The quaint Old Trafford pub on the road leading up to the cricket ground here sports a brave stand: “Open only on match days.” You try and book a table for yourself for the England-Australia cricket match and a sense of disbelief engulfs the booking agent at the other end. “Madam, when we say match day we mean only football!”
Cricket is second to many sports in England, the game’s mother country, but nowhere more pronounced is this fall from grace than in football bastions like Manchester where a ticket to visit the famous Manchester United Football Stadium, the real “Old Trafford” as they consider it, goes up to 50 pounds for a two-hour walk through.
The city itself, named Mamucium for having been built on a mound, well, resembling a pair of mammary glands, boasts of many firsts and ups a constant middle finger at any claimants otherwise, be it sport, industry or cyber inventions, not to mention its eventful journey from Mancunian to Manchester 2 to Madchester 3 & 4, in what locals call four avatars of a perennial pioneer.
There are many crimes in Manchester which have been doable down the ages, like drugs and gang violence, for instance. But the one that has been completely undoable is asking for a Liverpool jersey at any of their sports merchandise shop. The Liverpool-Manchester rivalry dates back to an 1884 water canal and is not just about football.
The two cities, just 35 miles apart, have been slogging it out for premiership in everything -- from politics to transport to sports, with Manchester having an edge but also having to share its glory with Liverpool on logistics.
Manchester split the atom for the world and is the birthplace of the first computer, thanks to Alan Turing, a harangued scientist who committed suicide after being discovered as a homosexual and preferred to take libido downer injections over jail. His body was found in the kitchen with a bitten apple next to him, apparently laced with cyanide, giving wind to talk of Steve Jobs giving him homage through the flagship symbol even though England itself gave the man his pride back only in the 21st Century apologising for his persecution despite him being the man who cut the big war short by several years through his decoding abilities.
Liverpool guys, however, are totally disdainful of anything their brother city has ever achieved. Manchester at worst is responsible for Hiroshima, Nagasaki & Bill Gates, is their chant.
But this one is about Manchester, not Liverpool. Mancunians, however, are passionate beings, taking pride in their revolutions, their music, place in world politics as also their propensity to make the unheard-of meet, like being the harbingers of capitalism and yet being the place where the Communist manifesto was written by Karl Marx and Engels.
The Chartist movement, the Anti-Porn Law League, the Free Trade Movement, the Co-Operative Movement, the Suffragette Movement (the movement for right to vote for women), and, please do believe me, vegetarianism too! This was the place where the first vegetarian cookbook was published and a vegetarian society was founded.
Manchester fiercely prides itself as being the world’s city of firsts. From hosting the world’s first professional football league in 1888, to the first passenger railway train which ironically took its inaugural journey from Manchester to Liverpool if you please! This was the first time someone could go and buy a ticket and travel for the pleasure of it rather than just transporting goods.
At one point, 80 per cent of the cotton-based goods that showed up in the world were synonymous with Manchester and even today, the golden ball decorating the summit of their Townhall is a cotton ball and not a football as you would have thought.
To this day, in Australia and New Zealand, you get the Manchester departments in stores selling cottonalia despite most of the cotton mills and warehouses now being turned into clubs, housing and secret gems of the largely underground musical gigs. No wonder then, in Czech language, the word Manchester translates into cowdroy trousers! There are 36 cities named Manchester in the world, but none as prominent as this one which came into being in 78 AD.
The industrialisation peaked in 1913 and it was during the World War II when most of the warehouses were bombed triggering a decline into non-existence in 1968 by when just 15 mills were left in surrounding areas. Manchester, in that sense, brought the Industrial Revolution’s other facet to the world too, it being called the Shock of the 19th Century, the de-industrialisation.
Today, the red brick buildings are a source of tours and vintage landscape, but these were largely warehouses where the cotton came and sat before being spun into textiles and shipped worldwide. Initially, and much to the chagrin of the Mancunians, everything had to come to them via, ahem, the Liverpool ship canal! And when the city built its own, it was the biggest and first middle finger it could show to Liverpool. People didn’t have to go via Liverpool any more, they could come directly to Manchester and save themselves the despair of being obliged to this city’s biggest rival.
