When Wayne Rooney unveiled his famed ‘Once a Blue, Always a Blue’ vest, few would have expected that he would perhaps be best known in his career for being a Man United player. However, 559 appearances and 253 goals later he is now as well loved in Manchester’s red half as he is in Merseyside’s royal blue. His relationship with both clubs was perhaps best illustrated by his testimonial in 2016 which pitted both teams against each other, a 0-0 draw perhaps not the best send off for United’s record goal scorer.
Testimonials are a quirky part of football which seems to be standing the test of time, although they are a lot scarcer today. It is not often that a Scouser and a Mancunian can be brought together but Rooney managed this in 2016. What he didn’t manage was to bring the whole cities together, Rooney is probably as hated by Liverpool fans as he is Manchester City supporters. This led to a wondering of whether Merseyside and Manchester have ever been brought together to face one another.
The only way these matches could ever occur would be in a testimonial, this of course means they would not be competitive games, but anyone from Merseyside would embrace the opportunity to get one over on their Manchester counter parts and I’m sure the feeling is mutual. The two examples that this article will consider will be Mark Higgins Testimonial in 1984 and Colin Bell’s in 1978. Before the following two examples are further examined it must be mentioned that Tranmere’s legendary manager Dave Russel had a testimonial to celebrate his seventeen-year affiliation with the Rovers. The match saw a combined Tranmere and Everton side face a merged Manchester City and United team. Played in April 1978, the match finished 2-2, and acted as a precursor to the matches discussed below and a further Merseyside vs. Manchester testimonial in honour of Graeme Sharp in 1992.
Mark Higgins Testimonial Match – Combined Everton/Liverpool vs. Combined Manchester Utd./Manchester City – Goodison, 16th December 1984
To reward Higgins making 179 appearances across ten seasons at Goodison, he had his testimonial in 1984. Higgins had fell afoul of a horrendous injury from which doctors had told him he would have to retire. Having been a loyal servant for Everton, which even saw him serving as captain partnered with the fact that he had to been told to retire aged just 26, he was rewarded with a testimonial.
The attendance of around 16,000 for the game was impressive, as Higgins himself said: “there had been a first team game at home the day before. When I think Everton were top of the table, the attendance for my testimonial was bigger than the league game the day before. That’s how amazing the Scousers are, who I have a lot of respect for”.
The many fans who did turn up were repaid with an exciting 7-6 Merseyside victory.
The full Merseyside squad was:
from Everton, Neville Southall, John Bailey, Kevin Ratcliffe, Derek Mountfield, Peter Reid, David Johnson, Graham Sharp, Gary Stevens, Ian Atkins and Alan Harper.
From Liverpool, Phil Neal, Ian Rush, John Wark, Ronny Whelan, Alan Kennedy and Jan Molby.
The side was managed by Howard Kendall and the goals came from Wark, Rush, Sharp, Kennedy, Ratcliffe and two from Harper. The Manchester side, managed by United’s youth team coach Eric Harrison, goals came from United’s Alan Davies and Mark Hughes, City’s Gordon Smith also scored and Graham Baker scored a hat-trick.
Higgins received a hefty insurance pay out once he retired through his knee injury. However, desperate to play football again he gave the money back to the insurance company and eventually signed for Man United in 1985 in an attempt to resurrect his career. Making only six appearances in Manchester his career tailed off until he was released by Stoke and then retired in 1990.
Colin Bell Testimonial Match – Manchester vs. Merseyside – Maine Road, 20th December 1978
Colin Bell, much like Higgins, had represented Man City for thirteen years and his career was ended by a horrific injury. He was to leave Man City at the end of the 1978-79 season and to celebrate his career they offered Bell a testimonial. Testimonials have not only been used as a way to say thanks to a player but also to provide a final pay day, this was true of Higgins and Bell, this game brought in around £30,000 for Bell.
The injury that caused Bell to retire came from a Martin Buchan tackle during the Manchester Derby. Perhaps the combination of the two Manchester clubs was an olive branch from Bell to show that he did not have a problem with Buchan for the tackle. Bell said; “I walked out to a guard of honour from the players and Joe Corrigan introduced me to all those who’d come to play in the game, including Martin Buchan. As we shook hands, I wasn’t thinking about the night of the tackle, though I was later told that everyone was watching that moment closely to see how the two of us would react, since then, many people have asked me how I felt at that time. My simple answer is that I’ve never blamed him for the tackle that ultimately ended my career, so I was glad to see him again, He’d been a challenging and tough opponent, simple as that”.
The combination of the two Manchester clubs made a Merseyside amalgamation the natural opponent. The Merseyside team threw up some odd combinations with Dalglish and Souness lining up with King and Latchford. Unfortunately, there are not many images or videos from the game, the fans in attendance that day witnessed a truly historic event.
The full Merseyside squad was:
from Everton, Colin Todd, Mike Pejic, Mick Lyons (Merseyside captain), Andy King, Martin Dobson, Bob Latchford, Dave Thomas and George Wood.
From Liverpool, Ray Clemence, Phil Thompson, Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, Emlyn Hughes, David Johnson and David Fairclough.
The eventual winners were the Manchester side who won 2-1, goals from Francis Lee and Tommy Caton with David Johnson scoring the only Merseyside goal. It was perhaps fitting that Johnson, a true example of Merseyside football who played in both testimonials, scored the goal. And perhaps more fitting that Bell’s side, although he could not play, were the eventual victors on a rainy September evening in front of 24,000 spectators.
It says a lot about Colin Bell, affectionately coined ‘The King’, could attract 24,000 fans and could bring two rival teams together. A truly historic event that will certainly stand out as an occasion Merseyside and Manchester came together to celebrate the career of one of Man City’s greatest.
Merseyside and Manchester’s rivalry can hark back further than the history of football and will no doubt remain for centuries to come. Nevertheless, they are two areas that have supplied copious amounts of trophies and success over the years as well as some great and loyal players. The fact that Higgins and Bell could combine the four rival teams illustrates that they can all be brought together. It is hard to think now that there could be a repeat of this format for another player, but who’s to say that when Marouane Fellaini retires it couldn’t all happen again?
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