Sunday 05 April 2020, 06:43

Fierce rivalries set aside for a common cause

  • United and City fans come together in Manchester to fight food poverty

  • Loneliness also combated by both Everton and Liverpool

  • COVID-19 crisis has also united fans in Egypt, Brazil and beyond

Few parts of the globe are as devoted to football, or defined by the game, as Manchester or Merseyside.

The region’s clubs are world-famous, and have often been world-beaters, while their fans’ passion is said to reflect a famous quote from a beloved Liverpool manager: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”

In truth, however, Bill Shankly’s tongue was firmly in his cheek when he uttered those immortal and oft-misunderstood words. And while Mancunians and Liverpudlians love their football, they have consistently shown a capacity for keeping the game in perspective when unity is required.

Think, for example, of the way in which blue and red mourned together when Liverpool was devastated by the Hillsborough Disaster, or the shows of solidarity from Manchester City to honour United’s tragic Busby Babes.

It should be no surprise, therefore, that the cities’ clubs and fans have again risen to the challenge posed by COVID-19.

Solidarity and support

#ACityUnited was the hashtag adopted by Manchester’s two clubs when the crisis escalated, and it was no mere slogan. The neighbouring sides took the unusual step of issuing a joint statement, in which they pledged a combined £100,000 to help food banks in Greater Manchester meet increased demand.

Fans from both clubs had already been supporting this cause through collections organised by MCFC Fans' Foodbank Support and MUFC Fans' Foodbank. But with donations driven mainly through matchday events, the suspension of football activities called for a solution. The clubs quickly stepped up.

As a spokesperson for MCFC Fans' Foodbank Support said: “This will be an enormous help for the community at a time when people need it most. We'd like to thank everyone for demonstrating that hunger doesn't wear club colours, and for the show of community solidarity.”

Supporters from both sides, and from across the country and wider world, have also been rallying behind United striker Marcus Rashford. The England star had been aiming to raise £100,000 to provide food for vulnerable children who normally rely on free school meals, but quickly smashed that target and, by this week, had raised over £150,000.

Rashford, who depended on such meals as a child, told The Times: "There are people in worse situations than I was. They’re not even getting that second meal at home, so it’s something I wanted to help with."

Red and blue rise to the occasion

Thirty miles to the west, good deeds and solidarity have also been shining through. Again, helping the most vulnerable has been the primary focus, with North Liverpool Food Bank benefiting from a donation of 600kg of fresh produce from Everton and a £40,000 donation from Liverpool.

That particular charity is a beneficiary of an existing joint-initiative - Fans Supporting Food Banks – through which Liverpool and Everton supporters have been working together to tackle food poverty in the city. And as with Manchester, the COVID-19 crisis called for instant action due to the looming impact of an absence of matchday collections.

There has also been a realisation that loneliness and social isolation, already major issues in society, are also set to be further exacerbated by the pandemic and resultant government lockdown. Both clubs have been quick to react, with youngsters from Liverpool's LFC Foundation programmes writing letters and drawing pictures to send to local care home residents who are currently unable to receive visitors.

Everton’s players and staff, meanwhile, have been directly calling some of their at-risk fans, with captain Seamus Coleman and manager Carlo Ancelotti among those to have thrilled house-bound diehards.

Unity from Cairo to Rio

Of course, it’s not only in England that club rivalries have been set aside amid this global crisis. Recently, we reported on how players and fans of Egyptian giants Al Ahly and Zamalek – two of the fiercest rivals in world football – had come together to lend a helping hand in Cairo.

There has also been an impressive show of solidarity in Brazil, where Rio's ‘big four’ – Botafogo, Flamengo, Fluminense and Vasco – united to launch the ‘Against COVID-19 there’s only one fan-base’ campaign.

Its aim is to raise funds for the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, which has won several global awards for its work to improve public healthcare and promote well-being and social inclusion through science. The money raised will be used by the foundation to treat COVID-19, stop its spread, produce diagnostic kits and fund the infection centre being built at its headquarters.