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A Look Back at the History of the Manchester Derby

A Look Back at the History of the Manchester Derby

Article by: Kevin Chan

Mon, Oct 03.22

A Look Back at the History of the Manchester Derby

Ask any fan to provide an example of a true modern day rivalry that has stood its time in history. 

Ignited by antics and heroes, actions of the past generations have shaped the Manchester fixture to be one of the most iconic derbies in world football.

Manchester Derby History

It Started Off Friendly

Believe it or not, these teams actually first faced off in a friendly match. 

Dating back to 1881, Old Trafford was only 4 miles apart from the City of Manchester Stadium. Without an established “professional football” league at the time, the local fixture played no special significance. It was just two local clubs amongst the many.

City even did United a favor in 1908. Having breached a financial infringement by overpaying their players, the sky blues had given United four players, who then helped the Red Devils win the league in the same year.

It wasn’t until 1970, when the first glimpse of a Derby came into play through the much loved George Best. The English Striker ruthlessly went flying into a tackle that left City’s Glen Pardoe stretchered off with a broken leg.

Tensions were sure to rise in the years to come. When the 1973/74 season had come about, United was facing relegation. Who else would the football gods have them face? It was a must win game against City at Old Trafford. 

Former striker Dennis Law scored a smooth backheel in the 80th minute to relegate United and put city up 1-0. The United fans tried to take matters into their own hands, storming the pitch, not once, twice, but three times to try to have the game abandoned. But the referee had other ideas, and United was relegated all thanks to their former striker. 

To date, the teams have played 187 matches in all competitions, United winning 77, City 57, and 53 being draws.  

Manchester Derby History

Significant events and turning points for City

As the years have gone by, this fixture has never gotten any less tense. With eyes now turning to City’s new signing Erland Haaland, who’s father once played for the sky blues and infamously had his career ended in this fixture back in 2001 by cult hero Roy Keane - Erling will definitely be out to gain revenge.

Gone are the days where United are clear favourites. Flashing back to September 1 2008, Manchester City was taken over by Abu Dhabi United Group, which changed the destiny of the club ever since. 

It wasn’t until October 2011, where City truly blossomed against their cross town rivals though. Beating United by 6 goals to 1. Things only went from bad to worse for United, as City went on to clinch the title on goal difference on the final match day of the 2011-2012 Premier League, beating Queens Park Rangers 3-2 in the 93rd minute. Their first league title in 43 years. We’re sure many of you readers still remember that goal from Sergio Aguero.

Manchester Derby History


5 Players who Played for Both Manchester Sides


What adds to the bitterness of the rivalry, is arguably the amount of players having worn both red and blue shirts of Manchester. A guaranteed way to make enemies, both locally and globally. 

Here were five famous players who were bold enough to play for both clubs:

Carlos Tevez


Signed by Mark Hughes in 2009, manager of Man City at the time. A huge street banner of tevez in sky blue sent both sets of fans crazy with emotions. 


Peter Schmeichel


His final season before retirement saw the Danish legend sign with City. A surprise for all, nonetheless Schmeichel managed to remain undefeated against his old side that campaign during the two times that they met. 


Andy Cole


Cole made the move to the Sky Blues in 2002. Having scored a total of 121 goals for the Red Devils, form didn’t favor him at City where he was also met by injury shortly after signing. 


Denis Law

As mentioned earlier, Law got on the nerves of his old set of fans when he not only scored but relegated United when he joined City in 1973.

Billy Meredith


Meredith totalled 30 years of playing between the two Manchester clubs, where he experienced his last match as a city player at 49 years old and 245 days. Making him city’s oldest ever player. 


Whichever side of Manchester you’re taking, you can shop the latest kits, teamwear and merchandise now at Ultra Football. 


Show your support with Manchester United or Manchester City jerseys and fangear!


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