Rejoicing in joy of the real English derby

Y’SEE?! Y’SEE?! Now you can understand why I always pour so much pre-hype into these encounters.

Never mind yer Glasgows (too sectarian), Liverpools (too incestuous) or Milans (too poncey): when all the combustible ingredients are properly mixed, there’s nothing like Manchester aflame anywhere on planet football.

I previewed Sunday last week as ‘the first Manchester derby in memory that the whole world wants to see’ and I am parochially thrilled that our city collectively produced such absurdly dramatic entertainment.

Better, even, than the ‘McIlroy’ or ‘McClair’ 3-3s of yore? Or the mad 4-3 season-closer at Maine Road in 1971? Probably. Indeed, I can’t remember the last time any United match so thoroughly fulfilled my every hope.

And, hand on heart, I’d have said that even if it had finished 3-3, as it probably should have if justice had been in charge of its destiny. But it wasn’t: Owen and Giggs were, and their 96th minute coup de grace cruelty will be recounted for as long as Old Trafford stands. Not that there was nothing in the game to worry about; far, far from it. But we’ll return to carping next week. For now, rejoice, rejoice.

Naturally, the media will continue to bang on all week about the myriad incidents that “marred” the match but, for most of us, they were thoroughly enjoyable enhancements: this is what derbies were like in the good old days and it is wonderful to see a full resurrection of bad-tempered, missile-hurling naughtiness.

Old hands fondly recall the all-pitch melees of the late 70s, or the comical fisticuffs that once led to marching orders for Mike Doyle and Lou Macari. And then there’s the crowd aggression, eagerly retold by now-ageing combatants, such as the Battle Of The North Stand in 1989 or the Manchester Mayhem of 1974.

This is what derbies ought to be about, just as much as ridiculously ding-dong football.

The only incident on Sunday that one could truly say was disgraceful, and should have had no part in a Manc derby, was Craig Bellamy’s revolting punching of a pitch-invading fan.

You can clearly see on all the photos that the lad is being firmly held by stewards, is totally under control, and thus defenceless. This, then, is the precise moment when Bellamy decides he can be brave enough to give him a hefty smack.

Hughes, meanwhile, continues to defend all his miscreants and has apparently supervised a ‘dossier’ detailing all the referee’s supposed faults during Sunday’s game. Hmm: blindness, defending the indefensible, compiling dodgy dossiers — one wonders from which former managerial mentor he could’ve learned all that….

The upshot? The fan is to appear at Trafford Magistrates, where he will face the unfair double jeopardy of both heavy-handed criminal sanctions and a battery of football-related bans. And Bellamy? The odds must be 1/10 that the rumoured police enquiry amounts to nothing, and the FA apply some merely token sanction. Bah humbug.

Now that the blood’s up, what better place to be going this weekend than Stoke, home of one of England’s more notorious firms and, it has to be admitted, probably the most vocal crowd pro-rata in the league.

Last week, they came up with the best chant of the season so far, serenading Chelsea with “You’re Not Signing Anymore”, a rare example of a terrace song that’s as chucklesome in (trompe-l’oeil) typeset as when sung. Peter Boyle has his work cut out.

Post-match is likely to be, umm, ‘lively’ — so watch your step if you’re making the trip, as street-smarts will be required. Certainly, if you have more money than sense, you’d be better off going to tonight’s pointless League Cup encounter instead.


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