When Liverpool play Manchester United the rivalry is always fierce. But the respect is deeper
The back page of Friday’s Manchester Evening News carried a simple message: Show Respect. It was in reference to today’s match between Liverpool and Manchester United, which has, in recent years, descended from keen rivalry into poisonous enmity. Yet these great northern cities, with their enormous sporting and cultural legacies, have more in common than they care to admit.
For all that they’re barely 30 miles apart, the citizens of Manchester and Liverpool were virtually unknown to one another until the 1830s. Prior to the establishment of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, the cities were divided by Chat Moss, a vast and near-impassable bog. The L&MR was the world’s first twin-track passenger railway and the new link sparked a period of cross-fertilisation between the two regional superpowers.
Their growth was swelled by refugees of the Irish potato famine in the 1840s, substantively contributing to each city’s distinctive character, too. The musical explosion that followed the end the Second World War and climaxed with the Merseybeat had its roots in country music. The DNA of country and bluegrass can be traced all the way from Billy Fury to Johnny Marr and is, in large part, due to the Irish influence.
If there’s any rationalising this inter-city rivalry, it’s crystallised in the work of two artists who share a surname. The paintings of LS Lowry have become icons of quotidian factory life in between-war Manchester. Conversely, novelist Malcolm Lowry’s Ultramarine celebrates a pre-beatnik wayfarer’s compulsive desire for the freedom of the sea: the pragmatic realism of the Mancunian set against the romantic wanderlust of the scouse drifter. Each is a stereotype, of course; both cities march to an idiosyncratic beat.
While the sound of Liverpool’s Cavern Club was shaking the world, the first tremors of another cultural earthquake were beginning to be felt in Manchester. The Twisted Wheel was the crucible for northern soul – arguably the first club in the country to court a multiracial crowd, dancing almost exclusively to black American blues and soul. The Beatles and the Stones were avid attenders. It’s unthinkable today but, without the Twisted Wheel’s notorious promoter, Roger Eagle, Tamla Motown and the blues and soul dynasty that followed may never have got a foothold in Britain.
Eagle was also the man behind Liverpool’s Eric’s club, a post-punk dive that gave birth to Echo & the Bunnymen and Zoo Records, and which operated a reciprocal entry scheme with Tony Wilson’s Factory club. Wilson, for all his public baiting of Scousers, was sincerely fond of Liverpool. When 47 Liverpool councillors were suspended without pay in 1986, he organised a benefit concert – From Manchester With Love. It was only fitting that on the day of his funeral, Wilson’s coffin was carried to his resting place bearing a huge floral tribute: From Liverpool With Love.
These rebellious, inventive, defiantly noisy neighbours have irritated and inspired each other for years. From Peterloo to Toxteth, George Melly to Morrissey – Liverpool and Manchester are just too close for comfort. Vive la différence.
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