There are events in a person’s life where they remember where they were. Most Manchester United fans (who were alive and not literal babies like I was) will remember where they were in 1999 when the club won the treble, but other landmarks are memorable because of the absurdity of the situation you find yourself in.
Back in good old 2018, which seems so long ago given what’s happened between then and now, I was at university down in London but had returned to Manchester for a week. It’s expensive down south and there’s not much to do when you have a minimum wage bar job supporting you.
And also because it was both my parents’ birthdays were within that week and I thought I might surprise them.
I had arranged my trip back perfectly, my return train booked back for the Saturday afternoon so I could back and settled and then watch the Manchester derby on the Sunday in the pub with some friends.
Then Manchester City just had to do well in the Champions League, and the dates of their quarter-finals with Liverpool meant that the game was rearranged to occur right in the middle of my journey.
I was annoyed but very reluctant to pay the fee to change my travel arrangements and, given the gap in the table between City and United and the possibility that our old rivals could win the title against us, I thought this might be a match that I would be better off missing.
The first 20 minutes that I was able to see on TV seemed to confirm my fears, United were being completely overwhelmed by City and it was only poor finishing on the home side’s part that kept the game competitive.
As I got in the car I turned on BBC Radio 5Live. My mum is also a massive United fan so she was also keen to hear if United’s fortunes changed. Then Vincent Kompany scored and the fear of embarrassment began to grow.
Now, if you’ve ever been on a cross country train journey, you’ll know that the wifi is famously awful, so wanting to at least hear and know the result of the first half, my mum pulled into a lay-by so we could listen in before I grabbed my train which was due to depart in half an hour.
Then Ilkay Gundogan scored.
I sat there for a moment, listening for any reason to remain in the car for the rest of the half, but none was forthcoming so I was dropped off at the station, got on the train and took my seat.
Next to me was another United fan, who had suffered a very similar fate to me with the rescheduling, trying to find a stream on his phone to little success. We got to chatting and as the second half kicked off I said I’d try to get the game on my laptop.
A very frustrating experience involving passwords and forms followed, but I was able to get my Sky Go up just as Paul Pogba’s first goal nestled into the back of the net. All that doubt and fear that had built up, the apathy regarding what the result might be, suddenly went out the window somewhere near Stockport and hope sprung.
Then Pogba scored again and cheers erupted from our end of the carriage. It turns out there was a handful of United fans on the journey down to London (and I’m expecting this comment to get the usual jokes) and all were watching what was shaping up to be a fantastic comeback.
Somewhere near Macclesfield, an unlikely hero snatched the winner. Chris Smalling, from out of nowhere, volleyed in a cross from Alexis Sanchez and United had done it.
I’m not the hugging type, but in that moment of ecstasy I grabbed the guy sitting next to me and we cheered loudly in celebration because of, I repeat, Chris Smalling. I added the guy on Facebook and he’s still on my friends list to this day.
What followed was a nervous 24 minutes, which wasn’t helped by the dodgy wifi causing my stream on Sky Go to constantly buffer and crash. But shortly after we left Stoke it was all over – United had won the game.
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At the end of the day, the game meant nothing more than bragging rights. United’s limp performance against West Brom the following week ended in a 1-0 defeat and handed City the title without needing to play, but at that moment it washed away all the poor results and problems with Jose Mourinho’s team.
That’s what a derby victory means and, despite the ongoing issues with Ralf Rangnick’s side and whether or not United are able to finish in the top four, if they beat City, United fans will feel on the right track once again.
What is your best memory of the Manchester derby? Follow our United On My Mind writer Casey Evans on Twitter and get involved in the discussion in the comments section below.