Manchester City vs Manchester United, A Football History: Gary James Interview

When it comes to chronicling the history of Manchester City and Manchester United, the number one expert is Gary James, a football historian who is the author of several books regarding Manchester football clubs. In 2009, I interviewed Gary regarding the history of how Manchester City formed (you can listen to the interview in our archives). And now, in the build-up to this Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final featuring both Manchester clubs, Gary was kind enough to be interviewed again but this time focusing on the history of City against United in the FA Cup and one semi-final in particular 85 years ago.

Here is the interview:

The Gaffer: So much of the focus for the upcoming FA Cup semi-final will be on the present, in terms of who’ll be playing or who won’t in the Manchester derby. But what, for you, is the historical significance of this game?

Gary James: “Surprisingly, considering the successes of both clubs over the years, this is only the second FA Cup semi-final they’ve ever met in. The first was in 1926, so we’ve waited a long time for a re-match.

If United win the tie then I’m not certain whether the game will actually prove that significant in terms of history. Obviously, United will get to the final and could be on the verge of a treble – or at least a double – and City will have missed out, but I don’t think it would change much at all.

If City win, though, the significance will be greater. Not only will they have overcome United but there’ll also be at their first major final since 1981 and so that in itself would be significant. It could be the start of a great period for the Blues but we’ll only know in a few years time.”

Gaffer: Sir Alex Ferguson has warned about the potential of fan violence surrounding the FA Cup semi-final. But the 1926 FA Cup semi-final between both clubs was a different time where the fans traveled together in the same train to Sheffield. What are some of the stories that are most memorable from that day?

Gary: “They actually put on quite a few special trains and they did travel together. Having said that though there were a few minor incidents. It was all reported in a fairly light hearted manner and described as ‘Cheery Banter’. In one train a rather large City fan was boasting that his side would win so long as United didn’t resort to physical play. A smaller man wearing a red rosette then kicked him! The City fan then grabbed the red rosette and threw it out of the train window. A scuffle followed before someone else piped up that all Mancunians should stick together: ‘Tha’ll be slashed to ribbons wi’ th’ gangs at Sheffield!’

There were loads of interesting angles to that game. City went on special cup tie training while United stayed in Manchester and even went to watch a variety theatre show which included an act involving pigeons! I did an article for the Manchester Evening News on the full story of it all and everything surrounding it. (it can be accessed via my Facebook page). It sounds like a different world to be honest.”

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