THIS SCOUSE V MANC THING
Mickey Blue Eyes
As our opening match looms against Manchester United we should briefly illuminate this fractious city of Liverpool versus city of Manchester thing. It is after all one of the most banal and useless myths of all, that of nineteenth-century "Liverpool gentlemen, Manchester men." Or is it the reverse? As if it mattered. Unfortunately it has decayed into a swamp wallowed in by chauvinists and masochists in both cities. Eventually the myth became all too real and sometimes, incredibly, a physical threat. The whole thing is of course absurd. It is the idiotic side of football.
However, you find it hard to avoid the issue when occasionally it is even claimed each city has a different sense of humour. Ken Dodd, who has studied humour in detail - he claims to have discovered the "secret of humour" - says old-style Liverpool comedians are chirpy, optimistic and bright, like himself, Freddie Starr, Stan Boardman and Mickey Finn, while Manchester comics from the same era are drolls like Les Dawson, Bernard Manning, Ken Platt and Al Read. You hear generalisations like that and you don't know whether to laugh or cry.
As of the 2001 census Liverpool's population was 439,473 (a loss of seven percent on the previous census) and Manchester's population was 392,819 (a loss of three percent), At the time Liverpool was the nation's eighth largest city by population, Manchester ninth, Liverpool's area 10,875 hectares, Manchester's area 10,282 hectares. The similarities are striking.
In fact the civic rivalry is rooted in long-forgotten commercial rivalry from a long-gone age. Eventually this morphed into tribalist ritual anger even amongst a working class who should have known better. Both cities were eager to forget their nineteenth century common profiteering on the backs of black slave labour in American cotton plantations. King Cotton ruled then as King Oil rules now. But events in the latter half of the last century were crucial to current contrived perceptions. Limited regional control of the media played a decisive part. Virtually all such control was, and remains, centred in Manchester. Local newspapers the Liverpool Echo and Liverpool Daily Post even moved printing and distribution operations to Oldham in 2008, after a hundred and fifty four years in the city. This year the Post became a weekly newspaper. The owners, Trinity Mirror, are based at Canary Wharf in London, a location at the heart of financial corruption and profiteering in Britain. At the time of the move Trinity Mirror made profits of £50 million as they sacked a hundred workers in Liverpool.
However, such rivalry isn't unique to these two cities. There are plenty of other similar examples throughout the country. Some that spring readily to mind are Newcastle-Sunderland, Southampton-Portsmouth, Leeds-Sheffield, Cardiff-Bristol, Burnley-Blackburn, Derby-Nottingham, Preston-Blackpool, Coventry-Leicester, and so on. Almost all of these have the same sort of roots dating back at least to the Industrial Revolution, and sometimes much earlier. Few of them assumed the irrational, intensely poisonous level of mutual hatred that came to typify relations between Manchester and Liverpool. It got so ridiculous even deputy prime minister John Prescott tried to intervene and got both cities to sign a cooperative agreement in 2002. To my knowledge there have been only superficial attempts to make anything of it.
National media have had regional offices in Manchester since the Manchester Guardian was founded in 1821. When radio and television developed in last mid-century both BBC and commercial TV located their studios there. In 2005 the BBC announced an increased emphasis in their services from Manchester. Then the BBC made a relatively major move to a "Media City" in Salford and completed it earlier this year; it immediately drew contempt and scorn from journalists based in London. Meanwhile, Liverpool only ever established small local studios. To this day we don't have a local free-to-air or satellite TV channel. This imbalance led eventually to an even more grotesque skew in the way our city was reported. But initially none of it really mattered until the impact of popular culture in the 60s. In that era, regional studios or not, Manchester was as overwhelmed as the rest of the world by the so-called "Mersey Sound" and the success of our local football clubs.
