It isn’t just regular football fans who will be glued to their sets for the Manchester football derby this evening. The match, which has been labelled as the biggest game in the history of the Premier League, has many of the racing fraternity in each of the two camps.
Leading the call for City is trainer Michael Bell. He supports them for no other reason that when he was but a nipper in his home town of Bristol, Colin Bell was doing a fine job in both the City and England midfield. That coincidence was enough to cement his choice – young Michael perhaps did no realise the significance of Colin’s nickname of Nijinsky, a reflection of the stamina and class each exuded on the turf.
Bell remembers the difficult time City went through in the early years he looked out for their results. “I have supported City through thick and mostly thin over the years. I was at Wembley in 1999 for the play off final for the old Second Division when we were 2-0 down to Gillingham with five minutes left and then came back to equalise and then win on penalties. I also remember going to Colchester (one of the nearest ground to Bell’s Newmarket stables) when the ball kept going out of the ground and the City fans were chanting ‘It’s just like playing Subbuteo’.”
Bell’s prediction for tonight is a 3-0 win for City, with goals from Tevez, Aguerro and Kompany.
David Nicholls leads the chanting for the Reds. He started off supporting his local side, Leeds United, but once he began training for former United skipper Bryan Robson he transferred his allegiance to Old Trafford. Perhaps he feared the training bills wouldn’t get paid after Leeds pipped the side captained by Robson to the final old First Division title in 1992.
Nicholls is less confident than his opposite number about tonight’s result. He says, “We have had some banter and he knows I call him ‘the noisy neighbour’ (Ferguson’s description of City’s challenge for top dog status in Manchester), but it is going to be a tight game. Both teams have got very good players who can produce a flash of brilliance, and it could finish 1-0, hopefully to us. They’ve got a new ground, they’ve got a trophy cabinet and there’s now’t in it. Why is it going to change?”
Jokingly, he attributes Wayne Rooney’s newfound good behaviour to his involvement in racing. “Wayne has calmed down a lot since he’s had to pay for these horses he has in training, and I’m sure the occasion will bring out the best in him.”
Bell and Nicholls each have horses entered for Pontefract on Wednesday, so if that meeting goes ahead they’ll no doubt have plenty to say to each other about tonight’s encounter – if one of them hasn’t been on the blower already.