x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Manchester City must begin to end 35 years of the blue with a win over United in today's derby at Old Trafford

Manchester City, trophyless for 36 years, will hope to prove the tide is turning against arch-rivals United at Old Trafford today - with an emphatic derby victory

Manchester City's manager Roberto Mancini, right, and his Manchester United counterpart Alex Ferguson.
Manchester City's manager Roberto Mancini, right, and his Manchester United counterpart Alex Ferguson.

David May, the ex-Manchester United defender, may be nursing a sore head today as he recovers from the 35th anniversary party he threw last night.

I hear you cry: "Thirty-five years since what?" Since his birth? He looked older than that, even in his pomp. Since his marriage, then? No, even David May is not that old.

The clue lies in a famous banner which hangs on Old Trafford's Stretford End, replicating the slow-turning dials of an odometer. Updated every season, it currently reads: "035 YEARS".

No further explanation is required. At least, not by the Manchester City fans at whom the barb is aimed. The blue half of Manchester knows only too well that their last major trophy came nearly 35 years ago. Even that was only a League Cup.

The date of that victory - a 2-1 win over Newcastle United, sealed by a Dennis Tueart overhead kick - was actually February 28, 1976. How City fans must wish that final had fallen on the following day, February 29. Thanks to it being a leap year, they then could argue that only eight anniversaries have since passed. Either way, this means that May's party was around two weeks premature.

His intention, of course, was not historical accuracy but mockery in advance of today's Manchester derby. But how should City fans react to this mockery?

They could fight back, citing May's less-than-crucial contribution to Manchester United's glorious history. The ex-Blackburn man (he left the season before Rovers won the league) struggled to achieve first-team football at United, squeezed as he was between the old guard of Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister, and the emerging talent of Gary Neville, and later Jaap Stam and Henning Berg.

However, before suggesting that May should change the venue of his party to a glass house, and serve rock cakes, one cannot overlook his contribution to United's 1995/96 season. If you are going to have only one decent season with a team, then you could do worse than an FA Cup and League double.

Another response to May's provocation could be to simply take it on the chin. This seems unlikely. City fans lost their famous sense of self-deprecating humour as soon as they tasted the realistic prospect of success under the new owners. I do not blame them. Who wants to be the court jester when you can be king?

Perhaps the best response was demonstrated by Joe Hart, the likeable Manchester City goalkeeper.

"It is not false because we haven't won anything for 35 years," he said. "But I assume they are doing it because there won't be many more of them."

And this is the rub. United will probably win today's derby, and probably the title in May, but they have lost their swagger, their certainty. Even during that 29-match unbeaten run, ended by Wolves last week, they always looked beatable. Sir Alex is getting older, Wayne Rooney's lack of form continues, and they are no longer the biggest beast in the transfer jungle.

City and Roberto Mancini are breathing down their necks, and they know it. That banner will read "000" within two seasons.

United fans have always loved mocking their blue neighbours, and I doubt that May's is the first such "anniversary party" held around derby day. The difference is that, a few years ago, such a party would be scheduled for the night of the derby match, to celebrate another certain victory.

Nowadays they must enjoy their chuckles the night before. Just in case.


Ward’s moving story follows rocky road to a knock-out success

Sport is often rendered unrecognisable after it passes through the movie industry’s glitter-spangled mincing machine.

Sometimes, this is a good thing. I would rather watch Chariots of Fire, for example, than almost any genuine middle-distance running event. Sometimes it is a bad thing. I would rather watch the lowliest genuine football match – even one involving the Andy Carroll-less Newcastle United – than the dross served up in Escape to Victory.

Sometimes it is a grey area. Take boxing, for example. We all know that boxing could never really happen like it does in Rocky– two guys taking turns to trade body-juddering blows, causing multiple knockdowns. But secretly we wish it could.

And so I watched The Fighter, the Oscar-tipped boxing movie starring Mark Wahlberg, with much pleasure but a healthy dose of cynicism.

Based on a true story, the film has Wahlberg playing “Irish” Micky Ward, an American slugger who emerged from the shadow of his talented but wayward older brother, Dicky Eklund, who once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard.

The film climax sees Ward fighting the Irish-British boxer Shea Neary for the world title, and follows a Rocky-esque path: Ward takes an almighty beating but finds inner strength to deliver his speciality move. Hey, that sounds quite a lot like The Karate Kid, too.

Out of interest, I searched YouTube for the genuine Neary-Ward fight, to see how outlandishly exaggerated the movie version had been. I was pleasantly surprised. They really did just stand there slugging each other.

It is a shame the movie did not bother to get much else about Neary right, including his accent. But the fight, both the real version and the one with Hollywood gloss, is a humdinger.

Verdict: Knock-Out! (I understand it is compulsory to end articles about enjoyable boxing movies in this fashion.)