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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Michael Butler

Manchester derbies: five of the most meaningful meetings since 1894

Manchester United fans wrap United scarves around the neck of Manchester City's Denis Law, who had just scored the winning goal in 1974
Manchester United fans wrap United scarves around the neck of Manchester City's Denis Law, who had just scored the winning goal in 1974. Photograph: PA Images/Alamy

Manchester City 2-5 Newton Heath, Second Division, 3 Nov 1894

The first league meeting between the two clubs. City – who state 1894 as their founding year on their badge but can trace their roots back to St Marks’ Church (founded 1880) and Ardwick AFC (founded 1887) – were defeated by Newton Heath, who would be rebranded as Manchester United in 1902 (although the names Manchester Central and Manchester Celtic were considered). Ardwick AFC had played Newton Heath before, in 1889, in a friendly to raise money after an explosion caused by the use of naked flames at the nearby Hyde Road coalmine resulted in the death of 23 miners. This was a good example of the convivial and supportive feeling between the clubs, which would continue well into the 20th century. By the end of it, things would be a little different.

United 3-0 City, First Division, 1 December 1906

In 1905, a financial scandal engulfed Manchester City. One of their players, Billy Meredith, had been found guilty of bribing an Aston Villa player as City chased the title and the Football Association later found the club to be breaking the wage cap, illegally paying players on the side. City were fined and ordered to auction off their players, many of whom had won the 1904 FA Cup. In total, 17 were suspended and banned, severely weakening City for their subsequent league campaign. It made the first top-flight Manchester derby a rather predictable affair, with United cruising to a 3-0 win. A month later, in January 1907, on the expiry of the former City players’ bans, four of them joined United, among them Meredith, and the Reds clinched the First Division title the following season.

United 0-1 City, First Division, 27 April 1974

A despondent Denis Law is congratulated by teammates Dennis Tueart and Tommy Booth after scoring for City at Old Trafford
A despondent Denis Law (far right) is congratulated by teammates Dennis Tueart and Tommy Booth after scoring for City at Old Trafford. Photograph: Colorsport/Shutterstock

Denis Law’s impudent backheel finish for City – the final touch of his competitive club career – is widely perceived as having relegated Manchester United in the penultimate game of the season. In fact other results would have sent United down anyway but it felt like a huge moment at the time and continues to resonate. “The King of Old Trafford” had left United on a free transfer a year earlier and refused to celebrate his improvised flick, leaving the pitch afterwards with his head bowed. Law later admitted: “I have seldom felt so depressed in my life as I did that weekend.” The Guardian’s Eric Todd wrote that day: “It was ‘the most unkindest cut of all’ in the words of Marcus Antonious – he was not in the press box of course – who in the same speech said: ‘If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.’ Which seemed no less relevant.” While some home supporters tried to get the game abandoned in the closing stages by burning toilet paper in the stands and making numerous pitch invasions, the 1-0 result stood. United’s 36-year stay in the top tier was over.

The sight of a trophy engraver adding the winning team's name to the trophy is all part of the fanfare of victory in a final, along with the ticker-tape, player selfies and managers getting soaked. Things will be slightly different at Wembley on Saturday – the trophy will arrive with the word MANCHESTER already on it.

The competition’s official trophy and silverware provider, Thomas Lyte, are responsible for etching the winning club’s name into history each season. To mark the unique occasion of a Manchester derby final, the city's named has already been etched into place – either City or United will be added following the final whistle. Guardian sport

City 1-0 United, FA Cup semi-final, 16 April 2011

This victory catapulted City towards a first trophy under their Abu Dhabi owners and the club’s first major honour since 1976. Yaya Touré – at the peak of his considerable powers in central midfield – scored the winner as City recovered from a nervy start in which Dimitar Berbatov spurned two golden chances, the second a sitter from three yards. In many ways, this was a watershed moment for City. They had failed to beat United in the league that season or in the previous season (which included Michael Owen’s last-minute winner in a famous 4-3 victory) but Touré’s winning goal felt like a changing of the guard. He would repeat the trick in the final against Stoke City.

United 1-6 City, Premier League, 23 October 2011

Mario Balotelli unveils his famous T-shirt after scoring for City in 2011
Mario Balotelli unveils his famous T-shirt after scoring for City in 2011. Photograph: Matthew Peters/Manchester United/Getty Images

If the FA Cup semi-final victory a few months earlier was the crack in the wall, this was the moment the dam burst. City’s spending had continued in the summer of 2011 with the club signing, among others, a bloke called Sergio Agüero from Atlético Madrid. Although the Argentinian got his goal here, this game will be remembered for Mario Balotelli’s antics: his two goals and that shirt unveiled in celebration: “Why always me?” With David Silva pulling the strings for City, United were reduced to 10 when Jonny Evans was sent off and were ripped to shreds. But the result meant more than just bragging rights, with City taking the points and a 10-goal swing in goal difference. Come the end of the season, City and Agüero would wrestle the title from United on the last day, winning it on goal difference, with a margin of eight goals.

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