The Munich air disaster of February 1958 was pivotal. Manchester United lost the bulk of a wonderful young team that also formed the backbone of the England team. Rightly, mourning was universal. It was a terrible moment made all the more poignant by the loss of young men near the height of their athletic prowess. It was understandable national media should treat initial match reports with great sympathy. Most of us felt the same way. Unfortunately, unwisely, the sympathetic treatment continued for much longer. Eventually, media bias reached near ludicrous levels even as late as five years afterwards. By which time Everton and Liverpool held a clear ascendancy in matters football. Local resentment began to simmer at perceived biased reporting in favour of Manchester. It was never as bad as imagined but it was bad enough. By 1963-64 the foundations were laid for future neuroses.
From the beginning there was a distinction between Everton's rivalry with Manchester United and Manchester City and Liverpool's rivalry with the same clubs. Ours had a much longer standing, while Liverpool's had a sense of novelty and shrill mutual hysteria about it from their first league match after promotion, 3-3 at Old Trafford, in the old Division One in 1962. The mid-late 1950s had been dominated by Manchester while Everton ambled along doing nothing in particular in Division One and Liverpool spent eight seasons in Division Two, though they met and lost to both in FA Cup games. While Everton had an excellent record against United it wasn't so good against City. Clashes with United had an intensity of their own given the kind of team United had. And when multimillionaire John Moores bought Everton he triggered a revolution that brought some legendary encounters. At first these were considered merely an intensification of a great rivalry. After all, Moores was Manchester-born, but had later publicly identified himself as "a Liverpool man" who accumulated a huge fortune in the city and made occasional acts of philanthropy. Locally, the view changed as media match reports were filtered via Manchester. Resentment at this end of the East Lancs Road was based on perceived misreporting. At the other end there was a rather obvious and growing envy of Merseyside success. Ever so slowly, matters went from mere sulking rivalry, to simmer, to boil.
In the meantime Merseyside popular music swept around the world. The combination was too much for some chauvinist Mancunians. Not even England's first European Cup victory by Manchester United in 1968 could staunch the flow. The decade closed with Merseyside firmly in pole position in both fields. By then, long-faded commercial rivalry had been displaced by working-class tribal resentment and all its ugliest manifestations. United even got relegated in the early 70s and, perceived humiliation on humiliation, one of the decisive games was lost 1-0 at........................Everton. And then, irony on irony, Manchester City finally relegated Manchester United with a 1-0 win with a goal scored by a former United player, Denis Law. Manchester, it seemed, was a popular culture black hole.
Of course the whole thing was a senseless illusion, two provincial bald men fighting over a comb. Except as a neanderthal spectacle it scarcely mattered to anybody but the combatants. But both sides not only began to believe the myths, gradually they began to act them out in the worst manner. As time went on it simply got worse. In the end the myths became manifest. At football we had the truly horrific spectacles at Anfield of a Mancunian football supporter with a dart embedded in the bridge of his nose and corrosive liquid sprayed over the United dugout. Visiting football coaches at each end of the East Lancashire Road were routinely smashed with organised brick throwing. Individual fans suffered grave physical attack. And all because of the contrived spectacles of popular music, men kicking a football, and irresponsible media reporting. As of this date, though most of the worst symptoms have long faded, one side is as bad as the other and the media are equally irresponsible in their refusal to deal intelligently with it.
By the time the 1980s came around near-complete mutual hatred was well entrenched. So was Merseyside's virtual domination of the domestic football scene. If Everton didn't win a trophy, Liverpool did. In fact Liverpool had already developed into one of Europe's leading clubs and to date have won the European Cup a remarkable five times, an astonishing achievement in a thirty years time span in the modern game. Where football was concerned Manchester sank into relative near-obscurity as both our local clubs swept the board despite the horrors of an imploded economy and society. Like virtually the rest of provincial Britain Manchester too suffered the same kind of socio-economic collapse. Crucially, the presentational difference was because Manchester had regional media headquarters and thereforere better access to the media. Meanwhile, Manchester-based tabloid regional outlets also joined in the press attacks on Liverpool.
