MANCHESTER — The eyes of the football world will be on Manchester tonight as the city’s football clubs lock horns in an English football Premier League derby decider.
Success-starved Manchester City, now the world’s richest club, face rivals United, the most successful club in English domestic football, in a game many expect will effectively crown the winners as Premier League champions, with just two more games of the season left.
The Manchester derby’s fierce rivalry has increased another notch with City hoping to end their league title drought by beating their trophy-laden neighbours to top spot for the first time since 1968.
An oil-rich Arab buyout has helped City to rival their illustrious neighbours this season and a victory would be all the sweeter for sky blue fans who have suffered relegation and humiliation while watching United win honour after honour.
A United win could lead to a record 20th title for the club — and be all but accomplished at City’s home ground, who the Reds have derided as the “noisy neighbours”.
Just 48 000 lucky fans will pack City’s Etihad Stadium to capacity, with tickets for the match reportedly on sale for up to £1 500.
But hundreds of thousands more will pack pubs and clubs across Manchester with tens of millions more watching in the UK and across the world due to the English Premier League’s global appeal.
Fans in Manchester regard it as probably the most significant cross-city clash since West Gorton St Marks (City) first met Newton Heath (United) in 1881 and local police are gearing up for a busy night.
Extra police will patrol the city centre and around the ground, and officers will be visiting pubs where the match is being shown live on TV.
Pubs and clubs are also being advised to use plastic glasses and employ extra door staff tonight, with thousands of rival supporters expected to watch the match on big screens in Manchester city centre.
An alcohol exclusion zone between the city centre and the stadium will allow police to take alcohol from anyone caught carrying it and anyone turning up drunk at the ground will be refused entry.
Phil Burke, chairman of the Manchester Pub and Club Network, said: “The atmosphere has been electric all week in the city centre, everyone is looking forward to it, with all that’s at stake. It’s great both teams are from Manchester, this has not really happened before.
“We are expecting thousands to come into the city centre for the match. Monday nights are normally very quiet, it’s a fantastic boost for the pubs, clubs, hotels and shops.”
Chief Superintendent John O’Hare of Greater Manchester Police added: “As so much rests on this game, emotions will be running high and our main aim is to ensure the game is a safe and enjoyable experience for all fans.
“We will have the appropriate number of officers and resources within the ground and the surrounding areas to both deal with any incidents and offer reassurance to the public.
“The rivalry between the clubs really adds something extra to this fixture and should be embraced, but we must also ensure that this is not used as an excuse by some individuals to become involved in disorder. We want fans to enjoy themselves, but at the same time, we want to make it clear to the minority who may be thinking of causing any trouble that we will clamp down hard on them.
“We want to ensure that the city of Manchester, both of its clubs and its fans are remembered for the right reasons.”