Manchester Derby: Manchester United v Manchester City Rivalry & History

Manchester United v Manchester CityFor many years the success of the two Manchester Clubs had been a one-sided affair. Whilst Manchester United were developing into a global brand with years of trophy laden seasons under Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester City were often struggling, even being relegated down to the third tier of English football.

All this changed when City took on new investment, firstly by Thaksin Shinawatra and then by Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Mansour. This prompted a changing of the tide, with Manchester City now the dominant force.

For fans on both the red and blue sides of the city, the derby has always been a special occasion with some memorable moments over the years. Who will have the bragging rights after the next instalment?

Map of Man City & Man United Stadiums

Map of Man City & Man United Stadiums

About the Manchester Derby

Manchester Town HallAs discussed in other pieces on this site, there are different types of rivalries that crop up in football. Some of them are based around the success of the two clubs involved, with the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea playing each other so often in the major competitions during the era of Rafa Benitez on Merseyside and José Mourinho at Stamford Bridge that that sense of familiarity really did breed contempt.

The most obvious reason for two teams to hate each other, though, comes when they’re based in the same city, which is the case here. Old Trafford and the City of Manchester Stadium are just four miles away from each other on opposite sides of the city, meaning that derby days allow supporters to head to their usual pre-match haunts before travelling into the heart of the enemy.

When it comes to the biggest derbies around the country, it’s not just a matter of two teams fighting for local pride. More often than not they also see families split asunder, with mothers and sons and brothers and sisters finding themselves on opposite sides of the aisle for ninety minutes plus stoppage time twice a season.

If the two clubs end up facing each other in a cup competition then tensions are heightened just that little bit further, given that league matches always offer the chance for revenge in a way that one off games simply don’t. An obvious question to ask when looking at the Manchester derby is whether or not there’s more to the mutual dislike than simply the geographical location of the two sides involved. Does history tells us as much about the rivalry as where the two clubs are located?

The History of the Two Clubs

When you find yourself talking about two teams from the same city it’s always interesting to explore how they both came about in the first place. After all, rarely are the two clubs formed at the same time, which begs the question: why was there a need for a second one in the same location after the first one had been created?

Manchester United

Newton Heath Football Team 1892-1893

Newton Heath Football Team 1892-1893 via Wikimedia Commons

The Carriage and Wagon department of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway founded a club called Newton Heath LYR Football Club in 1878. Initially formed to play matches against other departments of the railway companies based in the area, the club wore the green and gold colours of the LYR.

They didn’t play their first competitive match until 1880 when they lost 6-0 to the reserve team of Bolton Wanderers. In the years that followed they began to take the sport more seriously, helping to create the regional league The Combination in 1888. That only lasted a year but Newton Heath had a taste for a more serious form of competition and so joined the Football Alliance when it was created in 1889.

They continued playing when the Football Alliance merged with the Football League and found themselves in the First Division in 1892.

Though they’d dropped the ‘LYR’ from their name by that stage and were no longer associated with the railway company, the club was having financial difficulties and in 1902 were served with a winding-up order. A group of local businessmen came to the rescue, each happy to put £500 towards the club as long as they got a say in how it was run.

As a consequence, a decision was taken to rename the team as Manchester United Football Club. In 1906 they returned to the top-flight, having been relegated to the Second Division in 1895, and they won their first title two years later. In 1909 they followed their first title up with their first FA Cup trophy, winning the title again two years later. All of that was under the managerial talent of Ernest Mangnall, but the club was to endure their first loss to their ‘noisy neighbours’ when Mangall left to join Manchester City in 1912.

Whilst those early wins got the club on the map, it wasn’t until the appointment of Matt Busby as manager that they truly began to take off. In a revolutionary move for a manager at the time, Busby demanded control over the likes of player transfers, team selections and the training sessions that they carried out, taking the club to consecutive second place finishes in the First Division between 1947 and 1949, winning the title for the first time in more than four decades in 1952.