But help also was at hand for Manchester in the shape of the so-called "Madchester" popular music surge of the 80s. This was contrived by one of our city's most implacable media enemies, the late Tony Wilson, a presentation front-man employee of Manchester-based Granada TV. At the time Wilson, who hated and envied Liverpool, never lost an opportunity to take advantage of his media position to make humourless propaganda points against the city of Liverpool and/or its football teams. Anyone who saw any of his broadcasts could have little doubt of the sheer venom of his intentions. Coincidentally his attacks diminished and then ceased altogether when much later he became involved in property development proposals in Liverpool. Meanwhile Liverpool had nobody in a similar media position to defend its interests. Local newspapers, far from defending the city against media lies, actually joined in attacking its own citizens.
Wilson was proprietor of a Manchester city centre club named the Hacienda. Eventually, somehow, ludicrously, this got referred to in some Granada news broadcasts as "The world-famous Hacienda." It became the centre of a self-styled "new wave" of pop music singers and bands. The claim was ludicrous even by the hype standards of popular music promotion, 60s included. None of the individuals or bands had the talent of The Beatles, let alone the global impact, or the profound popular music impact of the intuitive genius of Lennon and McCartney. The two songwriters were not as important as thought at the time: they were considerably more important. They changed the history of twentieth century music in a way denied only by music illiterates. That they were born and bred in Liverpool was simply our good luck. But it didn't stop the propaganda, which also produced lightweight chauvinist books with titles such as, It Started In Manchester (with the word "Liverpool" crossed through between the last two words) and And God Created Manchester. The first tome basically claimed that Manchester had been cheated out of its "rightful" place in pop music history by the myths of the 60s. You could smell the resentment of Liverpool in both. All of it rode conveniently on the backs of mainstream anti-Liverpool media treatment in the 80s.
Eventually, after creation of a widely despised "Premier" League in 1992, and after twenty-six years of trying, Manchester United managed to restore itself to the forefront of trophy winning clubs, which is where they are at the time of writing. Manchester City plummeted to the old Division Three before rising back up to the top division. At the same time the heart of Merseyside football slowed in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. In my view it has never fully recovered. Perhaps it never will. After that horror I cannot conceive a certain generation of us will ever feel the same about football. Finally we lost most of what was left of our innocent enjoyment. Moreover, Premier League money was made even more of a prime mover in the game. Ironically, both Manchester United and Liverpool were sold to Americans by their local owners, then Manchester City were sold to a rich family in the United Arab Emirates. Economic anarchy and greed now ruled. This was a clear reflection of one ethnic novelist's description of British political culture as "......a litter-strewn right-wing authoritarian rat-hole......"
So the wheel went full circle in these two fields of popular culture. By the time the current cycle finished Manchester was "winning."
But both matters were quite trivial compared to relative and absolute decline of the economies of both cities from the late 1960s right up to the late 90s. They both suffered from extreme deprivation and its inevitable companion, rising crime, as did all other major cities in varying degrees. Each pursued its own course instead of uniting to fight identical urban malaise, the cancer afflicting all former industrial cities. They became diametrically opposed yet again. Instead of a united front, benighted citizens of each engaged in even more regional chauvinism. Even in jails it became policy to separate criminals from each city.
Politically, Manchester chose an approach of economic compromise with authoritarian right-wing government. Liverpool, assaulted by unprincipled government policy and its media propaganda arm, chose a policy of opposition led by the left. Given the contemporary political climate there could be only one "winner," Manchester. Of course this delighted the government and it drew a visit there from Margaret Thatcher, who told its lord mayor, "Manchester.........is even better than you claim........." This was nonsense and everyone acquainted with reality knew it, including their honest lord mayor. But that wasn't the point, which was to support the false notion that modern cities could be regenerated solely by so-called "free" markets and, by implication, the contemporary government's right-wing policies. It goes without saying there was no similar visit to Liverpool.
Nevertheless, Manchester readily conceded the only way they were going to save themselves relatively quickly in a capitalist system was to cash in lower values of their only measurable asset, land and buildings. In other words, sell everything cheap to banks and/or developers and at least get something built and hope this would lead on to "better" things. It was "trickle down" made manifest. This led to a city centre "boom" which had minimal affect on surrounding deprived areas or the city's deep-seated employment problems. But at least Manchester had a shop window of sorts and a ten-year start over Liverpool. They had something to trumpet. And, crucially, they had the regional centres of media to help promote themselves in the national and international network of political power. By comparison, Liverpool had nothing. Only in the last five years has the situation begun to change.
