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Antipathy For The Devils

It's the greatest rivalry in English football and one of the most intense and fractious in the world game, but how intense is the current state of disharmony between Liverpool and Manchester United?

Communication breakdown
Communication breakdown
Getty Images

In the early years of my Liverpool Football Club obsession, I learned something about discretion and humility. My father, a lifelong Manchester United fan, was tortured by what seemed to be some hideous karmic imbalance, as he had to cope with two sons devoted to Merseyside's finest. Back in those idyllic days Liverpool won everything and so there were many occasions to celebrate and infinite victories to pick apart and painstakingly relive. My brother and I did just that, but in a way always designed to be as inoffensive to our dear old pater as possible. You see, one simply did not upset my old man.

Of course, our belief in the flawed nature of karma proved to be unfounded, and in the years since 1990 it's been our dad's time to sit and be quietly smug as United have scooped all the silverware and Liverpool have looked on. The lessons in discretion and humility have continued, however, as I have stifled whoops of glee and held back leaps of schadenfreude-fuelled felicity while watching a rare Manc defeat in the family home. You will judge me harshly, dear readers, but outside of a victory for the Redmen there are few football-related things that give me as much of a kick as a United loss.

Petty? Yes. What of it? It's harmless, private and inoffensive -- a satisfaction based on years of enduring the supremacy of our greatest rivals. It's been a LONG time since United claimed our famous perch -- a lofty seat atop English football which, contrary to Alex Ferguson's self-mythologising, he did not knock us off. Liverpool Football Club and Graeme Souness jumped headlong into the abyss.

To understand this rivalry properly, one must walk with one tribe or the other. Over the years the most horrible of acts have been carried out in the name of both clubs. Moronic idiots, sensing an opportunity to vent deep-seated existential frustrations with their lives or knuckle-dragging mouth-breathers incapable of analytical thought have committed physical and verbal atrocities whilst wearing the colours of Liverpool or Manchester United. This is not sporting rivalry, this is a broken society.

The harmless giddiness that filled me as David Moyes' team were thumped by Manchester City at the weekend has nothing to do with the gormless thuggery of those who chant obscene filth about Hillsborough or Munich. Sporting rivalry should be based on sport alone. It is a nauseating fact of life that a certain amount of fans, standing under both banners, have a completely different and more sinister agenda.

Over the years I have endured obnoxious condescension, unrestrained bile and flat-out hostility from people claiming affiliation to Manchester United. A pugnacious individual by nature, it's been a struggle for me to maintain dignified silence, but it is the only response to such vileness. A Dublin-based Mancunian friend of mine has had similar experiences with idiots purporting to be Liverpool fans. In such circumstances he and I draw on the well of experience and satisfy ourselves with a pitying or disdainful grimace.

Some folk, however, will never learn and ahead of tonight's Capital One Cup game at Old Trafford, Greater Manchester Police have been upping the ante in terms of advance preparation. In an attempt to avoid a repeat of the vandalism perpetrated in the away end in 2011, the GMP have met with with supporters' group Spirit of Shankly and identified defined boundaries for visiting fans. Mark Roberts, the chief superintendent of the police body, wrote to supporters' groups stressing that flares and smokebombs were prohibited, with sniffer dogs being employed to identify any drugs or pyrotechnics.

The GMP might do well to keep one eye on the Old Trafford pitch, as tonight marks the return of United-baiter par excellence, Luis Suarez. The noted forearm fancier has a lot of what English coppers call "previous" with United, and his appearance on the park is likely to be more colourful and explosive than any pyro the olfactorily enhanced dogs may discover. Renowned technical-area pointer, Phil Neville and his chief, Mr Giant Eyes will also be close to self-immolation should the Uruguayan get up to any of his tricks.

One night, after Suarez's international buddy, Diego Forlan, had ensured a United victory against Liverpool, I was greeted at a bar by a United-supporting neighbour. "Bad result for you," he offered, a sly grin playing around the edge of his lips. I mumbled something self-effacing and offered to buy him a drink. He was partially disarmed by the gesture and felt the need to reciprocate. "Oh, I wouldn't have cared if you had won today," he offered, downing the drink. "I actually don't mind Liverpool. You lot are no threat." I remain incensed by that. Incensed. It's Liverpool versus United. There will be needle. There will be nonsense. Be good to each other, eh?

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