Busby’s success was to be something of a pre-cursor for a manager who would demand ultimate control and reward the club’s faith in him years later. Busby’s era is perhaps best known for the tragedy that befell the club in the sixth of February in 1958 when twenty-three people including eight players died on their way back from a European Cup quarter-final over Red Star Belgrade.

Despite the tragedy, Busby helped to rebuild the club’s playing squad by signing exciting young talent like Denis Law and George Best, winning another FA Cup in 1963, having also won it in 1948, and reclaiming the league title in 1965 and 1967. They then did something no other English club had achieved when they won the European Cup in 1968, leading Busby to retire a year later.

United struggled to replace the legendary manager and he was even persuaded to briefly come out of retirement when they finished eighth in 1970 and started the following season badly. Though they reached the FA Cup final in 1976 and then won it in 1977, the club didn’t really enjoy any consistent success until Ron Atkinson was appointed manager in 1981. He went about spending huge sums of money to return them to the top of the game, breaking the British transfer record on Bryan Robson. It was a tactic that worked, with Atkinson leading the club to two FA Cups in three years.

Though Atkinson did plenty to restore the club’s reputation, when United found themselves in danger of relegation in November of 1986 it was decided that his time at the club was up. He was replaced by a relatively unknown Scot named Alex Ferguson who led them to a second place finish in his second season in charge.

They dropped down to eleventh the next year and the Scot was reportedly on the verge of getting the sack when he won the FA Cup in 1990, beating Crystal Palace in a replay. Allowing him to stay on would prove to be an era-defining decision from the United board, with the Scot going on to win thirteen Premier League titles, five FA Cups, four League Cups and two Champions League trophies. United fans are quick to point out that he won more on his own than Manchester City have won as a football team.

Manchester City

St Mark's Football Team 1884
St Mark's Football Team 1884 via Wikimedia Commons

Given that Manchester United existed in 1880, albeit as Newton Heath, was there really a need to create another football club in the city? There was according to the members of St. Mark's Church of England in the West Gorton Area of the city, creating the club that would go on to be Manchester City mainly for humanitarian reasons.

St. Mark's (West Gorton) was formed in order to give the members of the church’s cricket club something to do in the winter months, hoping to reduce the amount of gang violence and alcoholism that was common in the local area at the time. East Manchester suffered a high rate of unemployment at the time and so the church opened the new football club up to all-comers, irrespective of their religious beliefs.

As happened with their city rivals, the club lost its first game of any note when they placed a side from a church in Macclesfield. In fact, they would only win one match during their debut season, which was a win over Stalybridge Clarence. The club continued to play, though, and they soon found themselves in the Second Division of the Football League.

Such was the ability of the squad that they had amassed that they gained promotion to the First Division in 1899, with their rise continuing thanks to their FA Cup victory over Bolton Wanderers in 1904 to lift their second major honour after the Second Division title five years before. Having renamed themselves as Manchester City in 1894, the club had hoped that the FA Cup win would spur them on to greater things. Instead, they were hit with accusations of financial irregularity and in 1906 saw the club captain defect to Manchester United.

Maine Road Football Stadium in 1985

Maine Road Football Stadium by Cjc13 Wikimedia Commons

There was gradual improvement for City in the years that followed, perhaps encouraged by the move to a purpose-built stadium at Maine Road in 1923, three years after the main stand at their previous ground had been destroyed by fire. 

The 1930s would prove to be a successful decade for the club, losing in the FA Cup final to Everton in 1933 but then beating Portsmouth to win the trophy the following year. Three years later and they would win the biggest prize of all when they lifted the First Division title for the first time. Remarkably, and in a sign of what was to come in the future, they were immediately relegated the following season.

They would take their time to recover, but two decades after their last consecutive FA Cup final appearances they repeated the trick; in fact, it was a carbon copy of their 1930s exploits when they lost the first final to Newcastle United in 1955 but won the second against Birmingham City the following year.

City would go on to win their second top-flight title in 1968 after a decade or so of mixed results, including them plunging into the Second Division in 1963. The title win would prove to be the catalyst for something of a resurgence, winning the FA Cup in 1969 and the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1970.

