Deepest Red: Read an Excerpt from New Manchester United Book

Will TideySenior Manager, GlobalDecember 14, 2012

Deepest Red is a new anthology of Manchester United writing which features contributions from the likes of Andy Mitten, Miguel Delaney and yours truly.

Here's an extract from the chapter written by Lucia Zanetti on United's rivalry with Manchester City:

It was a boiling hot Monday morning, three weeks into the new school year. We were Top Juniors, the oldest pupils in the school, and high on potentially powerful possibilities. Manchester City Council—a Labour council—had ignored the ‘recommendations’ of Thatcher some years previously, and so everyone in our class had their own tiny bottle of whole milk pierced with a thin, blue straw. They were supped first thing, before being left lingering in their crate at the doorway; the heat of the classroom warming them, leaving us engulfed in an acrid, sour fug.

I was forced to sit at the desk directly in front of our teacher, next to a kid called Michael Beech. Michael had a permanent trail of neon snot running from his nose to his mouth. Occasionally, his tongue would dart out to mop up the nasal nectar, rendering his upper lip chapped, red and flaky. Needless to say, I couldn’t even look at him. Because he sat on my right, my neck was permanently swivelled to the left, facing the wall-length row of windows in our prefabricated classroom extension of the main school. It was as my face was contorted thus that I first saw him.

Damien Costello. Damien T****ing Costello.

The first thing I noticed about Damien was his shiny, bowl-shaped haircut. You have to remember that this was 1989, and Manchester was on the precipice of becoming the cultural capital of the world. I don’t mean like the Scouse ‘Capital of Culture’, with its roots in the decades-old legacy of ONE band. I mean tangible, bona fide, and proper.

That year heralded the debut albums of The Stone Roses, De La Soul, and Soul II Soul. Earlier still, we’d had the music of The Smiths, New Order, and Joy Division, and the emergence of new bands like Happy Mondays and Inspiral Carpets. Our city was also the pioneering hub of electronic music, and the Haçienda was set to become (as reported by US Newsweek) "... the most famous nightclub in the world."

No Mancunians were impervious to Manchester’s cultural significance, and given that there was no uniform in our school, it was commonplace to see iconic Smiths, Stone Roses, and Happy Mondays T-shirts in the playground, along with rows of bowl haircuts, bell-bottom jeans and Clarks Wallabees.

After the hair, the second thing I noticed about Damien was his massive grin. His cheeks obscured his eye sockets and there were two rows of teeth on display. You’d be forgiven for overlooking that broad grin, given that it was a beautiful, late-summer morning and he was a young child enjoying his final year at primary school. Why wouldn’t his smile match that of Little Orphan Annie on adoption day? Maybe because it was the only smile Damien Costello had ever exhibited in our previous six years of shared schooling. So unacquainted with the smile was he, that the very sight of him smiling was a tremendous shock. Before I’d had time to register the smile’s intent, its very existence served to shake me to my foundations.

It was then that I noticed the third thing. He was wearing a bright, white T-shirt, on the front of which was a massive cartoon bulldog and a colour print of Manchester City Football Club’s emblem. As he turned the corner and the back of his shiny, bowl-head hair bobbed and glistened in the morning sun, I saw what was written on the back:

Manchester City 5 V 1 Manchester United September 23rd 1989

This was less than two days after the football match. When you take into account that one of those days was a Sunday – The Lord’s Day – in an era before supermarket Sunday opening, and when everything was shut, it was an impressively swift response to a non-crucial match result by Manchester City and indicative of what United fans in Manchester have endured whenever City have historically made their two-game-a-season monumental effort to defeat us.

The match itself had been pretty catastrophic, especially considering that Michael Knighton had recently forked out for the League’s most expensive ever player – Gary Pallister – who’d made some appalling errors during the game, clearly (given that he was a defender and we’d conceded five goals). It’s been well documented as the trigger for the darkest time in Ferguson’s career, with many fans and journalists calling for his head on a platter. Knighton’s spending spree particularly disturbed the MCFC support and they positioned themselves as the dam, standing against big money in football, an argument they returned to on countless occasions in the ensuing years, during our Golden era. Chants of "Fergie out!" came not only from our fans, but also from The Blues in an attempt to wind things up and revel in our defeat.

And revelling in the rare and fleeting defeats of Manchester United during the last 25 years or so has, to me, come to represent City fans. Extracting joy, not from their own lacklustre performances, but from the minute mishaps of their infinitely more successful and talented neighbours. Not so much the Fergie-dubbed "Noisy Neighbours", as (recurring haemorrhoid-style) Nosey Neighbours, with their, "How can they afford that car?" "They get more wheelie bins than us", "Have you seen the state of their hedges?"sort of mentality.

Manchester City aren’t our greatest rivals, not even nearly. Liverpool are our greatest rivals, just as we are theirs. The fact is that up until very recently Manchester City hadn’t even been our rivals in any footballing sense. City are small time regardless of their footballing achievements, because they are trapped in a cycle of measuring themselves against us. It’s like driving a Ferrari with the sole intention of showing off to your ex-boss. You never just get to enjoy driving the car.

Deepest Red is available to order here.