There might not be a deeper rift in the Premier League, at least in recent memory, than the one between Liverpool and Manchester United. Sure, the noisy neighbors have given United one more thorn in their side, but the Reds and the Red Devils have co-written a history of almost complete hatred, punctuated with famous (and infamous) matches, competing claims to titles like “most prestigious” and “most storied” club in England, and, of course, shameful chants and banners directed at the opposition regardless of the circumstances.
The clash this Sunday at Anfield will most likely not add to any kind of long-term reconciliation effort, but the run-up to the match is promising some refreshing perspective. Following the released results of the Hillsborough investigation, both Brendan Rodgers and Sir Alex have made public calls for a truce, if only temporary. Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra have apparently agreed to be reasonable people and shake hands, and many supporters on both sides have been criticizing their own vocal and violent minorities for irresponsibly and relentlessly stirring the pot.
With all this measured, rational dialogue in the air, one might be scratching one’s head trying to remember where and when it all went wrong. Yes, two dominant, high-profile teams will typically plot the demise of the other and relish in their public failures, but, at the risk of sounding utterly trite, why can’t these teams tolerate each other?
At this point I’d like to remind you that Liverpool and Manchester aren’t all that different. In fact, the towns themselves used to be part of the same designated geographic area, both residing in Lancashire until 1974, when Merseyside and Greater Manchester, respectively, were carved out into separate regions. Granting that proximity usually exacerbates rivalries instead of ameliorating them, one might think that they’d be more united (har, har) against teams from London and its environs, and that solidarity would be easier to come by.
With that said, I hope that this Sunday’s match, if it ends up being the love-fest everyone has promised, will help heal some wounds, give some supporters some pause for reflection (i.e. chill them out a little bit, sheesh), and steer the rivalry in a healthy and sane direction. A guy can hope, right?