They maintained their good run into the 1970s and that included a famous win over United on the last day of the 1973-1974 season. United needed to win in order to avoid relegation from the top-flight but were thwarted by their former player Denis Law, who scores a back heel goal at Old Trafford to send United down. The decades that followed were punctuated with a lack of success for City, meaning that that win over United ended up being a bright spot in an otherwise dark time. This culminated in their relegation to the third tier of English football in 1998.

For all of City’s yo-yoing between divisions, something was about to happen to the club that would change their fortune, literally. They gradually made their way back to the top-flight, thanks in no small part to the attacking football introduced by Kevin Keegan, moving to the City of Manchester Stadium, later renamed The Etihad because of sponsorship, in 2003.

Five years later, at a time when City were in a financially tricky position, the club was bought by the Abu Dhabi United Group. The influx of money to the club saw them spend fortunes in attempting to return to the top of the league, including breaking the British transfer record for Real Madrid’s Robinho for £32.5 million. It was a sign of things to come, with the Cityzens going on to spend hundreds of millions of pounds, eventually winning their first major trophy since 1976 when they won the FA Cup in 2011. The club also won the title for the first time in more than forty years at the expense of Manchester United in 2012.

Changing Fortunes in the Boardroom

The story of the history of the two clubs is interesting, with Manchester United being formed by workers at a railway company and Manchester City being created in order to give those out of work something to do with their time. That is perhaps reflected in the fact that United were always the more successful of the two teams and City often the also-rans, up until the point that Sheikh Mansour and the Abu Dhabi United Group took over the club and began to pile money into it.

This ‘financial doping’, similar to what the Premier League had witnessed at Stamford Bridge, saw the club shoot to the top of the pile and finally begin to rival their neighbour on a consistent basis. Indeed, in the years that followed Alex Ferguson’s retirement from United, City finished above them consistently.

It’s interesting that Manchester City’s period of dominance over their arch rivals came at a time when the two clubs were in virtually opposite situations when it came to boardroom stability. The Abu Dhabi United Group bought the club from Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Prime Minister of Thailand who had his assets frozen in the wake of his government being overthrown by a military coup.

The takeover saw the club move to a financial footing that it would only have been able to dream of previously, ploughing money into the purchase of players with wild abandon. Manchester United, meanwhile, had been purchased by the American businessman Malcolm Glazer in 2005. It cost him around £790 million to buy the club and the responsibly for running it fell to his sons Joel and Avram after he suffered a stroke in 2006.

The appointment of Glazer was not a universally popular one with the Manchester United fans and protests soon began amongst the supporters. Tuning in to watch a game featuring the Red Devils, you would often see people wearing green and gold scarves, the colours of the club back from the days when it was Newton Heath.

Part of the reason it was such an unpopular thing was because he had mainly used loans to purchase the club, securing them against the club’s own assets and having to make payments of more than £60 million per year on said loans. He also used what are known as Payment In Kind loans that were sold to hedge funds, holding them against the company he’d used to buy Manchester United, Red Football Planet Joint Venture, which meant that they were also indirectly held against the club. In their first five years of owning the club they did not pay down any of the loans, resulting in the debt increasing.

At the same time as the protests swirled around Old Trafford, Sheikh Mansour was in the process of buying Manchester City and pouring money into the playing squad. Manchester United continued to win trophies thanks to the knowledge and experience of Alex Ferguson, but the state of the two clubs behind the scenes were markedly different.

As the Abu Dhabi Group were spending millions improving every aspect of the Cityzens, from the playing squad to the training ground and youth set-up, the Glazers continued to use Manchester United’s earnings to pay off debts on the loans that they themselves had taken out in the first place. In 2009, for example, the debits for the final three months of the year totaled in excess of £500 million.

Critics of Manchester City’s new ownership would be quick to point out that all was not rosey behind-the-scenes for them, either. Whilst Sheikh Mansour, the man nominally cited as the owner, barely attends the matches, no one really minds as long as the money keeps coming in.

