Ferguson calls for calm at Anfield ahead of United visit
United manager has written to supporters in appeal for respect ahead of trip to Anfield in which emotions may be raw after Hillsborough report
Alex Ferguson has called for calm ahead of Manchester United's emotionally charged clash with bitter rivals Liverpool today.
United manager Ferguson is well aware that the eyes of the football world will be on Anfield for the 186th instalment of the English game's most volatile grudge match.
The fixture marks Liverpool's first home match since the publication of an explosive report into the Hillsborough disaster which saw 96 of the club's fans killed due to crushing at an FA Cup semi-final in 1989.
Hillsborough remains a hugely sensitive issue for Liverpool fans and feelings are still running high after the report proved that the authorities engaged in a cover-up in a bid to blame the tragedy on drunken supporters. But United fans, who have often taunted their rivals about Hillsborough in the past, engaged in anti-Liverpool chants during last weekend's win over Wigan, raising fears they could do the same today and potentially spark serious crowd disorder.
There is also the potential for another ugly meeting between Liverpool striker Luis Suarez and United defender Patrice Evra.
Suarez served an eight-match ban for racially abusing Evra during a Premier League match at Anfield last October and the pair clashed again when the sides met at Old Trafford later in the season.
With such a tense build-up to the game, Ferguson has written a letter that will be distributed to all United fans at Anfield in which he warned them not to drag the club's name through the mud.
"Our rivalry with Liverpool is based on a determination to come out on top - a wish to see us crowned the best against a team that held that honour for so long," Ferguson wrote.
"It cannot and should never be based on personal hatred. Just 10 days ago, we heard the terrible, damning truth about the deaths of 96 fans who went to watch their team try and reach the FA Cup final and never came back. What happened to them should wake the conscience of everyone connected with the game.
"Our great club stands with our great neighbours Liverpool today to remember that loss and pay tribute to their campaign for justice. I know I can count on you to stand with us in the best traditions of the best fans in the game."
Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers is confident the game will pass off without incident. "There is respect in terms of the traditions of both clubs," he said. "I am sure once we pay the tributes to the families we can get on with the football. A lot of work has been done and hopefully Sunday will pass off peacefully and well and we can talk about the tributes and football."
Meanwhile, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard urged his side to get themselves up for their biggest game so far this season and get Rodgers' first league win.
"For me, it's the biggest game in the world because the Premier League is the biggest league in the world and these are the two most successful clubs," Gerrard said.
"It's a massive game - we're looking for our first league win of the season and there would be no one better for us to get a win against."
United have not won at Liverpool since 2007 and have picked up just a solitary point in their last four visits, as well as crashing out of the FA Cup there last season.
A HISTORY OF UGLY RIVALRY
Teargas horror stuns United
In the 1980s English football was being torn apart by the hooligan gangs that regularly ran riot on the terraces and United's visit to Anfield in February 1986 provoked an especially sinister incident. As United manager Ron Atkinson and his players climbed off their team coach outside Liverpool's stadium and headed towards the dressing rooms they were stunned by a fan wielding a can of tear gas. "We got off the coach and all of a sudden something hit us," Atkinson recalled. "I thought it was fumes off new paint or something, but it was tear gas." United midfielder Clayton Blackmore was so overcome he could not play and the subsequent 1-1 draw was played out in a suitably poisonous atmosphere.
Child's play turns nasty
Over two years into his reign at United, Alex Ferguson was struggling to knock Liverpool from their perch on top of English football. The Scot's frustration boiled over after 3-3 draw at Anfield in April 1988, prompting a scathing response from then Reds boss Kenny Dalglish. Ferguson, incensed by the dismissal of United's Colin Gibson, hinted that referees were biased towards Liverpool when he told reporters that it was no surprise managers "have to leave here choking on their own vomit, biting their tongue, afraid to tell the truth". But Dalglish wasn't daunted by Ferguson's rant and, carrying his baby daughter Lauren past the United manager, he turned and said: "You'll get more sense out of her."
Benitez loses the plot in 'facts' rant
For the first time in years, Liverpool were firmly in the title race in January 2009 and had United in their sights ... until Reds boss Rafael Benitez launched a bizarre verbal blast at Ferguson. Benitez appeared to be cracking under the pressure of battling with Ferguson, a clever manipulator of the media, as he used a press conference to attack the United chief with a series of alleged "facts" about his counterpart's treatment of officials. Benitez claimed Ferguson was "the only manager who will not be punished" for verbally attacking referees. "We had a Respect campaign meeting and I said forget it, because Mr Ferguson is killing the referees," Benitez said. The rant backfired spectacularly as Liverpool lost ground in the title race after his criticisms and it was United who finished as champions again.
Ambulance attack caps ugly Cup clash
When Liverpool defeated United 1-0 in an FA Cup fifth-round tie in February 2006 it was their first win over the old enemy in five attempts. But the mood at Anfield was anything but celebratory. One of the most vile encounters in the long history of their rivalry featured Liverpool fans tipping cups of urine onto United supporters in the seats below them, while coins were thrown at players by both sets of fans, who also chanted sick taunts about the Hillsborough and Munich tragedies. The worst came when United's Alan Smith suffered a broken leg. As Smith was taken to hospital in an ambulance, thugs attacked the vehicle on the streets outside Anfield and an attempt was made to turn it over.
Suarez disgraced after racial slur at Evra
Liverpool striker Luis Suarez was handed an eight-match ban and fined £40,000 for racially abusing United defender Patrice Evra during the clash in October last year at Anfield. Suarez was found to have called Evra a "negro" seven times in the course of the 1-1 draw and was described as "unreliable" and "inconsistent" when he gave evidence to the Football Association's disciplinary hearing. When the two teams met again at Old Trafford in February this year, the festering feud between the players boiled over. Uruguay's Suarez, feeling Evra had made too much of the situation, refused to acknowledge the Frenchman during the pre-match handshake and the United star responded by celebrating in front of his rival after his team's victory.