By Ritchie Slack (@Slack_9)
I was born in 1987. I love sport and the competitive nature it brings: I played rugby and competed in Judo but the main sport I followed was football. My family are mostly from Liverpool, so as a child the only real choices in supporting a football team were either Liverpool or Everton. I could have supported where my father is from, Peterborough, but where’s the fun in that?! Most of my family support the blues of Merseyside, leaving only myself and one of my uncles supporting Liverpool.
That means my childhood, growing up in the 90s and the 00s, not only did most of my own family like to mock Liverpool’s draught of a league title, so did my friends throughout my school years. All the way throughout my school years. To compound matters and misery further, a good amount of my friends also support Manchester United. In regards to sports fans, those who are on top sing loudest. I, along with many others had to suffer and endure 13 league titles won by Manchester United: that’s a lot of singing!
“My greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their f*cking perch. And you can print that.”Sir Alex Ferguson
Under Sir Alex Ferguson the Red Devils dominated domestically and in Europe; there is no way of denying that, I have tried. United became the biggest club in the world under Ferguson: they won back-to-back league titles, champions league titles and world titles. They attracted the biggest names in football and their academy provided even better ones. Eric Cantona, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney all came through the doors of Old Trafford and proved to be superstars capable of leading the Red half of Manchester to glory. They added to the ranks of academy products of the famous Class of ’92, the formidable and relentless youth of Nicky Butt, Gary Neville, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. Sir Alex Ferguson vowed and promised to come down from Scotland and ‘knock Liverpool off their perch’, and he did. There were ‘almost’ moments for Liverpool along the way; Benitez and Rodgers came closest, but alas, it was not close enough. We Liverpool fans were doomed to grieve and be mocked on the playground, in pubs, in WhatsApp groups and on Twitter. How I hated those years.
Now don’t get me wrong, I despise Manchester United. In fact, some days I don’t know whether I feel more strongly about my love and devotion towards Liverpool Football Club, or my hatred and resentment of Manchester United F.C. I guess the feeling is mutual. However, what I will begrudgingly admit to, is that I respect Manchester United. I respect the fact that they are a proper footballing side who have done the majority of things right in the footballing world. They changed the landscape of the game by making a football club a commercial commodity. The income they have generated over the years through sponsorships, worldwide tours, merchandise and revenue changed the world of sport by globalising and branding a football team. Still to this day their academy is utilised well, with the likes of Scott McTominay, Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams coming through the ranks to make up their squad. Manchester United don’t always buy success like their noisy neighbours Man City or Chelsea have done in the past, they create it. That is where my respect and slight appreciation for United comes from, and where it ends.
This fixture goes beyond January 17th and the upcoming showdown of the immortals; people will tell you about the great managers in past eras such as Matt Busby, Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley; the legends of George Best, Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush or Bobby Charlton. That’s because the history of the English game is Liverpool and Man Utd. They are the two most successful clubs in England. They have won the most top division titles and the most Champions League titles; this rivalry has been, and always will be, the greatest rivalry in English football, nothing else comes close. There have been clubs along the way: The Arsenal Invincibles had a bitter rivalry with United; then came Chelski and Ambrovich’s millions; and now we see City enter the fray with Abu Dhabi billions to try and topple these two superpowers. But always, whenever I look at the fixture list, if I am picking a team to take six points off, I am choosing Man Utd every day of the week, and I know most of their fans will say the same. Both teams have bitter rivals even within their own cities in Everton and Man City respectively, and whilst these are games neither Liverpool or United want to lose, the biggest, most monumental game, most important game is Liverpool vs Man Utd.
But, in the darkness of the 90s and 00s, there were glimpses of light for Liverpool fans: the Michael Owen cup final, the 2001 treble, Istanbul, 2006 FA Cup Final, Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, and the brightest light, Jurgen Klopp.
This is why the past few years have been so sweet for Liverpool fans. Champions League glory, Premier League brilliance, unrelenting and unswerving performances over many seasons have Liverpool well and truly, back on their perch. Manchester United however, are the antithesis of success, they have fallen away from the title picture over the past decade ever since Sir Alex retired. They have lost their way and misplaced their identity. Over the years we have seen eye-widening transfer fees splashed around irresponsibly in order to catch up with Liverpool and Man City. Pogba, Maguire, Lukaku, Di Maria and Fred are some names which are associated with high transfer fees and minimal pay off. Of course, some of these players are still at the club, but have yet to live up to their price tag in terms of delivering precious silverware, to a club with a vast trophy cabinet. Man Utd fans have had a taste of what it was like to support Liverpool in the years gone by. The heart bleeds…
“You’ve got the two most successful clubs in the country and the rivalry is huge because of how close the clubs are and all the battles we’ve had over the years. If you ask any fan or player to pick a game they’d like to win, you look for United.”Steven Gerrard
However, United have seemingly begun to believe again, from #OLEOUT to #OLESATTHEWHEEL in the space of a year, my Man Utd friends are starting to sing again. There is no denying that there has been a resurgence in Manchester’s red half, with Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, and, at times, Anthony Martial finding form – United are starting to look more like a team who can win more often than they lose. Troubling times perhaps for Liverpool fans who have been proud to call themselves once again ‘England’s most successful football club.’ Whilst this is no eulogy of the great side Jurgen Klopp has built, it is perhaps a very (very) slight tip of the hat to where United find themselves in the league this season (albeit only halfway through).
Given this supposed resurrection of YANITED, this upcoming game is once more, a battle within the endless war between these two teams. Over the years this game has produced so many iconic moments in football: the Cantona return, Torres vs Vidic, Gerrard kissing the camera, Gerrard coming on for 50 seconds and then being red carded and sent straight back off, Martin Tyler screaming Martial’s name when he scored on his debut (impartial, of course), Coutinho’s chip past De Gea, Dossena’s lob, Forlan’s brace, O’Shea’s winner, and most recently, Shaqiri’s double to end the Jose Mourinho reign. And of course, THAT Mohammed Salah goal and the resounding roar from the Kop bellowing ‘we’re gonna win the league’ that followed the breakaway goal – and we did.
And yet this game, at this moment, feels most iconic of all.
Manchester United fans and ex-players were begging for last season to be null and voided in the first lockdown; they are demonstrating a different plea in this third one. We see you Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand.
This colossal forthcoming fixture is seismic beyond proportions; it is the game where the winner takes not only top spot, but also bragging rights over their bitter rivals. It is a chance for Liverpool to put Manchester United back in the shadows. For #LOLEIN to trend once again. Liverpool can end the threat that so many United fans are claiming that they are. The chance to vanquish the Devils at Anfield would put a sizable dent in their so-called title credentials, and their claim that they are back amongst the elite.
The fixture this time around feels much bigger than it has done in years, in honesty, ever since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson. There is no doubt that Liverpool have been the better team since Ferguson left and Jurgen Klopp came in, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is certainly believing that he is the messiah, the man to lift United from the obscurities they have been thrust into for the best part of a decade. Knowing that, this fixture feels as any Liverpool vs Manchester United game should do; this is war. But in reality, it always has been, and at its conclusion it’ll end in tears for one team; as such things always do.
Up the Reds, stay safe, YNWA.