In Depth

Why do Liverpool and Man United hate each other?

From the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal to Jose Mourinho's time at Chelsea, the rivalry runs deep


Liverpool and Manchester United share one of the fiercest rivalries in football and fans around the world will tonight tune in to see them clash in the Premier League.

But what fuels the animosity between two sides separated by a mere 35 miles and who both have more immediate local enemies in Everton and Manchester City?


The first meeting between Liverpool and Man United, then known as Newton Heath, took place in 1894, two months after the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal, which drove a massive wedge between the two industrial cities.

The 36-mile long canal enabled the merchants and manufacturers of Manchester to bypass the expensive railway between the two cities and avoid paying dock fees and other charges in Merseyside. It was a boon for Manchester, but had a serious impact on the port city of Liverpool.

"So began a loathing that never waned," says The Sun, and the waxing and waning of the two cities economic fortunes has played a huge part.

CultureNot only do Liverpool and Manchester have an economic rivalry, they have also been at the forefront of British culture, most notably musical. In the 1960s, Liverpool was the home of the Merseybeat sound and The Beatles. A few decades later, Manchester hit back with the Happy Mondays, the Stone Roses and Madchester.

The two cities also boast spectacular architecture, art galleries and museums, as well as thriving social scenes. As the two biggest cities in the north-west, they are home to some of the UK's most diverse communities.

There has been a thawing of relations on this level in recent years, with Manchester backing Liverpool's application to be named European Capital of Culture in 2008.

Bragging rights

Key to the rivalry between the two teams is that they have rarely been in the ascendency at the same time, making the other side's successes even harder to take. 

Liverpool had the first taste of success when they won the title for the first time in 1901. United responded in 1908 and exerted a measure of control in the 1950s, winning three times.

In the 1960s, the two sides won two titles each over the four seasons between 1963 and 1967. After that, however, their fortunes diverged.The Reds went on to dominate and between 1973 and 1988, won ten titles in 16 years, as well as four European Cups.

When Sir Alex Ferguson took over as United manager in 1986, he famously said his biggest challenge was to knock Liverpool "off their f****** perch". And he managed it. Liverpool last won the old First Division in 1990, since when Manchester United have lifted 13 Premier League trophies.

The tally of titles currently stands at 18 to Liverpool and 20 to Man United, although Liverpool fans are fiercely proud of their five European Cup triumphs, which eclipse United's three.

Managerial rivalries

Both teams believe they have had the finest managers the game has ever seen. For Liverpool fans, that honour goes to Bill Shankly, while United supporters argue in support of either Matt Busby or Sir Alex Ferguson deserves the title.

Fans today believe their man in charge is the best. Jurgen Klopp, who took over at Anfield last year, is hugely popular with Liverpool fans, while Jose Mourinho is regarded by United fans as the man to bring back the successes of the Ferguson era.

To add spice to the recipe, Liverpool fans cannot stand Mourinho, who fostered a poisonous rivalry with the Reds when he was in charge of Chelsea. That, of course, only endears him further to the Old Trafford faithful.

Klopp, however, is one of the few managers who seems to have the measure of Mourinho and had beaten him three times in five meetings. Any touchline celebrations tonight are sure to wind up the opposition fans.

Player rivalry

Unsurprisingly, a rivalry that dates back more than a century has left a legacy on footballing culture that means the players are more fired up for Liverpool vs Man United games than any other.

Writing for the Players' Tribune website, former United defender Gary Neville explains the pressure. "It's different from Chelsea. It's even different from City, at least for me. It's almost an out of body experience. The tension is immense," he says.

"It's a match that's been in the back of your mind for the last two weeks, in the front of your mind for the last week, and punching you straight on the nose for the last three days. If you beat Liverpool, it's going to be the best day of the season. If you lose, it's going to be the absolute worst."

Global reach

Although the rivalry was "was once a localised affair, with most of the players from Merseyside or Manchester and most supporters within a stone's throw of the M62, it is now a truly global game", says the Press Association.

Supporters everywhere from Kenya to India will tune in to watch the clash, which, as FootballFanCast says, "traditionally claims the largest global audience of any Premier League match-up".


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