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‘Break his legs’ – Watch The derby day altercation that saw police called to Manchester United and Man City dressing rooms

“After a break, he appeared in our room with two policemen, pointed to me and said: ‘He’s not to go back out again.'”

‘Why Always Me?’ Denis Law’s backheel, Wayne Rooney’s bicycle, and Owen’s goal make it 4-3.

Of the 190 Manchester derbies that have ever been played, it is difficult to single out one particularly memorable event, but for Lou Macari, there is one that sticks in his mind. The day Manchester United’s locker room was raided by Greater Manchester police in an attempt to prevent him from playing.

The Old Trafford match from 1973–74 is most famous for the audacious goal scored by United veteran Law, which kept his beloved team from going down.

While most supporters don’t remember the reverse fixture very well, if at all, it did create another forgotten derby scene at Maine Road.

Tommy Docherty, the manager of United, stated even before the game that United’s fate in the division will be determined by their encounter at the formidable old ground of City.

“This game tonight determines our destiny,” he penned in the game guide. “City’s League Cup defeat is a big anti-climax for them and could help our fight for First Division survival.”

The match programme from the Maine Road derby in 1973/74

At the end of the season, United would be demoted from the First Division, but a month prior, they had visited their local rivals, who were showing off their high-priced debutantes, Dennis Tueart and Micky Horswill.

In his autobiography, Tueart recalls, “Talk about a baptism of fire.” That evening, more than 50,000 spectators jammed into every available space along Maine Road, creating an incredible cacophony of noise.

“Yet despite the racket, I could always hear Tommy Docherty and Tommy Cavanagh telling Alex Forsyth and Jim Holton, as well as any other United players who came close to me, to ‘break his legs’ whenever I went anywhere near the United dugout. It was clear that they wanted to scare me.”

The fiercely contested match came to a head late in the first half when referee Clive Thomas issued both Macari and City legend Mike Doyle red cards after their brawl.

Macari, known for his animosity against the Reds, was tackled by Doyle and, in reaction, he got back up and flung the ball at the City defender.

Macari told the Manchester Evening News, “It was a little different from these days where players tend to either stay down or roll about.”

“Surprisingly enough, Mike Doyle whacked me down just after I hit the deck. Mike would hack you down, that was one of the more predictable aspects of derbies back then!

“I immediately got back up and hurled the ball in his way. Either the side of his ear or his shoulder was struck by it.

Mike Doyle

On another day, it might only have earned a talking to, part and parcel of a local rivalry, but that was not the case with controversial referee Thomas in charge.

Thomas had earned the nickname ‘The Book’ for his strict interpretation of the laws of the game, with a catalogue of infamous incidents including blowing the whistle seconds before Zico scored a would-be winner for Brazil against Sweden in the 1978 World Cup and missing a clear foul when Zdenek Neohda scored the winner for Czechoslovakia in the semi-final of the 1976 European Championship.

In 2008, the Welshman appeared on Dutch TV to apologise to the national team and Johan Cruyff for missing the costly foul thirty years earlier.

Macari added: “He certainly lived up to his nickname. If it hadn’t been him in charge, then we’d have expected to have had a word with the ref and then get a booking for each. But with Clive, you partly feared the sending-off. Thomas lived up to his reputation and sent us both packing.

“It was only a trip from Mike, and mine was only a minor retaliation. It was what you’d expect in those days following an incident like that in a derby. It was a bit dramatic of Clive, but that went hand in hand with him.

“Both of us thought he was a bit hasty and over the top on both counts. You used to give someone a push and a shove in those days to let them know they weren’t going to mess you around.”

Lou Macari
Lou Macari was one of many United players who tangled with Mike Doyle (Image: Getty Images)

Macari and Doyle were fierce rivals on the day, but oddly found common ground in their sheer disbelief at being shown straight red cards so early on in the match.

The United and City stars were both outraged at the decision and refused to leave the pitch as they protested their innocence towards the strict official

Thomas, as you might have guessed, was having none of it, ordering both sets of players off the pitch before he would entertain the idea of letting the match resume.

“I didn’t think what they did justified being dismissed, and neither did anyone else,” Tueart wrote. “Doyle and Macari refused to leave the pitch, insisting that their ‘handbags’ encounter happened all the time in local derbies. The players refused to budge, so Clive in his authoritarian way, ordered both teams off.”

The strict referee wasn’t done there, though. As Macari and Doyle protested their dismissals, Thomas wandered off to find other people to fight his case against the local stars.

He reappeared with Greater Manchester police in tow, with strict instructions that the match would not start again unless they both stayed in their changing rooms.

Macari added: “Clive ordered us all off to the dressing rooms. After a break, he appeared in our room with two policemen, pointed to me and said: `He’s not to go back out again.’

“Thomas then went into City’s changing room and did the same with Mike Doyle! Our little protest was over, and we had to have the proverbial early bath.”

With the two flair players now off the pitch, it is perhaps little surprise that the match transcended into an even grittier contest that would eventually finish goalless.

“The match was more of a war of attrition than a game of football,” Tueart said. “During the first half, Jim Holton, the large defender for United and a Scot with a Desperate Dan jaw line, engaged in kicks and shoves with our centre striker, Mike Summerbee. There were personal conflicts throughout the pitch during a time when two-footed, lunging tackles were accepted as normal.

Doherty was correct; the match would reflect United’s lacklustre conclusion to the campaign.

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