Carling Cup Semi-finals: Blue ketchup and a minor domestic disturbance….

Various Carling Cup quarter-finals have been played over the last two nights and the upshot is that we have been drawn against our affluent neighbours from (Middle) Eastlands in the semi-final.

United actually overcame a fairly strong Spurs team at Old Trafford, which I have to say, came as a bit of a surprise.  City, meanwhile, trounced a young Arsenal team at their place.  Not been a good week for Arsenal fans, really. 

I would imagine that the  person who will be most delighted about the draw for the semis is City manager Mark Hughes.  There has been some talk of late that Hughes’ job was on the line and that all kinds of heavy hitters from Europe were being lined up to replace him.  Sparky knows that if he can get past United in this tie and take City to their first major final for over 25  years, the City fans are likely to forgive him any amount of transgressions elsewhere.  I would go so far as to say that if City could win this cup this year, Hughes’ position is safe for a couple of seasons at least.

United will want to win the two-legged tie as well, but I doubt that they can muster up the same degree of desperation that we will see and hear from City fans in the coming weeks.  If Fergie chooses to stick with his youngsters and fringe players – and he may do – I’d say City have a good chance, because Hughes will undoubtedly play his strongest team in both legs and he has some proven matchwinners like Adebayor and Tevez to call upon.

As a non-Mancunian fan of United, I was aware of the antipathy between United and City supporters long before I moved to Manchester.  However, I was also aware that it was more of a bantering rivalry, seeming to lack the bitterness & genuine loathing that United fans reserve for fans of Leeds and Liverpool. 

When I first moved to Manchester, I mixed freely with both Reds and Blues, although on balance, I think I knew more City fans than United fans.  In the early days , I worked not far from Maine Road and was friendly with a Cypriot guy called Mike, who ran the corner deli where I bought my lunch (now long gone) opposite Owens Park.  Mike was a big City fan and he occasionally persuaded me to accompany him to midweek games at Maine Road where he used to rendezvous with a  whole bunch of his mates on the Kippax terraces.  I can still remember being there the night that Colin Bell (what a great player he was) returned from a long-term injury and came on as a substitute.  Many City fans around me -some of them huge bears of men – were in floods of tears to see Bell’s return, though sadly, he was a shadow of the player he had been before his injury and retired for good not long afterwards.

After the game, whatever the outcome, we’d always head off to a pub, where I would usually be subjected to a good-natured ribbing for my support for United.  One night, I recall being taken to a pub which might have been called The City Arms and might have been in the eastern part of the city – certainly, it was in an area I didn’t know.  I got a real shock when I went in – all the light fittings were shaped like those black & white panelled footballs and the carpet was a lightish blue with the Manchester City club crest emblazoned across it every few yards.  The pool table even had a blue cloth and the landlord was some tall bloke with reddish hair and an obvious wig who had been a central defender with City at some point in their past. 

I was deep into enemy territory here – the place was full of Blues fans – so I kept fairly quiet and listened in on the conversations going on around me.  These revealed something that I had observed previously but which had never struck me so forcibly before;  for all that Mike and his mates loved City and supported them with a passion, what they were really obsessed with was Manchester United FC and all its soap opera goings on.  Everything they said about City was seen in the context of United and for all that they hated this United  player or that United  manager, they just couldn’t stop talking about them.  They were nearly as well-informed about the goings on at ‘The Swamp’  (as they referred to Old Trafford) as United fans.

Which brings me on to the ketchup – some people think this an urban myth, but the photo below should confirm it.

This is City’s famous blue sauce, served as a replacement for ketchup – because, of course, ketchup is as red as a United shirt and therefore a no-no.  City fans would have you believe that this is just a bit of harmless fun, but then you hear ex-players recounting how when they were given a club car (in the days when such things existed), they could have any colour they wanted – except……yep, you guessed it…….

So  we’re expected to believe that anything City fans say about United (and they say a lot)  and all these stunts are just a harmless bit of fun – like the Tevez  ‘Welcome to Manchester’  billboard from the summer, the blue ketchup and so on.

Well, maybe…..we’ll see how much good humour is on display in the coming weeks.  For United fans, City are now a larger irritant than previously if only because of all the cash they’re throwing around and all the headlines they’re grabbing as a consequence.  United have had things pretty much their own way in Manchester since the mid-1970’s , especially in terms of accumulating vast piles of silverware; jokes about the City trophy room (and just where it might be located) are endemic among United fans, but this is City’s first semi-final in anything since around the time of the Black Death and they will clearly be fired up. 

City fans will also see this as the first sign of the Abu Dhabi cash working its magic, whilst Fergie may decide that this particular challenge warrants a more robust response than has been in evidence in earlier rounds of this competition.  United fans will certainly want to see United rub City’s noses in the mud just one more time, so I would hope for a pretty-much full-strength team selection in both legs.  However, knowing Fergie……

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