x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

No 19 has fresh currency at Anfield

Now that the tables have been turned with Manchester United's 19th title, Liverpool fans don't gloat any more.

United fans celebrate title No 19.
United fans celebrate title No 19.

A walk across Stanley Park, the long, dilapidated Victorian stretch of green which separates Liverpool's Anfield home from Everton's Goodison Park, is not for the faint-hearted if you support Manchester United.

A casual request for the time is fraught with danger as it could reveal a Manchester accent in the heartlands of the enemy. Peace is usually maintained thanks to the Merseyside police, but trouble is not always prevented.

The walk from the stadium to the coaches carrying most of the 3,000 travelling supporters in April 1992 was a low point as a United fan. I had just watched the team I support lose the league title after leading the table for much of the season.

United had not won a single title since 1967 and I was convinced that we never would. To see the title finally slip away to arch-rivals Leeds United in the home of our greatest rivals Liverpool only made things worse.

Liverpool, who collected league titles for fun in the 1970s and 1980s, had not come close to winning the league in 1991/92, but they rejoiced in United's failure. The Kop sang: "Have you ever seen United win the league?" While a flag in the Kemlyn Road stand read: "Form is temporary, class is permanent". It was as if they had proved their class by winning 18 league titles to United's meagre seven.

As the ground emptied and the vanquished United players half-heartedly applauded the travelling supporters, it was time to go home, time to run the gauntlet of Stanley Park and the taunts that came with it. United fans stuck together as Liverpool fans laughed in our faces, the strength in adversity one of the few high points that day.

The coach back to Manchester was a quiet one, with fans deep in thought and resignation. For Reds it seemed an impossible dream that the team they supported might become champions of England just once.

But it would not take long, just a year later when an Eric Cantona-inspired United won that first title in 26 years. Then, under Sir Alex Ferguson, United have won a further 11 titles. Fans have been spoilt with success; some glory hunters knowing only trophies are inclined to apoplexy if the team loses two consecutive games.

Liverpool have not won one league title since and their once apparently insurmountable haul of 18 title wins has been equalled and now surpassed with United's latest title triumph. The situation is unimaginable to those at Anfield 19 years ago, yet the number "19" has found fresh currency among United fans. No team has won as many titles in English football as Manchester United. And now that the tables have been turned, Liverpool fans don't gloat any more when we walk across the park. No, it's our time to swagger.

Andy Mitten is The National's European football correspondent and editor of the fanzine United We Stand.

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