Gary Neville has explained the raw emotions that arise from playing Liverpool – with the former Manchester United man recalling the day he was fined for celebrating a late winner in front of their fans.
Neville, who these days is forced to portray a more sedate and calm presence in his role as a pundit for Sky Sports, admits that in his days as a player, matches against Liverpool were always the most fiercely contested.
Neville spent 19 years as a player for Manchester United and enjoyed some fierce encounters with the Reds, namely in 2006 when he was fined £5,000 by the FA for running over to Liverpool’s travelling fans to passionately celebrate Rio Ferdinand’s last-gasp winner at Old Trafford.
It is an image that lives long in the memory among both teams and as United prepare to do battle with Liverpool at Anfield on Monday, Neville provided an insight into one of English football’s most-anticipated fixtures.
“In that moment, your mind, your body, your focus are on another level. It’s different from Arsenal. It’s different from Chelsea. It’s even different from [Manchester] City, at least for me. It’s almost an out-of-body experience,” Neville wrote in The Players’ Tribune.
“The tension is immense. It’s a match that’s been in the back of your mind for the last two weeks, in the front of your mind for the last week and punching you straight on the nose for the last three days. If you beat Liverpool, it’s going to be the best day of the season. If you lose, it’s going to be the absolute worst.
“So in the 90th minute, [Ryan Giggs] is standing over the ball and all I remember is him bending it into the box, Rio Ferdinand rising up and the ball hitting the back of the net. The place exploded. The rest was just instinct.
“I turned toward the Liverpool fans in the far corner of the ground and I thought, ‘I’m going for them’. I sprinted 60-odd yards and I was just out of my head.
“When I got to them, well — I looked at the faces of all those travelling fans who had been singing for 89 minutes and in that moment, they had no answer. It was one of the best feelings of my life. The FA fined me £5,000 for my actions. I’d gladly pay it again 100 times. Back then, I remember some very serious people saying things like: ‘That’s not the behaviour of a 30-year-old man.’
“They were right. And that’s what makes football so magical. For 90 minutes, you get to be a kid again. That’s what we all dreamed about, isn’t it?”
Neville continued: “I used to say I hated Liverpool, but I’ve softened a little bit. Now, I’d say it’s more complicated than just hate. Whenever I’m asked if I’m sorry for celebrating in front of the Liverpool fans back in 2006, my answer is the same every time: of course not.
“Football is about emotions. Humour, disappointment, anxiety, sheer joy, sheer sadness. It’s all of the emotions you experience at different points throughout the week, but it’s jammed into 90 minutes. To me, the beauty of football is that rollercoaster. Very few things in life will make you feel like that.”
Neville turns back on coaching
Neville, who admitted on Sunday he’s unlikely to coach again, explained he was far more confortable in his other interests these days.
“You can never say never but I think it is unlikely you’ll see me step back into a coaching role, certainly in the next five years,” he said. “So the reality is that I probably am consigning myself to no coaching position, unless in five years I wake up and say, ‘Actually, I’d like to do something locally’ and something happens.
‘But, honestly, at this moment I can’t see it at all. I’m far more passionate about those things I’m doing and Salford City than I am about coaching.”