It takes a lot to unite fans on either side of one of football’s most fractious rivalries. But Manchester City and Manchester United are under attack from a common foe – campaigners demanding the removal of the three-masted ship on both teams’ crests.

The furore has been prompted by an article in the Guardian this week claiming that the ships were unrelated to football, but instead referenced Manchester’s economy in the 19th century, which included the slave trade.

Both badges feature a golden ship at full sail, a symbol also carved into Manchester’s town hall.

Journalist Simon Hattenstone, who wrote the article, asked whether it was time to change the ship to a bumble bee, a symbol that caught on after the Manchester Arena attack in 2017, and one Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has tattooed on his arm.

But fans from both clubs have vented their frustration at delving into the past to find fault. “You can’t keep on going back,” one City supporter said. “It’d be like being mad at the Italians for the Roman Empire.”

Manchester United historian JP O’Neill rubbished Hattenstone’s claim: “His ‘logic’ is as ridiculous as it is contradictory.

“Not only did the club badges long post-date the abolition of slavery, the clubs themselves were only founded decades after slavery was ended.

“The first ship to arrive in Manchester came in 1894 with the opening of the Ship Canal.”

Stones and glass houses come to mind. The Guardian is itself embroiled in a controversy about the source of its founder’s wealth, prompting the paper’s owner to apologise for its historic links to the slave trade. Touché.

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