In 1996 the largest-ever IRA terrorist bomb attacked Manchester city centre. Manchester chauvinists noted there had been no similar attack on Liverpool and stressed itsIrish connections and past, ignoring the fact there were many other cities throughout the nation that also escaped attack. It also ignored Manchester's own Irish ethnic population. But the bombing also led to part re-building of Manchester city centre.
Manchester civic leaders realised early in the 80s there was going to be no quick return to the previous socio-economic culture and acted accordingly. One of their aims midway through the decade was to restore a level of civic pride by involvement in international spectacles. This led them to make two unsuccessful bids to stage the Olympic Games of 1996 and 2000. Undaunted, they went on to secure the Commonwealth Games 2002, of which they made a great success. They also won the accolade of UK City of Drama in 1994.
Then in 2003 Liverpool was awarded European Capital of Culture 2008, an award which had helped Glasgow partially recover from its own severe socio-economic problems in 1990. However, like the aforementioned Manchester spectacles, in the overall scheme of events it was little more than a public relations "rebranding" exercise and could not be more than a short term response to problems posed by a failing political system. It was a welcome fillip, nothing more. Of much greater importance was the incoming Objective One finance from the European Union. Without this, the likelihood was that both cities would have continued to decline at roughly the same rate. Indeed, once the current wave of physical rebuilding is complete it is likely the same socio-economic questions will remain unanswered, not just in Liverpool and Manchester but right across provincial Britain.
The reality is that chauvinism in both cities comprises nothing more than a yawn-inducing debate. More and more sensible people from both ends of the East Lancashire Road are simply bored with the pantomime. Small wonder the North West Regional Development Association was located in Warrington. But fate also has a sense of irony because in the late 1960s Liverpool Chamber of Commerce commissioned American consultants to produce a regional status report with forecasts for future commercial patterns. When it was delivered the document was refused by the Chamber because it stated Warrington was about to replace Liverpool and Manchester as the fastest growing conurbation in the northwest. The major cities, it claimed, were about to decline in absolute and relative terms. Which is what happened in the ensuing quarter century. The private and public leadership of both cities mostly buried their heads in the sand and refused to accept the implications. When it duly happened they were armed with nothing but sullen resentment. Of course there was a much deeper reason for the decline, which is why events came to overwhelm virtually every provincial city in Britain, not just England, and arguably Scotland first. Popular music and football were the least of it.
Nevertheless we are still faced with the tragic farce of two modern cities circling each other warily like aged fishwives cursing at each other. Having grown through unavoidable interdependence they have too often allowed the fear of long-term decline to overwhelm their best qualities. Which in the end lie in the abilities of their sorely tried people. It is a sobering thought that a terraced house used by Karl Marx to illustrate the truth of his Theory of Surplus Value was only demolished in Manchester in the early 1970s. It could just as easily have been any similar house in any city anywhere in the world. And therein lies the reality.
Can there be anything more ironic than an Index of Deprivation in 2006 which showed Manchester and Liverpool contain the four most deprived wards in the country? Does it give any sensible citizen any consolation that Harpurhey in Manchester is rated marginally more deprived than the Everton ward? Or that, according to the think tank Reform in 2006, four of the top seven crime rated areas in England are located in "Greater" Manchester, while Liverpool was in twenty-first position? What if all these comparative figures were reversed? So what? What satisfaction can be gained from the sabotage of future hopes for any group of British citizens anywhere?
The cities are different, not better one than the other, just different. The sooner this is accepted by both sets of chauvinists the sooner both cities can try to restore the fortunes of the northwest through necessary co-operation. The cradle of the Industrial Revolution can produce a new generation. But absolutely not until they face the full truth of their origins and simultaneous growth and decline.