Gary Neville kisses a badge and the world shits itself
Adam Bushby hates Gary Neville. Or does he?
Let me make something absolutely clear. I am not seeking the forgiveness of Gary Neville. If anything, this piece is about applying some fundamental rules of the New Testament to football and, perhaps more specifically, how these rules relate to someone who I once hated. ‘Hated’ of course in the ‘footballing sense’, which is to say ‘dislike severely’, but not ‘to wish sudden death upon’. Hate in a vacuum, if you will. With the hatred dissipating Monday Night Football by Monday Night Football, something curious happened in December 2011. I learned to forgive Gary Neville.
For the sake of clarity, I’d better sum up my position. I’m a York-born York City fan first and foremost but I had a strange relationship with them during the mid-90s to mid-00s and throughout that time and since the age of 7, also supported Liverpool. Which I still do. Liverpool fan equates to ‘hates Manchester United’ as we all know. And not for show either. I do really, really hate United. Hate in a vacuum, of course, but still, it’s a real feeling. United have haunted my adult life. And a really unpleasant ghost too, if there is such a thing as a pleasant one. Snide. Arrogant. Privileged. Girls at my school would support United. They didn’t know anything about football but they’d ‘support’ United. United won everything. United fans were everywhere. And it really fucked me off.
Central to United’s success in the way that Richard Hammond is central to Top Gear’s was one Gary Neville. Always there, wasn’t he. Like the bully’s smaller, weaker mate. Gary Neville loves Manchester United. For that reason, I hated him. When he ran half the length of the pitch to dementedly start touching up his badge, I threw an orange at the TV screen in the pub. I don’t even know why there was an orange on my table. My only regret is that it wasn’t an onion. A big fuck-off onion right at his stupid ratty face.
So you get the gist. When Neville was unveiled as a Sky pundit at the tail-end of last season, my heart sank. “OH GREAT, SKY. JUST GREAT. NOT JUST A TOSSER BUT THE MOTHER OF ALL TOSSERS. THE MOTHERTOSSER.” I can just about deal with the ineptitude of your Redknapps and Townsends. Your Mersons and your McInallys. But Gary Neville? It was like being told I was going to be read bedtime stories as a kid by the local pederast. My favourite thing ruined by a very bad person.
I didn’t think much about Gary Neville over the summer. But when the season started up again in August, sure as onions is onions, there he was. Bumfluff monstrosity intact. But, in the words of the genius, Jarvis Cocker, something changed. With every passing week, Neville was saying things and I was fighting every sinew to not say, “he’s right you know”. And the things Neville was doing with that touch-screen were putting Andy Gray to shame. Week after week I was finding myself not only agreeing with Neville’s assessments, but being actively impressed by his observations. Whisper it but, oh God the shame, he’s actually quite likeable. In short, Neville was doing the job a pundit SHOULD do, but had been either too lazy or stupid – or both – to do.
All of this came to a head before the Chelsea v Man City match. I tuned in around 7 as there wasn’t much else on. There was Neville, eloquent, touching his screen with the poise of veteran. His dissection of the problems Chelsea’s defence have been having this season was excellent. He explained why a high defensive line had been bad and how one further back was stronger. And then, for the piece de resistance, he showed us all how you stop David Silva, by highlighting the exceptional marking of Lucas Leiva.
Gary Neville, and please bear in mind this is in spite of myself and I feel more than a little grubby, Gary Neville is showing everyone how punditry should be done. It may be that it’s Christmas, or it may be that I’m going soft, but Gary Neville, I forgive you.