x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Let's get the poetry of the Manchester derby in motion

Expatriate supporters of both teams are feeling the pull of the derby, with reports of fans jetting into Manchester from around the world. You may well be one of them.

Manchester CIty fans are hoping to not be blue after Monday's game against Manchester United.
Manchester CIty fans are hoping to not be blue after Monday's game against Manchester United.

Oh to be in Manchester now that April's there.

Robert Browning, Home Thoughts From Abroad, c1860.


OK, that is not strictly accurate.

Browning actually yearned for England, not Manchester. And when he said England he meant the green leafy part, not the grim industrial north. There are not too many blossoming pear trees and singing chaffinches in the urban sprawl of Manchester.

Had he known about Monday night's Premier League clash between City and United, however, I feel sure he would have done a rewrite.

Expatriate supporters of both teams are feeling the pull of the derby, with reports of fans jetting into Manchester from around the world. You may well be one of them.

But no matter who you support (and Browning was born in south-east London, which makes the foppish poet a rather unlikely Millwall fan), or even if you do not follow football, it is a prospect to quicken the pulse.

It is that rarest of treats: a derby match impossible to overhype. No matter what the standard of football, or the result, the deck is stacked for drama, intrigue and hysteria.

If United win or even draw, the Premier League is all but theirs, and the celebrations of the 2,620 away fans inside the Etihad Stadium will generate enough decibels to drown out what Sir Alex Ferguson, their manager, famously described as the noisy neighbours.

If City win, they will go level on points but top United on goal difference, and it will be very much "game on" for the rest of the season.

Yes, they will still have their work cut out. With a tough away fixture at in-form Newcastle United and a home match against relegation-battling Queens Park Rangers, their run-in looks tougher than United's, who face mid-table plodders Sunderland and Swansea.

But some chance is better than no chance at all, and City's desperation to prevent United fans from celebrating the title on sky blue seats is enough motivation in itself.

Throw in the spice of United seeking revenge for that 6-1 thumping in October and City seeking revenge for … well, a century or so of playing second fiddle, and you begin to understand why tickets were selling online this week for £1300 (Dh7,747) each.

You also begin to understand why 600 police officer have been drafted in for the match. They will not be wearing riot gear but will have ready access to it.

Let us hope they do not need it, because this match has the potential to remind the world that sometimes - just sometimes - the Premier League can live up to its own hype. On nights like these, what it lacks in style and grace, it easily makes up for in blood and thunder.

Less tika-taka, more attack-attack-attack.

To me, it is the match of the season, easily trumping the puffed up pomp of the Champions League. You can keep your glitzy showpiece. Give me the venomous grudge match any day.

Never mind the late kick off. Whether you are a seasoned fan or a Premier League newbie, book Tuesday morning off work, tell school the children will not be coming in and prepare for history in the making.

Or, to borrow some more poetry, stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, prevent the dog from barking with a big juicy bone ... and get the football on.

That one is by WH Auden, called Funeral Blues. City fans can only hope their Blue dream remains alive on Tuesday morning.



A study published this week showed that Premier League footballers were among the "least trusted" people in the UK.

They came a close second to politicians.

This lazy stereotyping is disappointing. There has been much hard work to overturn the image of professional footballers as dim-witted, selfish, spoilt brats.

The stupidity myth, for example, was recently debunked by academics in Sweden, who demonstrated that footballers score highly in tests of cognitive flexibility, process speed and memory.

Nor are they universally selfish. Only this week James Milner, of Manchester City, became the latest player to launch a charitable foundation, following the example set by, among others, Craig Bellamy and Lionel Messi.

It was a backwards step, however, by FIFPro, the European players' union, to plead for Uefa to show clemency to the six men suspended from the Champions League final due to accumulated bookings.

The plea was made on behalf of Bayern Munich players Holger Badstuber, Luiz Gustavo and David Alaba, and Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic, Ramires and Raul Meireles.

The organisation's logic is that missing "the match of your life" was excessive punishment for the "minor" infringements that can lead to a yellow card.

Thankfully, Uefa stood firm.

While I do not buy into the notion that footballers must be role models for every waking second of their lives, it would seem a bizarre message to end to young fans: that a punishment stands unless you really, really do not want it to.

FIFPro should remember that every sly nudge, barge, shirt-tug or dive - the type of "minor" offence that can merit a yellow card - can also cause other players to miss "the match of their life". Namely, the side being obstructed by cheating.

Actions have consequences. It is a very simple message, and one that footballers would do well to grasp if they wish to be considered more highly than people other than politicians.





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