On the 12th of November 1881, two local sides from the outskirts of northern industrial town in England came together to play a game of Association Football. They were Newton Heath and St Mark's (West Gorton).
That match was watched by just a handful of spectators, though a correspondent from the local paper - the Ashton Reporter - did make it along to the clash, and told readers that it was a 'pleasant game'.
The Ashton Reporter is still going too, incidentally, and after a series of rebrandings and mergers over the years is now a full-colour free paper covering the area. By rights it should have become the north of England's answer to the New Yorker, but while the paper stayed small the clubs got big. And then they got huge.
There are many other huge derbies in world football - Spain's Clasico, for example - while United also enjoy fiercely vitriolic rivalries with clubs including Liverpool and Leeds.
But there remains something special about the Manchester Derby. As the clubs get ready to do battle once more, we trace back through the years to look at the progression of this once-local clash into a coming together of titanic football organisations.
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1881 — West Gorton (St Marks) v Newton Heath
The very first Manchester derby was before the names City and United came into existence. West Gorton (later to become City) and Newton Heath (United) were just two of a number of clubs in the Manchester area that used to face off against each other. The Heathens won the friendly match 3-0 in a match that the Ashton Reporter newspaper called: "A very pleasant game." The first league meeting between the sides would not take place for another 13 years when Newton Heath beat the now-named Manchester City 5-2 in a Second Division match played in front of 14,000 people at Hyde Road.
1906 - Newton Heath v Manchester City in the first top flight clash
The two sides had met in the league for the first time in 1894, when City had just re-named itself from Ardwick AFC (which it had become in 1887) to Manchester City. But the first top flight clash between the two sides would have to wait a further 12 years - and when it did, it was a moment of sweet revenge for City's 1904 FA Cup winners beat their local rivals 3-0. The joy didn't last long: a few months later City were found guilty of making illegal payments to 17 players, with the club fined and the players banned. United actually picked up four of the City players when those bans ended (a move seen at the time as a good way to help a beleaguered fellow side rather than cruel poaching), and United would win their first ever league title a year later thanks in large part to the efforts of the former City stars.
1957 - The Busby Babes' final derby
While this game provided plenty of entertainment at the time - United won it 4-1 - it was to take on far greater significance the following year. The First Division match at Old Trafford proved to be many players' last derby date, with the Munich air crash decimating Matt Busby's squad on that fateful night in February 1958. But it was a fitting farewell to derbies for Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, David Pegg, Liam Whelan, Duncan Edwards and Tommy Taylor, as the latter two added goals to those of Johnny Berry and Dennis Viollet to see United run out comfortable winners.
1974 - Denis Law's backheel
United legend Denis Law is one of a select few who have crossed the city divide, and one of an even smaller group to have scored against his former club. The goal, a delightful backheel, came at the end of the 1973-74 season in a 1-0 City win at Old Trafford which is widely, and erroneously, credited with sealing United's relegation to the Second Division. In fact, the goal was irrelevant as United were already doomed, but nevertheless Law was left visibly distraught by the goal and was eventually substituted.
1989 - City spank United 5-1
A result that gave City bragging rights for many years, the 5-1 result at Maine Road was arguably City's proudest moment against their bitter rivals from across town before the famous 6-1 in 2011. Forget that United have since beaten City 5-0, this result in the 1989-90 season remains one of the most memorable derby results in Mancunian history. David Oldfield was on the scoresheet twice with Trevor Morley, Ian Bishop and Andy Hinchcliffe getting the others for City. Mark Hughes hit a trademark scissor-kick for United, but the visitors still scurried back to Old Trafford with their tails between their legs.
1993 - Cantona inspires United comeback
Eric Cantona tops almost every modern-day United fan's greatest player list, such was the impact he had on the club following his shock transfer from Leeds. And his influence was never more evident than on a cold November night at Maine Road in 1993 when he led United from two goals down to an improbable 3-2 victory. The Frenchman was at the heart of United's recovery, scoring two himself before Roy Keane netted the winner. United went on to record a league and cup double while Cantona ended the season with 25 goals and was voted the PFA Player of the Year.
2001 - Keane v Haaland
"I'd waited long enough. I f***ing hit him hard. The ball was there (I think). Take that you ****." Roy Keane exacted revenge in the most brutal fashion in the derby of 2001 after Alf-Inge Haaland had made the mistake of accusing the United midfielder of feigning injury three years earlier. Keane's horrific knee-high challenge on the Norwegian deservedly earned him a red card with four minutes remaining in the 1-1 draw at Old Trafford. But perhaps even more shocking than the tackle itself was Keane's apparent lack of remorse, proven by the above extract from his autobiography. Haaland was never the same player again.
2009 - Owen steals it at the death
City's generous spending during the summer of 2009 gave hope to Blues fans that their team would become more than just 'noisy neighbours' - and in their first real test they did not disappoint. A rip-roaring derby at Old Trafford saw City match United all the way, with Craig Bellamy's last-minute equaliser seemingly securing a deserved point. But Michael Owen came off the bench to net a glorious winner in injury time and put City back in their place - at least until the thrilling Carling Cup semi-final first leg, which they won 2-1. United again had the last laugh in that one though, winning the second leg 3-1 and going on to win the trophy.
2011 - Rooney's goal-of-the-season winner
A surprisingly drab encounter at Old Trafford looked like fizzling out into a draw when David Silva's effort 25 minutes from time cancelled out Nani's first-half opener. That all changed in a moment when, in the 78th minute, Nani's speculative cross from the right curled towards the corner of the box. Rooney, with his back to goal, defied the looming defenders as he leapt into the air and fired a crisply-struck bicycle kick straight into the top corner. The magnificent strike was voted goal of the season, and rightly so: the goal was a virtually flawless piece of footballing skill, but to pull it off under such pressure made it even more special.
2011 — Why always Balotelli?
Just days after stories emerged about Mario Balotelli having to call out the fire brigade when fireworks were let off inside his house, the Italian showed why Roberto Mancini had put up with his antics for so long as he played a key role in City's derby humiliation of United. Balotelli scored twice and drew the foul that got Jonny Evans sent off - an incident that prompted an astonishing second-half collapse from United. Evans saw red at 1-0, and shortly afterwards Balotelli plundered his second goal. Sergio Aguero added a third, before Edin Dzeko scored twice and David Silva once in a chaotic finale. Darren Fletcher netted a lone reply for United, who conceded six in a home league game for the first time since 1930, when Newcastle went one better in a 7-4 win.
2012 — Cup thriller at the Etihad
A nail-biting clash at the Etihad Stadium in the FA Cup third round saw City's defence of the trophy (where they beat United along the way) end at the first hurdle. United achieved a small measure of revenge for the 6-1 spanking handed to them at Old Trafford three months previously, but not without making life hard for themselves. Wayne Rooney opened the scoring on 10 minutes, and soon afterwards City captain Vincent Kompany was harshly sent off for a lunging tackle on Nani. A goal from Danny Welbeck and another from Rooney had United 3-0 up at half-time, but in the second half they almost contrived to throw it all away: Aleksandar Kolarov whipped in a fantastic free-kick just three minutes after the break to give City hope and Sergio Aguero struck midway through the half. However the 10 men of City were not quite able to salvage a replay. All this was played out against the backdrop of Paul Scholes coming out of retirement, news of which was broken just an hour or so before kick-off.
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