A City United in fevered anticipation
Whoever wins this afternoon, the Premier League title will stay in Manchester. Tim Rich reports
Sunday 13 May 2012
For a few hours, for just one day, Britain's second city will become, for many, its first. Though the respective fates of Manchester United and Manchester City football clubs later today are, on the face of it, a matter for diehard fans, it's not an exaggeration to say the outcome will resonate around the country and, indeed, the world.
For a start, the owners of the two clubs have extended their not inconsiderable wallets from around the globe – the US and Abu Dhabi, specifically. They have spent a great deal of money. They expect a great deal in return.
More prosaically, for the owners of pubs and clubs across Manchester, there could be no better incentive to will the Premier League title towards the Etihad Stadium this afternoon. Liam Gallagher has announced that, should his beloved City win the championship this afternoon, he will move back home.
By 5pm either the red or the blue half will be celebrating. For United, it would be all rather routine, their 20th title and their fifth in six years. For City, the club that has transformed itself with oil money from its Abu Dhabi owners, it would be the first since 1968.
The Oasis frontman is 39 and City have never won the championship in his lifetime. In the year of his birth, 1972, they came very close, building up a substantial lead before collapsing in the final furlong in a manner that would become typical. Francis Lee, who was part of the 1968 championship-winning side, said they would win "cups for cock-ups".
From 1976 to 2011 when they lifted the FA Cup, it was all they ever won. During that time United won 12 league championships, eight FA Cups, four League Cups, and three European trophies. When City won at Wembley it forced the removal of a banner at Old Trafford's Stretford End that counted the number of years City had gone without silverware. It stood at 35.
At Swansea in March, when City lost the lead to United after five months on top, it was too much for some fans. One, John Millington, was pictured weeping in the stands. Yesterday, he said he might be tempted to cry again for very different reasons.
There are five miles separating the two stadiums but the shadow cast by Old Trafford has been all-enveloping. That alone explains the damburst of emotion that will pour out from the Etihad Stadium should City beat QPR this afternoon.
That, or matching United's result at Sunderland, will secure a championship that seemed lost when City went down at Arsenal less than a month ago to leave them flailing in United's wake, eight points behind. Across the city, T-shirts proclaiming Manchester United champions for the 20th time began appearing.
Both clubs have already booked their victory parades. City, if they win, will hold theirs tomorrow, but United have decided to wait until Wednesday, after they return from Belfast for a testimonial for Harry Gregg, one of the survivors of the Munich disaster of 1958.
The global audience for the two games has been estimated at 600 million, while winning the Premier League could earn City £230m from advertising and marketing. It will not earn the men from Abu Dhabi their money back, but it will be a start.
IN THE BLUE CORNER...
Not to be confused with Bury FC.
Nickname The Citizens.
Owner Sheik Mansour al Nahyan, oil baron and small-country ruler.
Fans Mostly come from east or south Manchester.
Manager 13 since 1992. Current hot-seat occupant is Roberto Mancini.
Celebs LS Lowry, the Gallaghers, Princess Beatrice (really) and Mavis Goddard, 76, of Hulme (deceased), who did a nifty Poznan (see dance).
Fanzine King of the Kippax (named after a stand at their old Maine Road stadium).
Song "Blue Moon"
Dance The Poznan – involves celebrating a goal by everyone turning their back to the pitch, linking arms and jumping up and down. Sometimes sporting inflatable bananas.
Top scorer Kun Aguero has netted 22 times.
Top WAG Raffaella Fico, Italian model and brow-soother-in-chief to bad boy Balotelli.
Famous players Bert Trautmann: German PoW who played a cup final with a broken neck. Francis Lee: well-known pugilist. Shaun Goater: inexplicably loved journeyman pro. Mario Balotelli: mercurial Italian.
IN THE RED CORNER...
Not to be confused with FC United of Manchester, or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Nickname The Red Devils.
Owner Malcolm Glazer, US billionaire, not to be confused with a football fan.
Manager Sir Alex Ferguson (since 1986).
Fans Claims to be world's most popular club – undoubtedly true within the M25. A 2011 survey also found them to be England's "most hated" club – by 35 per cent of fans.
Celebs From the world's fastest man, Usain Bolt to that famous couch potato Eamonn Holmes.
Fanzine United We Stand.
Song They only sing when they're winning and they've swallowed their prawn sarnies.
Dance And risk losing the crease in the suit? You must be kidding.
Top scorer Wayne Rooney – 26 goals and counting.
Top WAG As a younger rival to Victoria Beckham, Coleen Rooney has come through the ranks to reach the heights of wagdom.
Famous players Sir Bobby Charlton, the man who so nearly made the comb-over fashionable. George Best: dubbed the fifth Beatle. Deadly dribbler, especially after a drink or 20. David Beckham: male underpants model. Not to be confused with Sporty Spice. Eric Cantona: Gallic cockerel, boulevardier, actor, martial arts expert.
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