"Bragging rights" - Manchester-based Reds on what the derby means
“There’s nothing like it, is there? It’s electric.”
The Manchester derby can stir the emotions like few other games. Yes, many Reds would certainly cite our fixtures against Liverpool as the most important, the most nerve-wracking and that with the most febrile atmosphere, but there is something unique about a local derby.
Everyone in football experiences that feeling, whether it’s as a fan of an elite football club, playing your rival school as a kid, or taking on the Sunday league team from the other side of town. Local rivalries retain their importance no matter the form of each side.
In the Premier League, these derbies are hyped up to the maximum, accompanied by a string of montages, dramatic music and everything else. But ultimately, what do these matches mean to supporters in Manchester?
Well, as one Red we spoke to on Wednesday night succinctly summarised it: “Bragging rights.”
Powerleague Ardwick is a five-a-side football centre about a mile from the absolute centre of Manchester. Shirts on display (or under bibs) are not limited to red or blue. Manchester is a rapidly developing city and one people move to from all across England and the rest of the world. We met Leeds fans and Liverpool fans too, Everton and Huddersfield as well, and Bolton and Barcelona, and so on.
There were plenty of Reds, though, and we went about asking what the Manchester derby means to them in 2022.
“It’s electric, isn’t it?” one Rochdale-based United fan explained.
“There’s nothing like it when your side wins. There’s nothing like it when your side loses as well; then you want to keep your head down as much as possible.
“I remember being in a pub with my dad when Rooney scored that overhead kick, that must be 10 years ago or something. That was magical.”
Many offered recollections of watching the games with family and friends, and another key theme that persisted was that idea of bragging rights. That’s what makes a local derby important regardless of the level of the two sides. The fact it’s United v City in the Premier League just means it’s at a bigger level.
One Jamaican Red recited Sir Alex Ferguson’s famous 'noisy neighbours' tagline for City. Another who’d come straight from work in town said: “I love silencing them. It’s class if you win. It sounds a bit tinpot, but I remember back when City could have won the league [in 2018] and we came back from 2-0 down. I was in the Nags Head in town and the atmosphere was just class.”
While City shirts were a little difficult to spot, we did chat to two Blues, both of whom appropriately refused to speak to us. “It’s your chance to slag United off, you can say what you like,” we promised. “I’d never live it down. I’m not going on United TV.” Sounds about right, to be fair.
Days after a derby in Manchester can be miserable for the losing side, although one Yorkshire-born United fan hasn’t experienced that pain yet.
“When I moved to Manchester, everyone said locals support Man City," he said, "but I’ve barely met any Blues!”
They do exist, though, and they can be noisy.
“There’s a group of about 16 of us who are all Reds,” two Chorlton-based lads explained.
“We do have one mate who’s a big City fan, but he’s the only blue so he knows his place. He has been very loud recently, for the past 10 years or so!”
“I’ve got a few mates who are City fans, mostly from work, but they’ve got a no football shirts on dress-down day there to keep us from butting heads.
“It’s a good mix, I’d say. We get along. We’ll see if that lasts after Sunday!”
While there’ll be 50,000 City fans at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, and several thousand United, all across Manchester the derby will be played out within homes and pubs. Families are often split down the middle – we all know the one son or daughter taken over to the dark side by a match going uncle or aunt – and friendships certainly are.
And such is the nature of the derby these days that what means so much to the people of Manchester also means so much to people across the world.
“It’s one of the biggest games in football,” the Jamaican-born Red we spoke to said.
“I supported United in Jamaica before I came here. Everyone looks forward to it, even fans from other clubs, players from other clubs, clubs from different parts of the world. Everyone looks forward to this game.”
He’s right. It’s a global event now, and just as bragging rights will matter at Powerleague Ardwick come Monday, so too will they in towns and cities across the world. But of course, there’s still nowhere where the rivalry is more prevalent than Manchester. There’s nowhere else where you’ll see relentless streams of blue and red striding through town in the week before, but afterwards just the colour of one team: the winner.