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Liverpool vs. Manchester United is arguably the biggest match in English football; a deep and visceral rivalry that has provided plenty of flashpoints down the years.

Ahead of the latest meeting of the two most successful clubs in the domestic game, Tony Evans (Liverpool) and Andy Mitten (Manchester United) discuss the fixture, its history and their memorable personal moments from down the years.

When you think of Liverpool vs. Manchester United, what comes to mind?

Evans: The [Merseyside] derbies were great but were very much a parochial affair; friends, neighbours and family were Evertonians. In the late 1960s and early 70s when I was growing up, Manchester might as well have been a different planet. It was an unknown, exotic, slightly sinister place, at least according to people who’d been there. They spoke differently, dressed differently to us. United were the personification of the city. 

They were clearly the biggest club in the country (though we’d never admit it) and the team you wanted to beat. No matter how superior we were, they were the media darlings. At Anfield they always brought huge support. These games had a real edge to them. Even now, when the schedule comes out in June, my first question is “When’s United?”

Mitten: It’s the most important match of the domestic season to me. Plenty of United fans will say City are now our main rivals, especially since they have finally got their act together on the pitch, but only Liverpool come close to United’s global appeal. Only Liverpool have that huge network of supporters’ clubs in Ireland and Scandinavia. Only Liverpool can sell out 90,000 for a friendly in Australia.

I grew up watching Liverpool win everything and United take the odd FA Cup. For two seasons in the late 80s, their average home crowd even overtook United’s as the highest in England. My father taught me not to trust nor like Scousers and seeing how vile the rivalry between the clubs was back then, I had no reason to.

And then, in 1989, I met a Liverpool fan on holiday in Mallorca when I was 15, a Kop season-ticket holder the same age as me. I was surprised that he was a normal, functioning human with a good sense of humour. We kept in touch for a couple of years and he didn’t crow too much about his team continuing to win everything and United finishing mid-table.

How has the rivalry changed over the years?

TE: It’s got less toxic. My experience was like Andy’s. The first time I went to Old Trafford was 1972. On the forecourt, I asked my dad how Mancunians spoke, meaning what was their accent like. He said: “With forked tongue.”

These days the undercurrent of nastiness has died down. It has not completely disappeared but it is nowhere near as bad as it was. I think it’s for a number of reasons. People mix more. Lots of Scousers have jobs in Manchester, socialise and shop there. It works the other way round, too. The global fanbases have an effect, too. There isn’t the parochialism that used to exist. Even now, for someone my age, it’s a shock to see small groups of people in United shirts milling around outside Anfield on match day. It never used to happen. It’s a real positive that it can happen now. It’s only football. Actually, that’s not quite right. It’s still a little bit more than football when United are involved.

The other thing that’s changed is that United have spent 25 years winning stuff while Liverpool have only won the odd cup. That has not been a change for the better!

Tension always runs high when Liverpool face Manchester United.

AM: Tony’s right, it’s nothing like it was and there’s more mixing. The two people I know who go to the most Liverpool games live in Manchester. One is a Mancunian, but his support comes from his father, who was a union man at the Cammell Laird ship yard on the Mersey, but moved to Manchester to become a journalist. I always remember him saying that Liverpool’s middle and professional class is tiny compared to Manchester’s.

I used to be scared going to Anfield and nervous of speaking with a Manchester accent. We walked from the away coaches across Stanley Park and it felt exposed, a walk through no-man’s land waiting for an attack. In truth, it had calmed even by the 90s. Now, there’s no issue, though it’s not advisable to advertise your allegiance. I’m struck by the number of football tourists I see at United vs. Liverpool games and disheartened by how they get tickets.

I had a good look around Anfield last year before [United played there]. I told the people in the Hillsborough Justice shop that I edited a Man United fanzine and there was a pause because they didn’t know what to make of me, but then they were friendly. Although when I approached a lone fan and asked if I could speak to him for a United podcast, he told me that he’d rather sell his kidneys. He was serious, too. I had a begrudging respect for that: I like the edge at United vs. Liverpool games and that’s still there.

What is it like to be an away fan at this game?

TE: Brilliant. There’s something about being completely outnumbered and making yourself heard that makes it the best experience in football. I loved the 1980s, when 3,000 of us would be crammed into the scoreboard paddock at Old Trafford, waves of antagonism coming at you from all four sides. We barely ever won — Craig Johnston scored a mis-hit in 1981 in a 1-0 victory and then I didn’t see us win there until 1990 — but it was fantastic.

