When Manchester saw red

By Feroz Khan | Updated: Dec 14, 2012, 12:04 PM IST

If you are one who loves the ‘red’ part of Manchester, then Sunday must have been a day that would have been marked, of course with a red marker, as the D-day on your calendar. Twice every year Manchester gets divided into a sea of red and blue. Twice every season, fans are treated to an all engrossing, and perhaps, the biggest rivalry in English football between Manchester United and Manchester City. This article won’t engage you with the details regarding the history and significance of this battle that over time has become one of the biggest events of the year. This piece is about what happened at the fag end of the latest meeting between the two teams.

Due to the developments of the last season that saw the noisy neighbours trumping their more illustrious counterparts to a League title in a dramatic finale, the build-up to the first encounter at Etihad Stadium was abuzz with revenge and emergence of a new order. That Hollywood heavyweight Tom Cruise chose this match to promote his latest movie is evident enough of the eyeballs it was expected to attract.

As per the script, the battle proved to be an engrossing affair with its unique dose of twists and turns. The match began with the home fans cheering their beloveds to the hilt. As luck would have it, Manchester City’s two year unbeaten record at home came under serious threat as Wayne Rooney’s two goals in the first half silenced the blue army. As is with a typical Hollywood flick that is bound to keep you glued to the seat right till the climax, the home team gave a reason to their followers to raise the decibel levels one more time, coming out all guns blazing after equalizing in the second half with strikes from Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaleta.

As the match entered into the injury time, the home team was content that even though they won’t be able to repeat the feat of the last season (defeating United in both encounters ), at least their unbeaten run at home and the season would stand safe. But for a late free-kick from Robin van Persie (whom Roberto Mancini tried luring to Eastlands earlier this year) that after a deflection cannoned in City’s goalpost giving United the win they badly wanted after back-to-back humiliations last season.

However, what transpired after this threatened to take the sheen off the match as a gutted City fan threw a coin at United’s Rio Ferdinand that left a sharp cut near his left eye leaving him bleeding. As the focussed shifted to him, another fan sneaked past the security charging towards Ferdinand with unknown intentions (though it was clear he wasn’t going to congratulate him for the win). Thanks to Joe Hart who ran into him thereby standing as a shield between the intruder and the defender there was no untoward incident as the police marshalled the erring fan off the pitch. This was apart from the hurling of flares, bottles on the pitch purportedly aimed at the visitors.

This is one side of the story. What caused Ferdinand’s bleeding is quite obvious but what provoked the “fan” to vent his ire in this fashion is something in which the defender played a part as well. After Van Persie’s winner, as everybody in the United camp went into a frenzy, Ferdinand decided to mock the home crowd by celebrating in front of them. As is known from the previous examples, it is considered to be unsportsmanlike behaviour to tease opposition fans by celebrating a goal in their face and can lead a player who engages in the act to be sent off.

A player of Ferdinand’s calibre and experience ought to know this, and doing it in a high voltage encounter like this was unsavoury to say the least. Even Wayne Rooney, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young were behaving irresponsibly after the United took lead in the first half.

This is not to say that hitting Ferdinand with a missile was a sane response. The defender has been doing this for quite a while and as a senior player should now show some maturity in his conduct. FA would not be going too far if it chooses to reprimand Ferdinand for his behaviour apart from punishing the guilty for their actions that led the contest ending on an ugly note.