As United and Liverpool gear up for a 200th competitive meeting, Reds legend Gary Neville gives his personal insight into a rivalry which has stood the test of time and continues to endure…
“As a young United fan growing up at the time that I did, you’re surrounded by the fact that you just don’t like Liverpool football club. You don’t want them to win a game, never mind a trophy, so fixtures between the two clubs are always special.
That’s always been the way at all levels of the two clubs. When I joined United, it was bred into us even as kids: you don’t lose to Manchester City, you don’t lose to Liverpool. When we played against Liverpool in the A and B teams, Eric Harrison and Nobby Stiles left you in no doubt of the game’s importance. Brian Kidd would come down to watch, even Sir Alex Ferguson did when he could. Those fixtures were the ones that mattered to everyone.
They always matter. Even when I was in the first team, if the young lads in the A team were playing Liverpool that morning, you’d see Sir Alex breaking away from the pre-match meal to call and find out the result, or Albert Morgan, the kitman, would tell him how the game had gone. If Albert told him:“The kids have beaten Liverpool,”there was that real satisfaction on the manager’s face.
I think the dislike was equal. Playing against Robbie Fowler and local lads, you could feel that mutual dislike. Every time I used to go over to a referee, Carragher knew that I’d be going over to the referee and he’d have to be there as well to equal it out. It went beyond the two clubs as well.
If you think back to the Manchester City game at Old Trafford in 2004, when I clashed heads with Steve McManaman, I had him, Fowler and Joey Barton all around me, going mad at me. It ran through every single game that we played. If there was a Liverpool-born individual in the opposition team, it usually meant there would be a problem during the match! More often than not, there would be a flare-up. It didn’t even matter if they hadn’t played for Liverpool; it was a common theme. I never thought for one minute that I disliked them more than they disliked me. That’s what made it so compelling.
They haven’t won the league for nearly 30 years, so a lot of fans now won’t know what that feels like. Let me tell you: those of us who grew up through Liverpool winning the league every single year, we can never forget that. We have to pass that down to future generations about how bad it was! It’s bad. It’s really bad! Growing
up with them winning leagues and European Cups, it’s a tainted childhood! It’s painful. It’s that level of feeling that makes this fixture so special and so unique. It’s absolutely immense.
Manchester and Liverpool are obviously two very proud cities. The rivalry is great and the games should always be fought fiercely, with passion, with endeavour, with everything that rides on it. Throughout the history of this fixture there have been cup finals and semi-finals, games that have virtually decided title races, but the feeling remains unchanged even when there aren’t trophies riding on the outcome.
A Manchester United-Liverpool game can be fiery, ugly, passionate, hostile, but it can never be boring and the players on the pitch always have a responsibility to ensure that the games don’t pass without contention or incident. That’s not what this fixture is about. The very first thing that any Manchester United player should have explained to them when they join the club is that it’s unacceptable to lose to Liverpool, but also that there’s no feeling to rival beating them.
The meetings between the sides have been disappointing over the last couple of years and the game needs to come alive again. The chances are that it will because in this fixture, you’re never far away from incident. We’ve seen that countless times down the years and I hope we see it again this afternoon.”
This interview is taken from United Review, the official matchday programme at Old Trafford which is available to order online via ManUtd.com/Programme.
Pure theatre! United Review's historical cover marks the 200th episode of our longstanding rivalry with Liverpool.
THE STORY BEHIND THE COVER
United Review editor Paul Davies
“How do you mark the 200th game against our biggest rivals? That was the question we posed ourselves at United Review in the weeks leading up to this milestone meeting of England’s most successful clubs. A number of ideas were thrown around (and thrown out!) before deciding upon this one, chosen as we wanted something reflecting the longevity of this most notable of fixtures.
“It is 124 years since United and Liverpool first met in competitive action, in a ‘Test Match’ at Ewood Park – a relegation/promotion play-off for a place in the next season’s First Division. As such, our cover is a throwback to the Victorian era theatre posters that were so common on the streets of England’s big cities at that time, with numerous sizes and styles of lettering crammed on to the page.
“Sir Bobby Charlton described Old Trafford as the Theatre of Dreams, so where better for this 200th instalment of this long-running drama that is played out in the north-west of England but watched by hundreds of millions around the world. It’s different, and won’t be to everyone’s taste, but we feel it gives a due nod to the humble beginnings of one of the game’s fiercest, enduring rivalries.”