United fans’ dismay is City fans’ delight in Manchester football’s ever-turning wheel of fortune
- Pep Guardiola’s men are very much in the ascendancy
- Manchester United supporters have witnessed the club’s worst start to a season in 28 years
There’s a fury in Manchester and it isn’t just Tyson, the heavyweight boxer who wants a WBC title rematch with Deontay Wilder at Old Trafford.
United fans are fuming because their team is enduring its worst start to a Premier League season for 28 years. England’s biggest club is enveloped in a smog of confusion, with more finger-pointing than a Brexit discussion in Britain’s Houses of Parliament. The club will find their way out of the haze, but the cloud remains thick, the solutions obscured.
That rivals Liverpool and Manchester City are prospering only ramps up the frustration. Both are unbeaten, with Liverpool 14 points clear of United after 14 games and City 16 points clear. Writing such a sentence would have been unimaginable for most of the last 25 years.
There is no comfort in statistics. City have scored 43 goals and conceded only six; United have scored 22 and conceded 23. City, with magnificent players like Raheem Sterling, David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne – and coach Josep Guardiola – have a better goal difference after 14 games than last season when they broke the goal difference record.
United’s terrible season by their standards could yet be rescued but hopes are slim and everyone knows that City are the team of the moment.
I’ve never hid my allegiances so I cannot say I’m delighted by City’s excellence, but I’ve seen friends go from watching a laughable team to watching the favourites for this season’s Champions League.
I always respected those friends because whatever happened, they stuck by their team. They came from a part of Manchester close to Old Trafford which had more United fans, but they followed City regardless when the gap between the two clubs was often vast. When United went to Turin to win the 1999 Champions League semi-final, City travelled to Gillingham in England’s third tier.
We wouldn’t speak much about football because we’d find so little agreement, but United fans did not go easy on City when they were down. No, they kicked them and mocked them and humiliated them. We called their fan base bitter, chided them for coming from the mill towns around Manchester and not the city itself and laughed how every new City signing called them a “massive club”.
When City-supporting author Colin Schindler wrote his book Man United Ruined My Life, the title was inspired by United’s then perennial supremacy.
I do feel grateful that United were so good that I saw the world off the back of their brilliance and it’s still happening: I saw my team beat Juventus away less than a month ago. Had I been born in, say, Carlisle, and supported Carlisle United, that wouldn’t have happened.
This is not United’s time. The Spanish believe that football goes in cycles, and the wheel has certainly turned at Old Trafford. One of the three biggest clubs in the world is falling behind City in the league at a rate of more than a point a game.
It would be hilarious if United won the Champions League this season because no one expects its, just as it was hilarious when United came from 2-0 down to beat City 3-2 and stop them winning the league in April. When you’re down, you cling to these moments of joy amid the adversity.
The City fans I know feel like they’re being rewarded for a life of misery. They feel like they’ve won the lottery with their ownership pumping in over a billion dollars. But they’d still be there if they were mid-table in the second or third tier. They just would, because supporting a football team is about far more than watching them win.
But success brings big changes. You see City shirts about now – in Manchester, Mumbai or Macau. City have fast become what they said they despised United for. My friends do miss aspects of their good old, bad, old, days, but they don’t miss getting hammered in almost every single Manchester derby. And they absolutely love it that United fans are furious.
Friends take their kids to games now, taking advantage of City’s cheap season tickets and they say things like: ‘He’s been going for two years and has yet to see us lose’. If that’s normal for a kid then they’re only going to be disappointed when it’s not.
In football’s eternal ebb and flow it’s usually the biggest clubs who come back strongest, like Juventus now or the Real Madrid team who couldn’t get past the Champions League last-16 in eight successive seasons between 2004 and 2010 but have won four of the last five.
City’s start to the season is the second best in Premier League history. Their start last season was better, when they won 19 and drew one of their opening 20 league games.
They look unstoppable, just as they did a year ago, but they couldn’t come close to matching those great United sides when the pressure was on in the Spring. City have never won a league and FA Cup double and they haven’t come close to a treble. So there.