If ‘yer average’ fan was asked to name their favourite non-derby English fixture they would probably go for Manchester United v Liverpool. And there would be absolutely nothing wrong with that; it’s got fierce rivalry and history and can usually be relied upon to offer up drama galore.
The connoisseur though – the more learned aficionado who likes his steak just so, and appreciates a vintage port for good measure while enjoying Peaky Blinders over Eastenders – would undoubtedly opt for Tottenham v Manchester City. Or City v Tottenham, it really makes no odds.
John Motson would plump for these two I’m sure of it, not that John Motson is the standard bearer of football sophistication or anything. I’m just saying he would. Though he’d probably call it ‘The Citizens v the Lilywhites’ and that would be annoying.
He – along with others who ‘have a bit about them’ as Andy Townsend might put it – would pick out this game as the crème de la crème of fixtures because something special always seems to occur when City travel to north London or Spurs head to the Etihad. In recent times there have been goals aplenty though again I’m not saying that’s a barometer of footballing sophistication. I’m just saying there are usually lots of goals, 43 in the last 10 occasions as it happens. And there is controversy too, a buckletload of it courtesy of blundering linesmen who are presumably so bewitched by the thrilling end-to-end football on display they don’t notice their contact lens popping clean out.
But the big score-lines and contentious decisions only play a small part of this engrossing fixture’s appeal because when City and Spurs collide it’s all about aesthetics and style. Both teams play pleasing football regardless of who’s in charge while traditionally they share a spectacular ability to grab defeat from the jaws of triumph. That’s a combination that lends itself to classic encounters. It helps too that neither club like the other very much and better yet it’s a feud not born from locality or a jostling for dominance but for the very best reason – just because, that’s why.
So let the media and the Twitterverse relish the hate-fest of October 17th when two fading giants in red play the game at twice its usual speed. The sophisticates of soccer know the real sparkling gem of the English football calendar kicks off this weekend, a clash between the top two to boot.
It probably won’t be as memorable as the five corkers below. It will definitely be more entertaining than most.
Ballet on Ice 1967
Britain was in the grip of a deep freeze and with the Maine Road turf glacial white the Spurs camp were keen to have the game postponed. Not that such uncertainty showed in their performance and the 4-1 drubbing was largely due to City being immaculate on this day, a perfect storm of brilliant attacking football amidst a perfect storm.
Greaves got the opener but in truth, were it not for the excellent Pat Jennings in goal, this could have been a massacre as City tore into the recent double-winners with no small degree of panache.
The motivational skills of Malcolm Allison convinced this wonderful side they could walk on water. Or perform poetry on ice in this instance.
“The big man from Argentina goes past one, two, three”
Every twist and turn of Ricky Villa’s wonder goal is as familiar to us all as a Beatles hook or Captain Mainwaring instructing Pike not to give his name in Dad’s Army. Yet watching it again for the thousandth time it still balloons the heart to twice its size. (Might be worth getting that checked out – Ed)
The moment of individual genius by Ossie’s best mucka may be chiefly responsible for the 1981 FA Cup final replay achieving immortality but the entire 180 minutes is up there with the best sporting pair of finals this country has ever produced.
The greatest cup comeback ever
When the referee blew for half-time in this FA Cup 4th round replay in 2004 City weren’t just dead and buried; the condolence cards sent to their relatives had already gathered dust on the mantelpiece.
3-0 behind after 43 minutes Joey Barton went all Joey Barton and saw red leaving the traveling Blues to sing throughout the break in empty defiance only. That defiance soon became spirited when Sylvain Distin and Paul Bosvelt made it a contest. A late Shaun Wright-Phillips equaliser and last minute winner by Jon Macken ensured top billing on the evening news as the greatest cup comeback ever was completed.
The top four final
With Sky execs and those who decide the fixture list presumably high-fiving each other at the fortuitous circumstance the penultimate game of the 2009/10 campaign saw the old adversaries meet up for a winner-takes-all Champions League qualifying showdown.
Understandably given that neither side had previously reached such heights in the modern era and with so much at stake this was a tense, chess-like encounter with Harry Redknapp ultimately proving to be the grandmaster. His bold team selection reaped a £30m dividend as Peter Crouch nodded home a late decisive winner. They were worthy winners and unforgettable nights at Bremen and the San Siro beckoned.
By the strangest quirk of fate it was Crouch’s own-goal in the same fixture the following season that helped City over the line to break their top four cherry.
A schooling at the Lane
Just three games into the 2011/12 season nobody could have predicted the crazy injury-time manner in which City would secure their first league title for 44 years and that’s not because, well, who could have seen that coming? It was also because it necessitated United – or anyone – being within touching distance of the Blues come the season’s end and after this comprehensive schooling of Spurs at the Lane that seemed a ludicrous notion.
With new signings Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri slotting seamlessly into Roberto Mancini’s side this was a fluid and dominant display that was simply on another level to anything witnessed in recent years.
Edin Dzeko bagged four in a 5-1 whitewash, his performance earning high-praise from the infamously hard-to-please Mancini afterwards who called the Serbian hitman ‘perfect’.