Bardsley will always be a Manchester United fan
IT might have been a chance encounter at a funeral in Manchester, but it said much about both Sir Alex Ferguson's powers of recall and the depth of Phil Bardsley's Mancunian roots. "My grandad (Alan) saw Sir Alex at a funeral a while back and Sir Alex made a point of picking him out and going over to him," said Bardsley. "It was the funeral of someone to do with United who my grandad knew, and Sir Alex knows him from my time at the club. "Sir Alex told him that if I ever tackle (Patrice) Evra like I did the last time (in last season's 2-2 draw at Old Trafford), he would fine me a week's wages. "I put a bit of a tackle in on Evra in our box, and he mustn't have liked it. He said he would fine me a week's wages whether he was still my manager or not. Coming from him, I suppose it was a compliment. And I suppose I would probably have paid the fine anyway!" Down-to-earth, honest, approachable, Bardsley is one of the few professional footballers who appears to have changed little from the day he made his professional debut in December 2003. He remains as committed and driven as ever, as underlined by his refusal to accept that his Sunderland career was over, even when he started just two of the final 16 games last season. He continues to offer valuable versatility to the Black Cats defence, and will appear at left-back this afternoon, even though he has spent the majority of his career on the opposite flank. And even though he has spent the last two-and-a-half seasons on Wearside, he remains as committed a Manchester United supporter as ever. You can take the boy out of Salford, but it appears to be considerably tougher to take Salford out of the boy. "I lived on Littleton Road, which was right next door to the training ground," said Bardsley. "In the summer holidays, I would spend all my time standing outside trying to get autographs. "I don't think you can watch training now, but at that time they were training just over the way so I could see who I wanted to. "When I was in primary school, (Peter) Schmeichel and (Eric) Cantona were the big stars, while the (David) Beckhams and (Paul) Scholes were just coming through. It was amazing just to stand and watch them play. "I still go to an odd game now, and if I wasn't playing, I would go with my mates to the away games, have a laugh, that sort of thing. I went to the Rangers match (in the Champions League) with my mates and sat in the stands. "Some of my mates follow United everywhere, there's one of them, from Salford, who spends all of his wages following the club, never goes out boozing or anything like that. "All the lads prefer the away games, maybe getting away from the missus for a few hours and having a bit of a gargle. It's not a bad way of spending a Saturday afternoon is it, watching Man U" But what about playing against them when you're such a lifelong fan "You just have to leave the scarf on the sidelines for 90 minutes," joked Bardsley. "It could be tough, but I have to look after myself and what's best for Sunderland FC. "And I honestly think we can beat them. I just think as a club, the way we are playing, we are going into every game really believing we can get a result. United is no different." Bardsley made 18 senior appearances at Old Trafford, but after a series of loan spells at the likes of Royal Antwerp, Rangers and Aston Villa, he was eventually told to seek alternative employment in 2008. Having first joined United's youth set up at the age of nine, wasn't the rejection akin to being spurned by a member of the family "It was tough," said the defender, whose current Sunderland contract is due to expire at the end of the season. "I'd grown up there, lived there, breathed it, drank it. It was difficult for me. "But it was time to move on and play some football. I've been at Sunderland three years now and loved every minute. "I was 21 when I left Man U and this was a great club to come to. It was okay when you were training every day (at Man United) and learning from the best, but it's no good if you're not playing games. Sunderland have given me the chance to do that and I'll always be grateful." Just don't ask him to sit in the home end at the Stadium of Light when this afternoon's fixture is reprised once he retires.
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