Let’s get this nonsense over and done with.
Now that I’ve drawn you in with my shouty hyperbole about what is still (somewhat laughably) described as the biggest game in the country, I’ll expand further.
I hate playing United. Always have done. Ever since I’ve been going to matches, the clash was saddled with wretched excess and inexcusably poor behaviour across the spectrum.
I’ve heard all the arguments; about how in a sanitised age it’s a relief seeing something which doesn’t conform to modern etiquette, a reminder of how football once was.
Spare me. A sepia-tinged view of how football ‘once was’ only gets to inhale and exhale because of the obvious parallel nausea with rampant commercialism and fans getting ripped off every which way. That doesn’t make the past an oasis of splendour, far from it.
Maybe I’d feel better, less allergic to this fixture’s toxic charms, if we were good at it. I agreed to write these words on condition that two wouldn’t get mentioned; O** Tr*ff**d.
We mock City for their Anfield woes and can face Everton anywhere (with anyone!) in the three-quarter-knowledge we’ll come out on top. In the theatre of dreams, only nightmares ensue.
So let’s focus on Anfield, where we can occasionally get to grips with our nemesis. I say “occasionally”, because that’s also dependent upon fate and rarely kind to Liverpool.
In this century alone, we’ve had Dudek and Forlan (triggeringfive defeats in the next six), a John O’Shea last-kick winner with 10 men, a last-minute Van Persie penalty, Evra and Suarez, Gerrard sent off in 40 seconds and (worst of all) we let Jesse Lingard score.
That’s nothing compared to the 1980’s. As Liverpool dominated English and European football, guess who didn’t lose a league game at Anfield for eight years? The songs and fights increased in savagery, and anyone with any degree of perspective sighed as what was supposed to be a game spiralled rapidly out of control.
Like those tannoy announcements to sit down during games, plans to bring us together — or at least try to summon a slither of humanity — have often been half-hearted and farcical.
Check out the cities’ respective news websites. You’d be forgiven for thinking you were reading the wrong one, such is the frequency by which loathing of the other is conjured.
Manchester City cash-splashing their way into the fray hasn’t altered anything, it’s just happening on two levels now.
But back to football, such as it is. Even when Liverpool emerge victorious, there’s often something spawny about it. Two deflected shots from Shaqiri saw us win last time, before that there was a European win featuring a United performance so abject it was almost impossible to celebrate. Almost (and we still needed a penalty).
The modern history of the fixture can be headlined thus; feast or famine. For two decades Liverpool lorded it over football while United chased their pitiful holy grail and fumed.
Then there was another 20 years of one team winning it all the time while the other seethed, loudly and scurrilously. As Klopp began to revitalise Liverpool’s fortunes, it was almost Newtonian how affairs along the M62 disintegrated with equal force.
That still doesn’t affect the games, however. When we played at their place, on our way to an incredible 97 points, you couldn’t tell which team was chasing the title and which was the also-ran.
This season, we’ve only dropped two points. You didn’t need a crystal ball to figure out where.
Having sat through some of their most recent matches, it’s been painful; dull and embarrassing. Already some of our lot are rubbing their hands gleefully, predicting onslaught and ignominy.
Wiser (maybe), older (definitely) heads shake sadly with decades of such similar thoughts growing mouldy over time. They seem happier to play the underdog lately, swallowing their pride in order to salvage something, anything from their current mess.
The Liverpool motto for this and every other clash with them should be; forever wary. You’ve probably all laughed heartily and repeatedly about Ole being “at the wheel”. As a Liverpool fan, who stood in their old scoreboard end in 1990 and sang “Fergie must stay”, you’ll have to excuse me for not joining in the merriment.
Maybe it’s the ultimate compliment; no matter what state they’re in and no matter how good we are, you can never let your guard down.
Will it ever be normal between us? Probably not. You sing about people dying in an airplane crash, and you can’t go back to civility anymore. True, plenty of United fans have entered the fetid fray with sickening relish.
You could chastise them with a simple reminder that a bitter man rots from within, but what’s the point? We’re all of us stuck in this cesspit, whether we like it or not.
Back and forth it goes, over whether a particular song is really about Hillsborough or not, or if a city with its own chronic poverty and homeless levels should really be singing so frequently and virulently about anybody else’s.
For those who can reduce it all to a simple game, nothing will be determined on Sunday. Good news for the visitors will provide a distraction from a multitude of problems, and it wouldn’t or ought not to distract the league leaders from the more important task in hand.
Their post-Ferguson collapse isn’t a surprise. It happened after Busby too, while socialist Liverpool’s management by committee ensured that a giant like Shankly would not cast a dark shadow over any mere mortal trying to follow him.
Their wealth and stature will see them return to the top table in some way. It always unnerved the dominant Reds of the 1980s. However good we’d become, there was always a twitch in the eyelid whenever we thought of the sleeping giant 30 miles away finally waking up.
I suppose they’ve always thought that about us too, though they’ve never admitted it.
As Klopp’s new conquerors try to write themselves new chapters, there’ll always be a page or two for an old adversary, however irrelevant they currently seem.