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Old stagers on parade to help Mancini rekindle magic memories

SOMETHING is going on in this city. An hour in a cab from Victoria Station to Eastlands is not normal, even in rush hour. Sky gave it the big drum roll even though it was not the host broadcaster. The cup was paraded along Coronation Street for Mancunian thespians to declare lifelong associations.

I always had dopey Steve McDonald down as a Red, and there he was coming over all Dennis Tueart and doling out the 'last time we won a trophy speech. The only thing lacking was a Carling Cup edition of 'It's A Knockout' and shots of the players leaving the team hotels on the bus.

Football has missed the Manchester big show, when blue lumps like Mike Doyle would delight in the upward trajectory of City during the post 1968 European Cup decline of United. Reruns of City's victory over Law, Charlton and Best in the 1969 League Cup semi-final were a feature of the pre-match entertainment, played out on a muddy pudding known as Maine Road.

The greying heroes of City's great period were paraded before kick-off, Bell, Lee and Summerbee, all wearing scarfs in big-knot Mancini mode, piped along the touchline by Oasis.

Tueart's winner in the 1976 League Cup final against Newcastle is the yardstick by which progress is measured. A better barometer is the goal back-heeled into the 'Scoreboard' net by Denis Law at Old Trafford two years before, the last time a City boot rested on United's throat.

That is what this fixture was about for City, the chance to reclaim lost authority in this town, to lord it over United in Manchester. Arab money makes this possible. United's leveraged ownership doubly so.

The spike in Eastlands euphoria was only marginally clipped by the defeat at Everton. Roberto Mancini's arrival coincided with a string of friendly fixtures lifting City momentarily into the top four. United continue to labour through a patchy season, pegged to the corrosive story of American debt.

The United portfolio was being offered around the US as the players took to the pitch. The search for a lifeboat continues and don't the City fans love it.

In the days of Liverpool hegemony the Stretford End always had their notional wealth on which to rely during playground banter, the biggest bank balance made possible by the largest aggregate gates. Sometimes 'my dad's bigger than your dad' will have to do, though even that was denied City until they struck oil 18 months ago.

Foreign ownership does not offend the multi-cultural crowd at Eastlands, who offer their thanks to Sheikh Mansour in a banner strung high on the grandstand.

United supporters were similarly sympathetic to the Stars and Stripes when the goals were going in and the championships were flowing. In this period of modest returns and scratchy wins over Burnley, unrest has resurfaced. These were the divergent dynamics pressing against the City walls last night.

The presence of City's old stagers and the sepia news reels made clear how deep the desire is at Eastlands to usurp United. The opening quarter of an hour and the goal that closed it reminded City of the need for patience.

The foundations are laid, but City are not quite there yet. This United is not the entity dominated by City 40 years ago; this is the house Alex Ferguson built and it is a colossal 33 trophies old.

That kind of success breeds a heap of self esteem. The United players understood the power trip playing out at City. They have spent the past 17 years getting high on the same juice. They were the ones high-rolling into this fixture, a detail that informed much of the early play. They say that teams no longer fear United. This may be true for those with nothing to lose. For those with everything to gain getting across the red line is not so easy. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent