This is a story of a boot-room dynasty, a dark lord, and a perch. Or rather it is the story of the story, one that has been hectored into the rest of us for an entire lifetime to the point where resistance became futile.
Want to hear about the legends and mythologies of Liverpool football club ad nauseum? Well, not really no, for while I appreciate their excellence I support another tea…oh you’re off again, nattering and chattering and mythologizing in the pub, through my television screen, and on every book stand and newsagent shelf about how special and unique this club and its supporters are. Brucie’s wobbly legs. Bob’s slippers. THOSE European nights. King Kenny playing (and he could play). The Liverpool bloody way. Enough already.
Want to hear instead all about Manchester United, its illustrious history and how they do what they want? Absolutely not. I was just telling that Liverpool lot….oh God, this is worse than before. The arrogance! The entitlement! The Theatre of Dreams. The Class of 92. That magical night in Barcelona. King Eric. Fergie-time.
This time the relentless lauding was an insufferable hegemony akin to Pravda. Their midfielder who was pretty decent with a free-kick had goldenballs and advertised everything but mostly himself and his marriage. Their manager was venerated to the rafters by a sycophantic and fearful media and consequently his bullying and all-round dearth of class brought him a knighthood. Thirty-million pound signings – back in the day when thirty million really was thirty million – were not derided in the press but rather portrayed as the inevitable next step for an ambitious young player. You don’t turn down Manchester United a subservient press mooed.
It was all getting creepy and very, very weird and there are numerous journalists working today who should hang up their pens for their cowardly ceding to propaganda during United’s era of dominance.
But anyway, I digress. Back to the story.
I will spare you the details as you all know it verbatim. It’s been the soundtrack after all to the past forty years and we’ve all been made to sing along no matter our allegiance. Suffice to say the dominant force in English football was usurped by a north-west rival. That’s it really, bar the odd back and to, a quote about knocking the other off a perch, and a monopoly of silverware.
Except of course the tale didn’t end there because twice a season the two protagonists would meet – the dethroned against the crowned – and a fresh motherlode of hype and melodrama would splatter down on the majority of supporters in the UK whose only involvement in the whole schebang was that we maybe disliked one more than the other. Still we were subjected to the poetry and the guff regardless, as trapped as sitting in the corner of a restaurant yet to be served while at a table nearby a couple rowed loudly and viciously. The worst kind of row too, the one where the past is brought up and the other’s family is badmouthed.
What could we do? These were very prominent people in the town and admittedly they did give good drama.
Prominent they may be but they certainly did push it. This apparently was the M62 Clasico, more fiercely fought and impassioned than any derby. It was – cliché klaxon – the ‘biggest game in English football’.
We tolerated their bluster, rolled our eyes, and tuned in to see if anyone got sent off.
Now though we don’t have to tolerate it any longer. Now the Liverpool v Manchester United grudge-match no longer has the relevancy nor statue to justify being the centre of the universe. Rejoice in the streets of Carlisle, Plymouth, Norwich and Bristol. We can finally tell them to SHUT UP AND STOP BORING US WITH YOUR ARROGANT BELIEF THAT YOUR PERFECTLY NORMAL RIVALRY IS THE BE ALL AND END ALL OF FOOTBALL.
Why? Because neither are a superpower anymore plain and simple. In terms of fanbase that most definitely remains the case – which is why Sky will be hyping this Saturday’s game up to the heavens – but in reality, on the pitch?
Liverpool have never won the title in the Premier League era and when they last did so Jordan Henderson’s dad was suggesting an early night to Mrs Henderson. More damning still the past six years has seen them finish higher than sixth on a single occasion. Even then books were devoted to it. Actual books.
United meanwhile may have been crowned as champions three seasons ago during Ferguson’s last harrumph but their attempt to buy their way out of his retirement slump has patently failed. Even by Van Gaal’s own admission their sole aim this term is to secure a Champion’s League spot, an aspiration they share with Spurs and, you’ve guessed it, Liverpool. This despite the Dutchman spending over a quarter of a billion pounds since his arrival.
This past week has seen a litany of former greats from each club come out and state that Manchester United v Liverpool remains the biggest game in English football. Do they not realise that by virtue of having to say such a thing it completely undermines their point? I would even suggest it is not the biggest game this month – that was at the Etihad on August 16th when one title contender and present superpower Manchester City brushed aside another title contender and superpower Chelsea.
The M62 Clasico then has gone from a Hollywood blockbuster to Whatever Happened To Baby Jane; two fading stars squabbling over former glories. From a pair of cocksure prizefighters in their prime trading blows it now has the look of two bald men fighting over a comb. A few Singapore daytrippers aside it has diminished from global to parochial and I would suggest that the public no longer cares but it was only ever two sets of supporters who ever really did.
So sssh to both of you, or at least talk among yourselves. There are teams trying to win the league here.