'We want to make Manchester blue': Manchester City Women relishing historic derby game at the Etihad
The Manchester rivals will open the 2019/20 season in front of a crowd of more than 20,000
"We've got family and friends that we didn't know we had," smiles Georgia Stanway. The Manchester City midfielder is discovering previously unknown relatives and acquaintances, such is the demand for tickets for the first women’s Super League Manchester derby.
"It starts the season off with a bang," says Stanway. City host newly promoted Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday in what promises to be a historic occasion.
"We want to make Manchester blue," says Steph Houghton, the City and England captain. "Even though there's no history there with us players, it's important that we start that the right way on Saturday. Everybody's been dying for a Manchester derby in the Women’s Super League.
"I think it's going to do the women's game the world of good. We need to push rivalries, we need to push derby days and there's none bigger than this one coming."
"The fact that we've sold 20,000 tickets is the best start we can possibly get," says Stanway.
City normally play at the Academy Stadium on the Etihad Campus. Now they will play at the Etihad Stadium. It will be just the second game at the main ground for Houghton, a 2014 signing. "I remember playing against Everton in that stadium in 2014 and only having 2,000 fans," she recalls.
"We weren't at the level that we are now, playing the football that we are. I'm excited to show what we're about."
Now, Stanway says, this could be a sign of the future. "If we can fill this week-in, week-out then, potentially, a move to the Etihad is in favour," she said.
The change in venue reflects the growth in the women’s game. Houghton has been a central part of it; she captained England in two World Cup semi-finals, a feat not achieved by any male player.
Houghton has been similarly pivotal at City, leading them to the FA Women’s Cup and the Continental Cup last season. She has helped build something: "We have got people who absolutely love City and understand playing for City is more than just playing for City," Houghton says.
"We have got a culture that is unbreakable. If I look back at the five years I have been here, we've won a trophy every season, apart from 2015, but we qualified for the Champions League then," she says. "We won two trophies last year; we were [WSL] runners-up; we showed levels of consistency not many teams have matched over the last few years."
United are playing catch-up. They were long criticised for not having a women’s team when City, and many others, did. That belatedly changed last year. United won the Championship, the second tier, in dominant fashion, scoring 98 goals and conceding just seven.
"It's quite similar to how we started," Houghton says, while warning it will become more difficult now. "If I look back at our first team in 2014, we had four or five international players and you're really relying on their quality.
"The rest of the team worked as hard as they could and I think it's similar with United. They built a team from scratch, they did very well, they got themselves promoted at the first opportunity but I think when you move up to our league there's such a difference between the two leagues in terms of quality and technical ability."
United signed the City defender Abbie McManus this summer. It may add spice to the occasion as a rivalry develops between neighbours. "I feel as though it is already there," Houghton says.
Updated: September 5, 2019 05:23 PM