The truth is that the club is actually owned and operated by Mansour’s brother, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. One of the Manchester City Directors is a man named Simon Pearce who used to work for the public relations company Burson-Marsteller, which once earned the tagline, “when evil needs public relations, evil has Burson-Marsteller on speed-dial”. In other words, there are questions to be asked about the men behind the money at Manchester City, but they’re questions that neither the club’s fans nor football in general are all that keen on asking for fear of finding an unpalatable answer.

As long as Manchester City keep doing the job on the pitch then there won’t be too much to be worried about for the supporters off it, which is what has caused many of the problems for their neighbours. After Alex Ferguson retired, United continued to win silverware but initially failed to challenge for the Premier League, in part thanks to the success of their rivals.

Such was the level of the protests about the purchase of the club by the Glazers that a group of supporters even went as far as to form an entirely new club called FC United of Manchester, which went on to become the largest fan-owned club in England, playing in competitions such as the FA Cup and the FA Trophy.

The big question for the Manchester United fans who didn’t turn their back on the club after the Glazers took it over is at what point the balance of power in the city will shift from the red side to the blue one. Do Manchester City need to win as many titles as their neighbours managed in order to be considered to be more successful? Or is the fact that they’ve been the dominant force in English football ever since Sheikh Mansour bought the club enough to mean that they should be taken more seriously by the club that has long looked down upon them? Certainly it’s added even more spice to a fixture that barely needed it in the first place.

Classic Matches

As you might well imagine, there have been a number of thrilling games between the two sides over the years, with local pride as well as points being what they’ve had to play for. You’ve already learned about the time that Denis Law scored a back heel goal for Manchester City on the final day of the season to relegate his former club, but what else has happened over the years?

The Match After the Champions League Exit

Manchester United tumbled out of the Champions League at the hands of Turkish side Galatasaray in 1993, with a tough derby game at Maine Road to play just four days later. City’s fans were keen to rub their rivals’ noses in it and things got even better for them when Niall Quinn scored two first-half goals to give them a seemingly insurmountable lead before the break.

Two-nil is often called the most dangerous score in football, however, and two goals from Eric Cantona brought the away side back into the game before Roy Keane struck a winner three minutes before the whistle. United would go on to win a league and cup Double for the first time that season.

The High-Scoring Derby

Having spent more than £100 million in the summer of 2009, Manchester City went into the Old Trafford derby of the 2009-2010 season believing that they had a genuine chance of challenge the Red Devils for the title.

There was extra spice involved when City bought former United player Carlos Tevez, but it was Wayne Rooney that gave the home side the lead. Gareth Barry equalised for the visitors, only for Darren Fletcher to score twice and restore United’s lead. Craig Bellamy then scored a brace in what was developing into a true ding-dong battle, but there’s a reason a huge amount of stoppage time is referred to as ‘Fergie Time’ in football and Ferguson’s men took all three points thanks to former Liverpool striker Michael Owen finding the back of the net. This was the game for which the phrase ‘noisy neighbours’ was coined by the United manager.

The Seven Goal Battering

For Manchester City fans, to say nothing of supporters of many other clubs in the Premier League, there must have been nothing sweeter than hearing Alex Ferguson referring to his ‘worst ever day’. When news emerged before the game of a firework having exploded in the home of City forward Mario Balotelli many would have been forgiven for thinking that United would walk the game at Old Trafford against their distracted neighbours.

Instead, the Italian striker scored the opening goal of the game and revealed a t-shirt underneath his top that said ‘Why Always Me?’ When United defender Jonny Evans was sent off the away team sensed blood and went on to win 6-1, with the goal difference making all the difference at the end of the season.

The End of Season Classic

The most memorable day of the 2011-2012 season was the final one, during which Manchester City needed to win in order to win the title for the first time in four decades but were 1-0 down going into stoppage time, leading United players to celebrate on the pitch at their game only for City to score twice in the closing moments of their game to snatch the title from their neighbours’ grasp.

It wouldn’t have been possible had they not beaten the Red Devils at The Etihad the month before, sneaking it 1-0 thanks to a Vincent Kompany header. Having trailed United by eight points three weeks before, taking the title on goal difference felt all the sweeter.