United’s four close-season signings are all about to start the derby, and a packed Old Trafford buzzes with anticipation. Both Guardiola and Mourinho have led their sides to three straight wins in their opening Premier League matches. Something has to give today.
“We are City, we are City, super City, from Maine Road,” 3,000 away fans sing to the tune of Rod Stewart’s “Sailing.”
“U-n-i-t-e-d! United are the team for me,” United fans in K Stand, J Stand and the Stretford End reply. “With a knick-knack paddy whack, give a dog a bone, why don’t City f--k off home?”
The City fans are in full voice, singing their “Blue Moon” anthem—“We’re not really here,” “Tra la la la City” to the Beatles’ “Hey Jude”—and finishing with the more crude but still heartfelt “F--k off, Mourinho.”
It’s easier to be organised, loud and defiant in a tight away end of hardcore fans, just as United fans are whenever they play at what they call “the Emptihad,” though Sykes sends a photo of some fans who he thinks have never been to a game before and are wearing the expressions of wide-eye tourists.
The tourists can be spotted from a distance wearing half-and-half United-and-City scarves—merchandise that no regular fan of either club would ever be seen wearing.
In the J Stand singing section, United fans hold up banners. One features Paul Pogba with the words “Young, Gifted and Back."
“From the banks of River Irwell,” they roar to the tune of “The Halls of Montezuma,” “to the shores of Sicily, we’ll fight, fight, fight for United, until we win the Football League. To hell with Liverpool, to hell with Man City, they’re s--t!”
And then they segue into another venerable favourite: “Hello, hello, we are the Busby Boys…and if you are a City fan, surrender or you’ll die. We all follow United.”
On the stadium’s public address system, Ewan MacColl’s “Dirty Old Town,” a famous folk lament to nearby industrial Salford, booms out. Before games, United now issue a generally well-received playlist featuring songs from mostly local groups. As The Stone Roses’ anthemic “This Is the One” pours from the speakers, Mourinho, United and City stride on to the turf.
This is the game the football world has waited for.
Josep Guardiola emerges separately from the tunnel and walks alone along the touchline towards his bench. The Catalan is gently booed by United fans, but while Mourinho doesn’t afford City even a cursory mention in his match-programme notes, he waits for his rival, clasps his hand, and the pair briefly hug as 27 press photographers focus their lenses. Like their employers, the managers are keen to diffuse any possible tension.
“We’ve got Guardiola,” City fans holler in their version of the Dave Clark Five's sixties stomper “Glad All Over:” “Because we’ve got Guar-dio-la, we've got [clap, clap] Guar-dio-la, we've got [clap] Guar-dio-la. So glad you're mine."
The City boss likes his new song, and he soon likes the way his charges start against United.
Kevin De Bruyne, the game’s best player, scores the opening goal after 15 minutes when Kelechi Iheanacho, a surprise selection, heads the ball towards the Belgian, who has nipped in front of Daley Blind.
"Hello, hello, we are the Busby Boys…and if you are a City fan, surrender or you’ll die. We all follow United."
The Dutchman is considered the most intelligent reader of the game among his peers at Carrington, but his anticipation is poor as City take the lead. This isn’t a good moment for United fans as City, whose Christmas has come early, sing the chorus to “Mary’s Boy Child:” “Hark, now hear the City sing, United ran away.”
United fans hit back with, “This City is yours, 20,000 empty seats, are you f--king sure?” It’s a play on a city-centre billboard the Blues paid for when they signed Carlos Tevez from United in 2009 with the slogan “Welcome to Manchester.”
But if they don’t own Manchester, City have taken control of the game, with David Silva at his balletic best. Even without their finest player—the suspended Aguero—City are dominant. They score a second after 36 minutes when a De Bruyne shot surprises David De Gea, hitting the post and falling for Iheanacho to tap in his fourth goal in his last four away games. It’s 2-0.
“It’s only 6-1,” chorus the travelling fans with one of their favourite songs of recent times to celebrate their 6-1 win. “Sixty thousand empty seats, it’s only 6-1. It should have been 10, you lucky bastards. It could have been 10."
The giant sea of red is stunned, and the away fans even have the cheek to make a ssssh sound. “Fergie’s right, your fans are s--te,” they sing.
It’s not quiet when Zlatan Ibrahimovic puts United back in the game four minutes before half-time. The goal gives United hope as the players head down the tunnel at the break, which Mourinho utilises to substitute Lingard and Mkhitaryan, whose struggles to get into the game in their first start of the season were clear only 10 minutes into it.
United improve in the second period as they chase the game. Their fans shout “Attack! Attack! Attack!” A huge roar goes up followed by primal screams of “United! United!” when a board is held up to signal five minutes of added-on time, but City hold out.
“It’s only 6-1. Sixty thousand empty seats, it’s only 6-1. It should have been 10, you lucky bastards. It could have been 10."
City fans recall their most famous Old Trafford derby win
They deserve their win, and Mourinho is quick to congratulate Guardiola at the final whistle—plus all the City bench. It was their fans who delighted in singing “Never felt more like singing the Blues, City win, United lose…” and then “We’re the pride of Manchester.”
As they sing, Guardiola urges his players to go closer and applaud their supporters in the wedge-shaped away end. John Stones celebrates as if he’s won the league rather than his first Manchester derby.
United’s players are despondent. Their best had been Ibrahimovic, who sources confirm later bemoaned his poor service to friends—joking that he’d only had one true ball all game, and that from City’s shaky debutant goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, which he scored.