SIR Alex Ferguson has declared Manchester United’s annual showdown with Liverpool the match of the season and urged supporters to respect the history of their rival club.
United head to Anfield tomorrow with their ticket allocation reduced due to past problems and bracing themselves for another fierce reception.
Ferguson has already penned a note to those fans who are travelling, pleading them not to stand throughout the game, which has become a tradition among the United contingent but is not affecting the number of tickets the club receives.
But today, he broadened the theme.
Although he accepts an intense atmosphere is inevitable between the clubs who represent the biggest two cities in north-west England, Ferguson feels more should be acknowledged in a past during which the pair have won 37 titles between them, rather than the twin tragedies of Munich and Hillsborough, which have been the subject of so much venom down the years.
“I have always considered this to be the game of the season in English football,” said Ferguson.
“It’s never going to change. Both clubs need each other.
“Both clubs’ history should be appreciated by each other’s sets of fans.
“It is annoying when I hear silly chants about Munich and Hillsborough. It doesn’t do either club any good and if it came to a stage where fans were banned from each other’s ground it wouldn’t be the same game.
“Things may change in the next two or three years with Manchester City and whether or not the derby can equal a Manchester United game against Liverpool. But at the moment it remains the biggest.
“The history of both clubs should be respected. Hopefully we can see that because it’s fantastic for fans to see these games - the rivalry, great footballers, the intensity.”
Ferguson himself has not always adhered to those words.
During Kenny Dalglish’s first period in charge, when Ferguson was struggling to establish himself at United, relations between the pair were tetchy at best.
Over two decades on, the pair might not exactly be best buddies but the animosity no longer exists.
Dalglish was cordial when asked about Ferguson yesterday. And the United boss has detected a significant improvement in the Reds since his fellow Glaswegian was appointed to replace the much-derided Roy Hodgson in January.
“He is what the fans wanted and there has been an improvement,” he said.
“The owners have supported Kenny very well. They’ve gone for it financially and bought a lot of players.
“You would always expect Liverpool to be challenging for a Champions League place at least.
“It’s only last season where they dropped out of the top four for the first time in ages.”
Ferguson’s warm words are unlikely to mean much at kick-off tomorrow, which Wayne Rooney’s schoolboy allegiance to Everton singling him out as the object of particular dislike, even before the three-match ban he was handed by UEFA yesterday that will rule him out of the group stages in Euro 2012.
When asked about Rooney’s red card in Montenegro during a radio interview earlier this week, Ferguson said he had not seen the incident.
Presumably he has now, as well as digesting the impact of his forward’s suspension.
However, that does not mean Ferguson was in any mood to discuss it, or any other aspect of Rooney’s involvement.
“I am here to talk about the Liverpool game, sorry,” he smiled.
And to that end, Ferguson is appealing for cool United heads, aware his team have often been the victims of what he believes to be the by-product of pressure the Kop can apply to anyone connected with the game.
“The fans play a part, there’s no doubt about that,” said Ferguson.
“In my time we’ve had about nine players sent off in games there which is unusual for Manchester United.
“That is down to the atmosphere which can be created there. It’s something your temperament and composure has to allow you to handle these sort of situations.”