Manchester derby captures world's imagination
It was the derby game the whole world stopped and watched. This we know because Monday night’s Manchester showdown attracted a record number of international broadcasters to the Etihad Stadium.
At least 22 were said to have requested time slots in which to send pitch-side previews or interviews back home. In the end, 17 different broadcasters were able to do just that, even if their reporters might have had to watch the game itself from the Press Box because there simply were not enough seats to go around.
By contrast, last month’s most recent El Clasico at the Nou Camp attracted nine international on-site broadcasters.
We were lucky enough to be in Manchester on Monday, broadcasting to 110 countries (the match coverage went to 212 in total), wrapping our own studio presentation around the game. With a magnificent view from our TV studio, high above the end of the ground at which Vincent Kompany scored the game’s only goal, my guests Andy Townsend and Roy Keane had perhaps the best seats in the house.
After the game, the TV outside broadcast compound was a hive of activity as the process of “de-rigging” began. It was also abuzz with reaction to City’s win. So what did the world make of a potentially decisive result in this season’s title race?
The men from Abu Dhabi TV’s sports channel were euphoric. “This was the most significant result in the Premier League since Abramovich took control at Chelsea,” said a presenter, adding: “This is a historic night”.
Given Abu Dhabi’s massive financial interest in City, the ADTV reaction was hardly surprising. Nonetheless, there was a genuine belief among those who witnessed the way in which City defended a 1-0 lead against the champions that a shift in the order of things had just taken place.
Asian broadcasters reported region-wide gloom as the continent’s vast numbers of United fans began their Tuesday knowing United may well have let title number 20 slip from their grasp.
Those who contacted our Fanzone show from Africa, Asia, the Gulf and beyond shared a similar gloomy belief that United might just have dropped more than just three points.
Even before Andre Marriner had got the game under way on Monday night, former United defender and Sky TV analyst Gary Neville had suggested that the result of this match would impact both clubs for at least the next three seasons. He saw no reason post-match to change his belief.
Another former Red, ex-skipper Keane was also consistent with his views. Before the game he maintained United had nothing to fear as long as their big players produced on the night.
“Great players win you games, great characters win you leagues,” he declared. It was his second-most striking pre-match pronouncement after, “I’d give anything to be playing for United in this game.”
He wasn’t just saying that. Once our hour-long build-up was at its end and the game kicked off, Roy was up and out of his chair. He stood, arms folded, pressed up against the studio window and gazed out at the game with the sort of steely glare he once reserved for pre-game line-ups in stadium tunnels all over the country.
Ignoring the almost continual goading from City fans down below our studio, he was itching to play, aching to bark out commands, but instead restricted himself to the occasional comment on a player’s positioning or the legality of a challenge.
Roy’s take on United’s tactical approach was a positive one. He had no major problems with the team selection, including that of Park Ji-sung in midfield. He felt they controlled the game sufficiently to have gone in at halftime with the onus all shifting to City. That all changed though when Kompany out-jumped Smalling a minute before the break.
At the start of the day, Roy had declared, “you want to be a legend at Manchester United? You get out there and get the job done.”
All along, he spoke about the big characters, the leaders who would get the job done. As the second half unfolded at the Etihad, he continued to speak about these players. Only it was the likes of Kompany, Toure, Barry and Hart he found himself praising. Roy recognised that when it came down to it, City had the men on the night who had what it took to get the job done.
He, like the rest of us, acknowledged that there could yet be twists and turns before the season is over but my abiding memory of our broadcast on Derby Day was that of Roy Keane – as passionate a supporter of the Reds as he is – acknowledging that United had on the night been bested by a team showing precisely the qualities that had earned Keane himself seven Premier League winner’s medals.