that game, Alan Smith broke his leg, and when he was being taken to hospital, his ambulance was attacked. Years later Smith claimed this never happened, although the ambulance drivers probably had a better recollection of the events that day than a player on high doses of painkillers to help deal with the injury. The Merseyside ambulance trust confirmed the attack and Liverpool released a statement after the game condemning the fans, as did the secretary of the Merseyside branch of the official Liverpool Supporters’ Club.

Since then there has been plenty of back and forth between the fans, singing songs they shouldn’t, but the hatred overflowed following the incident between Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez. The Liverpool striker was found guilty of racially abusing the United defender, after his defence that he used “negro” in a friendly way was dismissed by the panel.

Even without seeing the footage, it would be obvious that there’s very little that is friendly about this match. When you then add context, that Suarez used this term (which can be regarded as non-racist when used between friends in a light-hearted manner) during the middle of an argument about the striker kicking Evra, it’s easy to see why he was found guilty. The language experts confirmed that “negro” most certainly could be considered a racist term in Uruguay, depending on the situation, and the disciplinary panel deemed this incident as a hostile one, not an affectionate one.

Still, Liverpool made the awful decision of sending out their players to warm up wearing t-shirts with pictures of Suarez for the game after the verdict was announced, as well as manager Kenny Dalglish. The club didn’t appeal the decision but their defiant approach only encouraged Liverpool fans to support Suarez and target Evra.

The Frenchman was booed every time he went near the ball when the two teams played each other. It was an awkward and embarrassing situation for the club, with their fans booing a victim of racial abuse. It was made worse when Dalglish dismissed it as “a wee bit of banter”. Sir Alex Ferguson later claimed it was Dalglish’s handling of Suarez’s behaviour that cost him his job.

So, while the hatred has stayed the same over the years, the fortunes of the clubs have changed. Ferguson retired, giving Liverpool the chance to gain some ground of United. It’s yet to happen, with the only trophy either club has won in the past three seasons being the FA Cup for United last May.

Liverpool came close to winning the title in 2014 but a slip from Steven Gerrard started their downward spiral in the remaining few games, much to the delight of United supporters, and they missed out. ‘Au revoir Gerrard, come back when you’ve won one’ read the banner United fans made for the Liverpool captain’s last game at Old Trafford. “You nearly won the league,” United fans cheerfully chant when the two sides meet, mocking Liverpool for their premature title celebrations that season.

Still, the two probably have more in common than they would like to admit. United fans can often be heard singing “we all agree United are better than England” and Liverpool fans display their “we’re not English we are scouse” banners. Both are intensely proud of who they are and where they come from.

Politically, the two cities always fall in to line. When looking at the maps of a country following an election, whether it is one that decides the next Prime Minister or if the nation leaves the EU, Manchester and Liverpool always display the same colours.

Yet their similarities matter little. When on the pitch, it’s two tribes going to war, and the only way either set of fans will go home happy is if they’ve won and inflicted misery on the others.

There will likely be more important games in shaping the title race this season but there won’t be one that displays a greater rivalry than this

Culled from Mirror (UK)