Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Why Liverpool against Manchester United will always be the big match in Northern Ireland

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers

My son started primary school today. Can't believe it. Where did that time go? I know we all say it but it really does just seem like yesterday that I was holding Aaron for the first time in the Ulster Hospital – 13/6/09.

Much has happened in the world since then, not least at Aaron's favourite football club.

Since he came into this world Liverpool have had FOUR managers! That's right four since the summer of 2009. Incredible for a club that once had four managers in 32 years!

The latest boss through the revolving door at Anfield is our own Brendan Rodgers who my boy hopes is there for many years to come.

While all that change has been going on at Anfield it's pleasing to note that some things stay the same in this remote control, instant access, twitter crazy world like the fact that here in Northern Ireland Liverpool versus Manchester United remains the biggest game of the season.

Of course there was a fascinating appeal to Chelsea taking on United on Monday night with all those Mourinho, Moyes, Rooney sub plots (what a let down the match turned out to be). United v Arsenal especially when Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira were playing has also been one to watch down the years while Liverpool versus Chelsea has had its moments.

In Northern Ireland though it is Liverpool v United which matters most because they are the best supported teams in this land.

It's been that way for longer than I care to remember. Only Celtic and Rangers come close.

Before and after Sunday's match at Anfield between the north west giants the banter will be flying in workplaces, sports grounds and bars all over our wee country.

Like United in the 70s and 80s when Liverpool dominated, the Merseysiders no longer provide the stiffest competition to the Red Devils, but that doesn't stop them wanting to wallop each other.

Sir Alex Ferguson always said it was the biggest match. It used to make or break his weekend and it'll be the same this time around for thousands upon thousands of men, women and children from Ballinamallard to Belfast.

It got me thinking about which other teams have the most fans in Northern Ireland.

Linfield and Glentoran would obviously be in the top 10, but including Irish League sides makes it tricky because where do you stop with Portadown, Glenavon, Ballymena United, Coleraine, Cliftonville and Crusaders? Do you count only those fanatical about those clubs, those with a passing interest or everyone who lives in those towns or areas?

I'll come back to that one another day and focus today on a top 10 for English and Scottish sides.

I haven't conducted a poll or sat in airport lounges counting supporters in and out. This is not a scientific approach... simply an educated guess having talked to football followers throughout Northern Ireland most of my life.

If you think the list is accurate or believe I'm talking a load of old cobblers feel free to email me at the address at the top of the page.

The top 10

Here's my list... the 10 cross channel clubs with the most fans in Northern Ireland.

1. Manchester United

2. Liverpool

3. Celtic/Rangers (Can't split them)

5. Chelsea

6. Arsenal

7. Tottenham

8. Leeds United

9. Everton

10. Manchester City

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