Even when United scored it was an experience. All around you there’s silence and the roar that goes up sounds disembodied, like you’re hearing it through a radio. Then, a growl would go up from our end and a guttural chant: “Liv-er-pool.” It felt like an assertion of faith, of culture. Yes, there was violence back then but a lot of it was street theatre: the police escorts, the posturing…

There’s still the us-and-them feeling. You want to go to their place and, even if you don’t win on the pitch, make more noise and put on a better show than their fans. But when you win at their ground it’s one of the finest feelings in football. My dream game? Old Trafford, United batter Liverpool for 90 minutes and we nick a winner in stoppage time.

As an aside, my brother once had a dream he was on the bench at Old Trafford. Kenny Dalglish was Liverpool manager and told my brother to warm up; our kid got so excited that he woke himself up! He said that was the worst moment of his life.

Saturday sees the latest edition of one of English football’s greatest rivalries.

AM: Brilliant, most of the time. There’s 3,000 of you surrounded by 40,000 or 50,000 Liverpool fans desperate to see United fail. The Kop looms opposite and it’s at its best when Manchester United visit. I don’t mind admitting it; it looks and sounds magnificent in the minutes before kickoff, with thousands of them singing: “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.

Yet travelling fans will go against that wave of emotion with a visceral chant of “Man-ches-ter! Man-ches-ter! Man-ches-ter!” You can’t hear the Kop when you’re in the middle of all that and it’s so intense that you often don’t notice that the game has started.

They have their songs; we have ours. Plenty have gone below the belt on both sides over the years and I’d be happier if I never hear another Munich or Hillsborough song, but the humour can be dark and cutting.

United can — and often do — lose at Anfield, but if the travelling fans put up a decent display, it can salvage something from a bad day. The ground is so tight and close to the pitch that you can clearly see the faces of the Liverpool fans to the right of the away end. That’s great if you win, horrible if you lose.

What are your best and worst memories from games between the two sides?

TE: This question makes me think how little joy we’ve had out of these games. At Anfield, I missed three of the epic victories. In 1985, when Jan Molby scored his legendary goal in the 2-1 League Cup victory I was in a recording studio in London with The Farm. I was living in Los Angeles for a 4-0 rout in 1990 and a 2-0, title-denying win two years later. Thanks, life.

I did enjoy the 4-1 at Old Trafford in 2009. It came in a week when we also beat Real Madrid. A very good few days.

Lowlights? There’s been a few. Perhaps the worst was 1999 in the third round of the FA Cup at Old Trafford. Michael Owen scored very early [for Liverpool] and it was 1-0 with three minutes to go. It ended 2-1 to United. It was painful and felt worse than losing the Champions League final in 2007. But the most horrible thing about it? We could have ended the Treble there and then. United’s greatest year should have been stopped at source.

But it’s not just about winning and losing. I will never forget the FA Cup semifinal at Goodison in 1985. It was a 2-2 draw but the atmosphere was wilder than any I’ve experienced. It was awe-inspiring — not in an altogether good way — but no one there will ever forget it. That was the most intense game but there’s been a few like that over the years.

AM: The worst, by a distance, was losing at Anfield the final away game of the 1991-92 season. United’s hopes of a first title in 25 years ended that day amid braying chants of “Have you ever seen United win the league?” Walking from the away end, I was convinced that United would never, ever, win the league.

I was on a cruise when Liverpool won 4-1 at Old Trafford in 2009. The captain, Derek Kemp, was a Scouser who’d known Bill Shankly. His wife Bernadette avoided the poshest passengers to talk to me about football, even though we were in the cheapest cabin. Kemp then welcomed 400 new passengers onboard by pointing me out and saying that a) I wrote about United and, b) that United had just lost 4-1 at home to champions-elect Liverpool. For two weeks I had people commiserating me! I’d left the ship by the time Liverpool had messed up their title challenge and United had been crowned champions again.

Best memory? A 3-1 win on New Year’s Day 1989 was the first one I loved from the Stretford End. United were mid-table nobodies, Liverpool were the best team in England.

Two goals each from Gary Pallister in 1997 — he has a picture of the occasion in his snooker room — and Diego Forlan five years later — he still delights in hearing fans sing about it — were also memorable, as was a 3-3 game at Anfield in 1994. One I’ll never forget is sitting in the Kop in 2007 — a magazine editor dared me! — as John O’Shea scored a late winner 20 metres away after Liverpool had dominated.

Which players from the other side have you respected and / or wanted to play for your club?

