Man City v Everton: A loveless relationship between two sets of supporters with an unlikely affinity

It would be a wild exaggeration to state that Manchester City and Everton supporters used to get along. In the hoolie-infested seventies and eighties it wasn’t recommended to stretch out your vowels in a Mancunian drawl when in the vicinity of Stanley Park, nor pipe up in chipper Scouse through the back alleys of Moss Side. Then there was that whole Ship Canal business that cost one city jobs and turned the other into a ‘Cottonopolis’.  Individuals may live day-to-day but people as a collective have awfully long memories.

Yet if the rivalry between these two fantastic fan-bases unquestionably had an edge to it, there was also an unlikely affinity, a mutual respect based on the fact that each thrived, failed and toiled beneath a red shadow, as Liverpool’s iron-rule extended across Europe and United preened with unwarranted arrogance as the world’s most famous football club. Later it became warranted, which only made it infinitely worse for City fans and though Evertonians were too classy to air patronisation, their empirical empathy came through in the eyes. They knew what it felt like. It felt horrible.

It is notable that each fan-base dealt with their prolonged predicament in pretty much the same fashion. While their neighbours became media darlings and enjoyed international acclaim, Everton and City sought consolation and bragging rights in locality. They boasted authenticity over mega-stardom. Theirs was the city’s people’s club.

Again this prompted an affinity, and though it’s a stretch to suggest they were chummy, for a sizable era Evertonians didn’t mind City and City didn’t mind Everton. For rival fans separated only by a chunk of motorway that’s as good as it gets.

Regrettably the relationship – if that term in itself isn’t pushing it somewhat – began to sour in 1989. Howard Kendall was a stonewall legend at Goodison Park, having won a league championship there as a player and returning many years later as manager to transform them into the best side in the country. Twice they won the title, knocking Liverpool off their perch a good few years before Ferguson got any ideas, and even if success is a more-than-sufficient barometer, it helped too that it was all achieved with a thrilling, balanced, and brilliant eleven.

His appointment at recently promoted City therefore, following a two year stint in Spain, was regarded as a coup and better yet Kendall arrived in Manchester to find City in an unusually chipper state. Three months earlier a side containing five home-grown England under 21 internationals had trounced United 5-1, so optimism was in the air, and City fans really didn’t do optimism. For once though it was justified and even if the great man did borrow substantially from his recent heritage – bringing over a raft of former Everton players – the results, as they say, spoke for themselves. Just over a year later City sat comfortably in fifth spot and were dreaming of great things happening when the bombshell hit: Kendall had resigned and was heading back down the M62.

City chairman Peter Swales described the shock desertion as ‘shattering’. Kendall, for his part, famously said, “You can have love affairs with other football clubs. With Everton, it’s a marriage”. Evertonians meanwhile swiftly broke the unspoken pact between the fan-bases and found the whole thing utterly chucklesome, with one particular card greeting their legend’s return saying ‘Hampers are for Christmas but Goodison is for life.”

That’s what City were now. A hamper. One minute they had an astute manager and everything going for them, the next they were left with some ropey tins of Spam and Alan Harper.

Divorce. That’s what came next, and like any separation there were only distrustful glares from afar. The scowls and petty jibes settled into becoming the status quo until September 2008 when the dynamic between these rival clans changed irrevocably. One won the lottery.

It doesn’t bear repeating that Manchester City’s takeover and their almost instantaneous rocketing into the moneyed elite. caused resentment and jealousy from many areas of football but with Everton it always felt a touch personal. If you believe the whispers that were prevalent at the time the Abu Dhabi United Group backed by Sheikh Mansour took a serious look at Newcastle and Everton before being persuaded into investing their colossal fortunes into East Manchester.

For Everton it could have been them. More so there was the once shared pride in being each respective city’s ‘people’s club’ that Evertonians now evidently viewed as being a singular boast. Buying player after player for vast amounts hardly constituted ‘keeping it real’ and I can say from personal experience as a City fan that during that period and beyond the United and Liverpool lot would deride and dismiss, whereas with the Toffees there seemed to be genuine disgust at the club’s lavishness.

In return, the charge of hypocrisy was hurled towards Merseyside. Had it been Everton afforded such riches would their morals still stand so tall? That remains debatable but understandably nobody reacts well to being called a hypocrite. The grievances only intensified and as far as fan relations went this was a low.

Enter stage left David William Moyes, a man who subsequently proved at Old Trafford that if you wanted something that was once quite good further dragging into the gutter, then he was your guy. Enraged by a contentious swoop for Joleon Lescott that squabbled its way into a farcical tit-for-tat over who publicly leaked the transfer first, Moyes accused City of having ‘no class’. It was a comment that severed any tenuous goodwill that lingered from the past. City and Everton had become City v Everton and how depressingly ironic that two fan-bases who had long felt a slight kinship from being the underdogs – the traditional, stereotypical working men’s clubs –were now entrenched in a toxic class war.

For a while it was hardly pleasant and that is written with a modicum of under-statement and from City’s perspective the grudge only worsened when Everton soon developed a hex over their side. Every year they would triumph through spirited, raised displays. Every year Tim Cahill would punch our bloody corner flags.

Again, only from City’s perspective, but on April 22nd 2012 the ill-feeling largely evaporated. Had Manchester United beaten Everton that afternoon at the self-proclaimed ‘Theatre of Dreams’ the title was surely there’s for the taking yet despite being 4-2 up with seven minutes remaining the away side showed the same defiance City were so familiar with and clawed back a draw. It was a depriving of two priceless points that ultimately led to Aguero and QPR and the realisation of a surreal fantasy. It was a fighting performance that City fans will always be immensely grateful for.

The entente cordiale continued eighteen months later when David Moyes resigned from his Everton post and took over as Alex Ferguson’s successor. Both fan-bases were equally as fearful of the Scot succeeding; both were united in hilarity when he didn’t. This places Moyes in a unique role in this tale: first he caused a major rift that looked in danger of only worsening over time and then he healed it through his sheer incompetence.

Which brings us to the here and now, and it would be a wild exaggeration to state that it’s all hearts and flowers between City and Everton supporters but it’s certainly true to suggest that the divide is being bridged. Recent heavy investment into Everton has facilitated a new-look side capable of challenging for a top four berth, while there appears to be a renewed acknowledgement that each set of fans are not enemies. Rather they share a similar type of foe closer to home.

In our lifetime City and Everton fans have existed in a loveless marriage; divorced; viciously hated on one another; and now nod hospitably when their paths cross. Long may that continue.