Will Tidey - Gary Neville was the ultimate fan on the pitch
Published: 03 Feb 2011 - 07:23:31
I sat a couple of seats away from Gary Neville at Old Trafford once. He was injured and he had a flu that made him look like a man on the brink of death. But every time United scored, he celebrated wildly. And when you consider they beat Ipswich Town 9-0 that afternoon, it probably took it out of him.
Gary Neville is, and always will be, a red. He's a lifelong fan who's played 602 times for the club he'd happily pay to watch, and never once given less than his all.
No wonder United fans love him. No wonder their rivals can't stand the sight of him. Neville was a fan first and a player second, and he carried that blinkered passion with him every time he crossed the white line.
Ferguson called him 'the best English right back of his generation' and it's hard to argue his point. Neville played 85 times for England and brought discipline, reliability and solid technique to the position. He was David Beckham's foil for club and country on the flank, and arguably helped draw the very best out of the man he called a team-mate and a best friend.
Like Beckham, Neville was also one of the original Fergie Fledglings who graduated from the famous teams who won the 1992 FA Youth Cup and came runners-up in 1993.
Along with Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and his brother Phil, Gary was part of the generation who proved you really could win something with kids. They took the Double in 1995-96, playing in a side that welcomed back Eric Cantona from suspension and swept all before them.
Neville was also part of the Treble winning side in 1998-99, and overall he collected eight Premier League titles, three FA Cups and a Champions League win.
Along the way he made himself a hate figure to Liverpool fans. While captain of United in 2006 he celebrated a United goal against them at Old Trafford by running the length of the field and kissing his badge in front of their supporters. Jamie Carragher said he 'crossed the line', but Neville refused to apologise.
'Increasingly people seem to want their footballers to be whiter than white and there are calls for sanctions over every little incident. Do they want a game of robots?' Neville said.
Maybe he had a point. And you can't deny that kind of sentiment bodes well for a potential career as a pundit with Sky Sports.
As for Gary Neville the player. United fans will miss him, other fans won't. But if you dig deep beneath the hatred, most will tell you they'd have liked to have him supporting and playing for their team - you just can't buy that kind of devotion.
- FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:Will Tidey
- Will Tidey writes on sport for CNN, Eurosport-Yahoo! and Bleacher Report, amongst others. His first book, 'Life with Sir Alex', an account of Sir Alex Ferguson's 25-year reign at Manchester United, is set for release in October this year. Pre-order it now at http://tinyurl.com/6xzl62b. And follow Will on Twitter here - www.twitter.com/willtidey
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