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Gary Neville celebrates winning at Anfield in March 2007

Neville: Beating Liverpool is the sweetest victory

Manchester United 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, it was just a fact that you didn't like Liverpool Football Club. You didn’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 [youth] 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. 
Gary Neville in action against Liverpool's Robbie Fowler
Neville battles with Liverpool's Robbie Fowler at Anfield in December 1997.
“I suppose that’s something that typifies the era. You think of Sir Alex saying he was going to knock Liverpool off their perch; there was that venom on our side of things, that feeling that ‘this lot are never going to win a league while we’re here.’ We didn’t win every single game against them, of course, and there were games when they beat us, but that determination to prevail always ran through us. Every time we beat them, it was by far the sweetest victory you could taste.

I think the dislike was equal. Playing against Robbie Fowler and other local lads in the Liverpool team, you could feel that mutual dislike. Every time I used to go over to a referee, Jamie Carragher would 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.
“It’s a rivalry that still means so much, even though the circumstances have changed since I first started supporting United. We still don’t want them to win. We still want them to lose every match… that’s just the nature of a football rivalry. For a United fan, the perfect weekend is United winning and Liverpool losing.

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.
Gary Neville picks up a coin from the pitch at Anfield in February 2006
No love lost... Neville is barracked by Liverpool fans at Anfield in February 2006.

“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.”

Gary Neville gave this interview to United Review, the official match programme, for last season's home game against Liverpool.

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