TE: I saw George Best and Bobby Charlton at Anfield once but can barely remember it. I’d take both, though. Of those I can remember? Bryan Robson is the first who you knew would be a handful. He was tough, mobile and could score. Robson was the driving force in those 80s games but we really hated the likes of Norman Whiteside. United would rough us up.

Eric Cantona was brilliant. He would have made the Liverpool sides of the mid-1990s way better. Ruud van Nistelrooy was a striker I would have loved to have had and anyone would have wanted Cristiano Ronaldo.

I’ve a soft spot for Gary Neville. He was the enemy and proud of it. He’s what I would have been like had I played for Liverpool. When he was fined £5,000 for kissing his badge in front of us I defended him. I’d have done the same. Wayne Rooney is an issue, though. He’d be great against us but, when you join United, you give up the right to be called Scouse… 

The one player I didn’t get was Paul Scholes. He was good but there was never a moment when I thought: “Oh no, Scholes is playing.” He’s morphed into this genius we should all bow down to but he was never the best player in any United team during his career. Every day he doesn’t kick a ball he seems to get better.

I might not have liked them, but I’d probably have taken most of United’s team in the Premier League era. And Sir Alex Ferguson’s early title-winning side was one of the best I’ve seen: United charging forward — Andrei Kanchelskis, Ryan Giggs and Lee Sharpe, especially — were one of the game’s great sights.

AM: Ian Rush did something no United player could do for over 20 years and scored 20 goals per season year after year. Not only that, he scored 30 or 40. I envied Liverpool having a player who could do that. John Barnes was outstanding and Peter Beardsley was a fantastic player who’d been at Man United.

Steven Gerrard was exceptional a decade ago and probably the only player in the Premier League who could have improved United’s 2008 European Cup winners. I like Jamie Carragher, too. He’s in touch with normal fans who follow their team. He knows what a football club means to the community and was a proper fan who went to games as a kid, which is a rarity.

Incidentally, Carragher even bought United We Stand fanzine for years. There are United players who probably don’t know what it is, yet Carragher would buy it in Manchester Airport, even though he’d attract attention by doing so. He just wanted to know what the enemy were thinking.

Luis Suarez was — and is — one of the best No. 9s on the planet, while Xabi Alonso showed how good he was by the teams he went to play for after Liverpool. Ditto Javier Mascherano. And I loved to hate Robbie Fowler. Because he was so good.

After 2005 European Cup final I was left in a bit of a daze after Liverpool’s comeback vs. Milan. I got a text from Peter Hooton, lead singer of The Farm and diehard Liverpool fan. He was in Istanbul having the time of his life and gist of the message was: “I know how you felt after Barcelona.”

Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville embodied the rivalry between the clubs during their playing days.

It’s not often, certainly in recent times, that both clubs have been title challengers in the same season; why do you think that is?

TE: Liverpool have been mismanaged. Simple as that. Title challenges? 2009, 2014. At a stretch 1997? The simple fact is United have been the better-run club since Kenny Dalglish resigned from Liverpool in 1991. Like it or not they are still the biggest club in the country. That’s why it’s so good beating them.

United expanded their stadium first, were way ahead in marketing terms in the early years of the Premier League and had the best manager in Ferguson. Even under the Glazer family, they have the pulling power to be a financial powerhouse. Indeed, part of the reason Liverpool had a title challenge in 2014 was because United were in the doldrums under David Moyes.

AM: Under Edward Freedman, United’s revenues from merchandise in the early 90s streaked ahead of the rest. It helped that there was an exciting, winning team and the Premier League monies came at the right time, but the club invested in expanding Old Trafford.

In 1993, it and Anfield both seated 44,000. Old Trafford grew to 55,000, then 68,000 and now 76,000. Anfield stayed at 44,000 until 2016. United were making a million more per game from matchday revenues than Liverpool and that could be fed into buying better players. I know people who moved from working behind the scenes at Old Trafford to Anfield and said it was a decade behind.

Ferguson saw to a better youth system, too. And maybe football is cyclical. Liverpool were top dogs in the 70s and 80s, United in the 90s and noughties. Liverpool’s last serious title challenge, one which is mocked by United fans in chants of “You nearly won the league” coincided with an awful season under Moyes and Suarez’s brilliance.

I still consider Liverpool to be the second-biggest club in England, the only true challenger to United’s status, with a similar history of success intertwined with tragedy. I hope they lose every week, but Liverpool have soul, as well as 18 league titles and five European Cups. They’re the only club in England fit to get in the ring with United. I love seeing Manchester United play Liverpool.



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