Last updated : 22 January 2006 By Ed


It did not seem like a big deal at the time. The date was April 1964 and a journeyman professional named Phil Chisnall swapped clubs for the unremarkable fee of £25,000. But that modest move retains an unshakeable place in the history of the game because Chisnall remains the last player to feature in a transfer between Manchester United and Liverpool.

It is a sign of the tension, not to say out-and-out antipathy, between clubs separated by 40 miles of motorway that the unheralded midfield player’s move has not been emulated in the ensuing 41 years and nine months.

Chisnall, 63, who has been a bookie and a baker since retiring from the game, had the privilege of playing for Sir Matt Busby and Bill Shankly and retains a deep affection for both clubs. His loyalties will be split down the middle when his two former sides meet tomorrow.

"You can’t separate the teams," Chisnall said. "United are at home, but they are not playing at their best. (Rafael) Benítez has made Liverpool hard to beat and they’re scoring goals now, so it’s hard to call. The game will be decided by the ball flying off someone’s leg and going in, or someone catching some luck somewhere."

Chisnall would be happy to lose his celebrity as a Trivial Pursuit answer, but it does not look as if anyone will follow him from Old Trafford to Anfield any time soon.

"The rivalry is too intense now," he said. "When I signed for Liverpool in 1964 there was some feeling between the supporters because they came from two great cities side by side in the same region. But there was no ill-feeling between the players. We’d go for a pint together after the match and maybe have a game of golf in the week. And Sir Matt and Bill were so close, they had a father-son relationship.

"Now the rivalry is bitter. It has nothing to do with sport. It has become unhealthy. For football reasons, it would have made sense for Steven Gerrard to join United when Roy Keane left," he said. "Liverpool have a lot of talented players in that area, and Sir Alex could have paid a fortune to fill a gap in his team. But it could never have happened, because Liverpool could not risk handing the title to United."


Whisper it, at least within hearing of Sir Alex Ferguson, but the wheel of football fortune that spins between the two great cities of North-west England might just be turning again. For an extraordinarily extended period between 1969 and 1991 Manchester United did not once manage to finish above Liverpool in the old Football League. That run encompassed the first five seasons after Ferguson's arrival from Aberdeen on a mission, he recalled on Friday, to resurrect Mancunian supremacy. Slowly he did so, and since 1992 the boot has regularly been on the other foot: only once in the past 14 years have Liverpool had the best of it, in terms of League position.

Last May, of course, finishing fifth to United's third place, almost 20 points behind, was rendered academic to their followers by the astounding events of That Night In Istanbul, which means that the triumphalist banners at Old Trafford's away end when the teams meet again this afternoon will be decorated with five European Cups.

Robbie Fowler - you can take the scally out of Liverpool, but not Liverpool out of the scally - was making the same point when he held up five fingers to United supporters after scoring for Manchester City against them last weekend. And waving images of the big-eared trophy around today will also serve to remind the locals that only one of the two clubs are still in this season's Champions' League.

Now the question is whether that wheel is ready to settle at the western end of the East Lancs Road once more. There is no doubt about which way it has been moving these past few months. Towards the end of October, an abject 2-0 defeat by Fulham left Rafael Benitez furious and publicly criticising an "attitude problem". His team had won two Premiership games all season, were 13th in the table and about to go out of the Carling Cup to Crystal Palace. "Benitez bid to create Anfield dynasty in danger of collapse", read one of the kinder headlines.

Yet since then they have been unbeatable, winning 11 League games and drawing the other, as well as topping their Champions' League group. What was once a seven-point deficit on United has been cut to a single one, so that victory this afternoon would carry them into second place, still with two games in hand on their rivals.

Like Benitez, he is well up on the history of his club: "For a few years they had the upper hand and for a few years we did. Last time the 0-0 draw [at Anfield in September] broke a sequence of wins against them. But every club has cycles. Liverpool's spell in the 70s and early 80s was phenomenal and we've had a phenomenal spell ourselves. It does go in cycles that way. It's 16 years since they won the League and we went 26 years."

Hence the importance to United - who, like Liverpool, are not going to be champions of England this season - of the two midweek matches bookending today's meeting. Four days ago they strolled to victory at the second attempt against Burton Albion in the FA Cup with a young side augmented by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who may yet earn a new contract at 33 after knee injuries had threatened his career. This Wednesday there will be no liberties like Rio Ferdinand ambling around in midfield or Louis Saha casually frittering away chances when Blackburn Rovers arrive for the second leg of the Carling Cup semi-final.

It may only be the unfashionable old League Cup, the Alan Hardaker Memorial Bauble. But it is a trophy. "There's tremendous pressure on Liverpool and ourselves when you don't win trophies," Ferguson admitted, 20 months on from his last one. Now the wheel is spinning again. And, as Dylan put it more than 40 years ago, around the time Bill Shankly was gearing up the Anfield Reds, there's no telling who it is naming.


Most Manchester United supporters may still be walking around the Arndale Centre in balaclavas after last Saturday's derby humiliation at the hands of their neighbours. But although United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was equally hurt and embarrassed by the 3-1 defeat at the City of Manchester Stadium, he has always been a man who has judged himself and his team in more global terms.

That is why, as important as Manchester derbies may be, it is today's meeting with Liverpool that quickens his pulse more than any other fixture, certainly more than any local spat. It is the very essence of his existence at Old Trafford, his raison d'etre from the day he arrived from Aberdeen 20 years ago.

His mission was simple if daunting: to replace Liverpool as the most dominant force in English and European football, and though he has enjoyed domestic superiority for more than 15 years, the fixture remains an annual check-up on his progress, as well as a reminder of how far he has come. He says: "I look forward to this game the most because it reflects to me the reason for me being here. Liverpool were the challenge when I came, so therefore, although the players and the fans and maybe Liverpool might look at it differently, for me it's got that special significance. It's a huge match in any case because of the success of the two clubs. If you look at the history, we are the two most successful clubs in Britain and as they are only up the road, if one is having success, the other one suffers.

''Every club has cycles. Liverpool had a fantastic spell in the Seventies and early Eighties and we've had a phenomenal spell ourselves. We went 26 years without winning the title and now they've gone 16 years." The fear of United fans is that, after 20 years of Ferguson, the cycle is about to turn full circle, with Rafa Benitez's Liverpool ready to reclaim the high ground, if not above champions and leaders Chelsea, at least above the club at the opposite end of the East Lancs Road. Liverpool have finished ahead of United only once since the Premiership began in 1992 and even if they lose at Old Trafford today, they would remain favourites to finish second because they still have two games in hand on United.