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It’s the most passionate Premier League rivalry of all and as Liverpool get ready to face Manchester United at Anfield on Monday night, United legend Gary Neville opens up on his love for the madness of this iconic fixture…

For 89 minutes, the travelling Liverpool fans had been singing unprintable songs about me and my mum. It was 0-0. We won a free-kick just outside the Liverpool box. Ryan Giggs was standing over the ball.

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 City, at least for me. It’s almost an out-of-body experience.

Gary Neville celebrates in front of the Liverpool fans at Old Trafford on January 22, 2006

Neville has admitted that he would pay the £5,000 fine he received a hundred times over

Neville shouts towards Liverpool's supporters at the end of the Premier League match

Neville has admitted that he would pay the £5,000 fine he received a hundred times over

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, Giggsy 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. 

Rio Ferdinand (No 5) celebrates with his team-mates after his last-gasp header won the game

Rio Ferdinand (No 5) celebrates with his team-mates after his last-gasp header won the game

The FA fined me £5,000 for my actions (in 2006). 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?

I have this memory of being five or six years old and driving down the M60 with my dad. I remember staring out the window in anticipation, thinking: ‘Are we close? When will we ever get there?’

Then we crossed over Barton Bridge and that’s when I knew. We were 10 minutes away from Old Trafford. As soon as the Theatre of Dreams came into view, my heart would start racing. Then we’d park up and go into the little back room of Marina’s for pie and chips.

I’m not one for nostalgia, but I do wish I could relive those days, queuing up with all the United fans. Those memories still live with me.

 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

I’ll never forget the first time I went to Anfield as a United player. We travelled on the M62 to Merseyside and when we got to the end of the motorway and turned on to the side streets, that’s when it hit me. We were in enemy territory. It was claustrophobic.

When I walked out on to the pitch, it was a similar feeling. It’s a tight pitch. The fans are right on top of you, shouting obscenities 40 minutes before kick-off. Those are the moments you actually miss when you’re retired.

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.

United and Liverpool have been doing battle since 1894. When they kick off for the 197th time on Monday Night Football, I hope it’s electric and, yeah, maybe a bit dirty. 

If a Liverpool player scores the winning goal at Anfield I hope he jumps into the Kop with 10 of his team-mates and Klopp is running down the touchline like a maniac. If they did anything less, I’d be disappointed.

Neville takes a throw-in near Liverpool's fans at Anfield on February 18, 2006

Neville takes a throw-in near Liverpool’s fans at Anfield on February 18, 2006

Liverpool have taken their revenge on me over the years, on the pitch and off. They knocked us out of the FA Cup four weeks after I leapt in front of their fans. My car was nearly flipped over when some fans recognised me in a traffic jam a mile outside Old Trafford.

And worst of all, I still have to put up with Carra (Jamie Carragher) in retirement. But there’s one thing I simply cannot accept. There’s a bit of folklore about two Scouse brothers who were doing work on my house a few years back. 

The story goes the brothers buried a Liverpool scarf underneath the tiles of my swimming pool. It’s something that’s never been proven and probably never will be.

I don’t even live in that house any more, but I’m going to put it in my will that if anybody ever finds that bloody scarf, they must follow my final wish — burn it.

Visit The Players’ Tribune for the full article from Gary Neville at: www.theplayerstribune.com


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