Could fan violence erupt as Manchester City and Manchester United clash?
On Sunday afternoon at the Etihad Stadium on the East side of Manchester, the red and blue halves of the city will clash with local pride on the line.
With a 4pm BST kick off and following on from the heated Manchester derbies of last season, there is huge potential for things to boil over this weekend.
Both clubs are urging their supporters to enjoy the game responsibly, and to steer clear of any trouble. And so are the players.
“The derby is one of the most anticipated and exciting games in world football,” Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart said. “There were incidents last year which no-one wants to see repeated. The eyes of the world will be on this game as usual, and I’m confident our supporters will do the club proud. Our fans are the best in the world and we want you to show your passion for the club, but in the right way.”
Those ‘incidents’ Hart was referring to came during Manchester United’s fiery 3-2 win over City at the Etihad, and they involved one Man City fan running onto the pitch to confront United players and Rio Ferdinand being hit in the face with a coin thrown by the home crowd.
Hart, once again, appealed for City’s fans to behave.
“As players, we are all looking forward to Sunday, and we know that the fans will be too,” Hart said. “The home support is so important for us, and I know they will be like an extra man for the team on the day. As always, we need our fans in full voice, but we also need them to respect the occasion.”
But on Sunday it has all the makings for an incredible atmosphere, yet one that could prove troublesome for the Greater Manchester Police force. First of all the 4pm local time kick off is an extremely strange decision, as most Derby games across Europe are now played at 12:45pm or earlier, in order to cut out any pregame drinking that could entice violence between fans. I’m not saying that pregame drinking is the evil nemesis and should be stamped out of soccer, because let’s face it, it’s part of the experience that enhances the entire day for many.
However, having the game start so late in the day does increase the chances of troubling breaking out, in what is already one of world soccer’s most volatile atmospheres.
Listening to an interview with Manchester’s Chief of Police earlier on Friday, he is extremely worried about events taking a turn for the worst, with extra police on hand in the City Center pubs before the game and there will be a huge police presence at the Etihad.
There’s no getting away from it, the passion and pride involving this Derby is right up there with the biggest rivalries in world soccer. And given Man City’s meteoric rise over the past few seasons, this game now means much more than it used to, as both teams are challenging for the Premier League title.
On Friday, both Manuel Pellegrini and David Moyes called for calm as they head into their first Manchester Derby as coaches of City and United respectively.
“It’s a match of six points,” Pellegrini said. “It is very important to win it. Man Utd are a team always looking to win the title and Champions League. Playing at home against United, it is more important to win than not to lose. Of course, if you can’t win, then it’s better not to lose. We will try to win.”
While Moyes spoke about the excitement surrounding the game.
“There is an excitement for any derbies in any big city in the world” Moyes said. “They’re all really important to your own supporters. They’re important to the players as well but ultimately it’s about what happens come the end of the season and how many points you get together to see who is top. These points could be really important towards that, they may not be. We’ll go and we’ll try and take all the points.”
Let’s hope for a great game between two of England’s best teams on Sunday, plenty of passion and vocal support from the terraces and no outbursts of violence to ruin the entire occasion.
Sadly, I fear the latter may be impossible to stamp out entirely.