A quick glance at the Premier League table sees Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City backed by the foreign billions of Sheikh Mansour, sitting smugly at the summit. Following closely are city rivals Manchester United, who can reasonably claim to be the planet’s best supported club. United, by winning their 19th league title in May 2011, overtook Liverpool’s title record to become England’s most successful football club domestically. Manchester City have also collected the league twice and their FA Cup win last May was their fifth success in the competition. The city can therefore reasonably claim to be one of the most successful in the football world.
It may surprise you to learn that whilst the football league was founded in Manchester in April 1888, neither Manchester club was present from the offset. Manchester United’s previous incarnation Newton Heath FC joined the league in 1892-93 with their origins in the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway. Like many clubs Manchester City were founded as a church team in the parish of St. Mark’s of Gorton. Known as Ardwick Association FC before changing to Manchester City they joined the league in the same season as Newton Heath.
The first derby contested between the sides was played on the 3rd October 1891. It saw Newton Heath emerging 5-1 winners in the FA Cup’s 1st Round of Qualifying. The game was attended by an estimated 15,000 at Newton Heath’s old North Road ground, a far cry from the millions who tuned in to City’s mauling last October, which was the 161st meeting of the pair. It goes without saying that the derby is the key fixture, particularly of late, for any supporter of either of the Manchester clubs. Manchester City’s FA Cup success last May had particular significance for the Blues as they finally managed to force United fans to remove a banner in Old Trafford’s Stretford End mocking how many years it had been since they last won silverware.
The growth of the Manchester United brand sees that their every match is now the subject of international media focus. One incredible statistic shows that Manchester United matches attract almost 52 % of the Premier League’s entire global TV audience – this roughly equates to United matches each being watched by around 64m people on average.
However in the days before television brought football to the armchair supporter, fans from the city and its surrounding areas were the primary consumer packing Old Trafford & Maine Road to the rafters. The top two highest record home attendances in the history of English football unsurprisingly were in games featuring the two clubs – City in 1934 with 84,569 and United with 83,260 in 1948. This illustrates just how important football was in the city from an earlier age, and particularly to Manchester, with the record still standing. It is ironic to note both games were played at Maine Road as Old Trafford suffering damage from German bombing during the Second World War.
Old Trafford can be likened to wreckage when Matt Busby arrived at Old Trafford for his first day in the manager’s job. Busby was an accomplished player for United’s two biggest rivals – Liverpool & Manchester City, yet became embraced as a United idol. Busby’s 24 years at the helm saw more than the ground rebuilt after tragedy struck in February 1958. Returning from a European game against Red Star Belgrade during a fuel stop in Munich, hazardous weather conditions meant that the plane never brought the Busby Babes home. The majority of the side were killed in the disaster as they were looking to win their third successive league title. Ten years on Manchester United managed by a rejuvenated Matt Busby won the European Cup, the first English club to do so. The game played at Wembley saw United defeat the Portugese club Benfica 4-1. Munich survivors Bobby Charlton & Bill Foulkes played in the game. The disaster in Munich reverberated throughout the world of football and gave Manchester United a symbolic significance within the game after they were able to overcome such great adversity.