Today, the rivalry brews as strong and locals tell you when Liverpool meets the Reds on home ground, the acoustics far exceed the decibel levels of an India-Pakistan cricket match in any part of the world. The Manchester United stadium has a 75,000-strong stand capacity and tickets for this event are sold seasons before. This intense rivalry can only be compared to a more recent one fuelling the hyper pods against Manchester City, the other local club which has recently been giving a run for their fans. Thankfully for cricket, football is on a summer break, giving the World Cup some of its moment in the city.
Manchester’s economic success was built by unsung slaves and working-class Mancunians who were primarily Irish or Italians, exploited much like slaves. They lived in highly unhygienic conditions with contaminated drinking water, leaving them with two choices. One, risk drinking the water and suffer from fatal waterborne diseases like typhoid and cholera. Two, switch to alcohol. So that’s how you explain the great Irish zen for the liquid diet of the heady kind!
The world’s first trade union meeting took place on the famous Princess Street in the 19th Century. Today, the street hosts another becoming icon buster: The Midlands Hotel which contributes significantly in Manchester’s other precious tag of being the city where two become one, where the twain meet – like Capitalism and Communism, like anti-and-pro homosexuality laws, like isolation of women from politics to inclusivity.
For this generation, it is the hotel which hosted the first and very secret date of their football legend David Beckham and then Spice Girl Victoria. This is also the building which Hitler took to heart, asking its troops to save it from all the bombing.
The shadow of the other dreary and empty buildings around this majestic hotel, not to mention the high percentage of joblessness, depression and angst of de-industrialisation, gave birth to a lot of path-breaking cultural activities which today’s Manchester signifies with, like its music. Its yuppie 21stCentury construction, however, dents some of the shine of a proud Mancunian, by having become non-inclusive, corporate and largely unaffordable!
But an illegal and strong rave culture ridden with drugs, alcohol and joblessness besieged the youth. In 1976, came the symbolic arrival of Punk in the UK through Manchester’s doors of course when the Sex Pistols premiered songs like “Never mind the wallet” at the Free Trade Hall. But did you know that despite the highly publicised event wherein the band was brought in from London, how many people attended it? Just 40, the same number as the ones earmarked for billion-pound bunker that was built in the early 20th Century with a fully functional bar, a tunnel to escape and food amenities for six months in case the A-bomb exploded, which never did and by the time the Cold War brought in the more powerful and destructive H-bomb, the bunker was shown up as too ancient to cut any kind of damage.
Back to music, Manchester boasts of an unending list of bands like The Stone Roses, Joy Division, New Order, Blue Mondays, The Fall, The Doves, Charlatans, The Smiths, Oasis, Take Date, signifying much of present Manchester. This is where the transition from Manchester 3 to Manchester 4, from Mamucium to Manchester to Madchester started, the city never losing its identity or pride.
As famously said: “Despite the decades of decline, despite the wet weather, despite 11 years of Margaret Thatcher, despite the drugs and the gangs and the garbage in the street, Manchester still feels alive. This is an achievement for however long as it lasts. Manchester survives through small acts of defiance because in and around the ruins of an empire, the kids are alive and dancing!”
The thing about Manchester is, Mancunians believe it all comes from here, a city that thinks tables are for dancing, people who pride in their sarcasm, its shops & its attitude and a generation who now keeps banging on its football teams, the Reds and the Blues, Manchester United and the lesser Manchester City.
On a more global front, Manchester changed the world’s politics: From vegetarianism to feminism to trade unionism to communism, every upstart notion that ever-got ideas above its station, every snotty street-fighter of a radical philosophy, was fostered brawling in Manchester’s streets, mills, pubs, churches and debating halls. Well said, Stuart Maconie because, indeed, this is Manchester, they do things here differently!