To say Phil Neville wasn’t an integral part of Everton Football Club would be to lie. Between 2005 – 2013 the Greater Manchester born defender and Club Captain played 242 matches for the Toffees and before that 263 for Manchester United which included six Premier League titles, three FA Cup victories and one Champions League triumph. The man is an accomplished footballer.
It is unfortunate in that recently it is not his accolades which have drawn the attention of Evertonians around the world but his comments which upon reflection are not entirely positive.
The circulating commentary aired during an episode of Sky Sports’ Soccerbox and if you're not aware of the programme's premise then think Gogglebox but those involved are not watching Celebrity Big Brother, but classic matches from years past.
During this episode the topic of the Merseyside Derby arose, and you may be surprised by the former skipper’s thoughts on what for many Evertonians is the most important fixture of the year. Maybe he never quite got the fans’ passion for this game.
Watching the 2006 Merseyside Derby which incidentally the Toffees won 3–0 with Tim Cahill and Andy Johnson scoring, Neville said to the programme’s host and brother Gary Neville:
”I hated Merseyside derbies, I really did. I thought they were over-hyped.”
He would go on to explain one of the differences between a Manchester and Merseyside derby.
”I think a Manchester derby, we used to talk about from 48 hours before. Merseyside derbies were a week before.”
The brothers would move on to discuss how the Everton staff, and in particular the Masseur excitedly prepared for the match.
”The masseur would put up on the wall ‘five more sleeps’. The next day ‘four more sleeps’, the next day ‘three more sleeps until the Merseyside derby’. It was the biggest game.”
With the topic being the Merseyside Derby it was only natural that the quality of Liverpool would also be examined.
”We used to go into derby days full of confidence thinking we could compete, but Liverpool always used to play the game.”
They finished off with his thoughts regarding the level of fan anticipation which every year is always fanatical.
”We got too involved in trying to smash someone early on, fans saying you’ve got to die for the badge. It was the only game Everton wanted to win.”
Neville’s time in royal blue was not as lauded as his years in red, and his troubles while at Goodison are well known including David Moyes’s questionable decision to make him Captain after only three weeks at the club which he felt put him in a difficult position especially in terms of gaining fan support as many thought veteran Blues such as Tim Cahill deserved the armband more.
Since his time at Everton Neville has enjoyed a career in the media as well managing the England Women’s side who in their most recent outing beat Kazakhstan 6 – 0.
As a fan it is interesting to see how something like the Merseyside Derby is viewed by the players themselves, especially one of Neville’s pedigree but it is also interesting when those views are not what you’d expect.