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Monday, June 11, 2007

The sort of things you miss if you don't buy Red News. Like this exclusive Red News interview with Gary Nev for our 20th anniversary issue, 135.

RN: Fergie has called this end of season, challenging on all fronts period ‘squeaky-bum time’, is that how you see it?
GN: I think that is something that has just stuck down the years. I think it has been at times but I don’t think it is yet. It will do when it gets to four or five games to go. I know what he means, he means basically it’s the business end where trophies are won. You have everybody saying week after week ‘this is the biggest week of the season’, it seems to be every week it’s like that. At least we are in it, we haven’t been for two or three years, we are where we want to be and we can’t complain - this is the position we want to be in. Still in the Champions League, still in the FA Cup and obviously in a good position in the league, we just want to keep going and if we can play like we have in the first three-quarters of the season then we will be all right.
RN: Is it easier or harder when it gets to this stage, playing all the time, three times a week, always on the go?
GN: It all depends on if you are winning. If you win then you can play every 3 days, if you are getting great results it doesn’t matter, you never feel tired, you never feel any problems. I think if you start to drop points and you get a couple of injuries then that’s when the problems occur at this time of the season because you haven’t got anytime to recover from game to game. You pick up an injury on the Saturday and you are not going to recover for the Tuesday, it’s the same if you get injured on the Wednesday for the Saturday or the Tuesday for Saturday. It’s all about winning, you have just got to keep winning, people have mentioned in the last few weeks we have not played as well as we have in the previous few months of the season or the first six months. It’s impossible to go through the whole season playing at the level we were.
The most important thing is that when we have played Fulham, Liverpool, Lille, three massive matches, that if we had lost we would have been in trouble, we have won every single one of them and that’s a good sign. I think the signs are good, you can’t play throughout the season and not have that little bit of luck, that last minute goal. We have had a few injuries but even they have come at a time where we have got two weeks international break and we might be able to get a few back after that. Things aren’t too bad and like I say we are just focusing and concentrating. We’re desperate to do well this season, we have under achieved for three years but in those three years I think the team has been developing and we’ll see how good they are at the end of the season, that will be the measure of us then.
RN: So I presume the dressing room is pumped before every game?
GN: You have seen that I think at Fulham. I think everybody could see what the victories at Liverpool and Fulham meant to us. Not because we thought those victories won us the league, we didn’t think that for one minute and people who actually assumed that’s what we were doing when we celebrated at Fulham or Liverpool were completely wrong. What we have seen is these games get bigger and bigger. Every game is a Cup final now and you win a game and it’s a massive result, you will see the feeling in the team, you will see hopefully the concentration and performance levels, the determination. I think what you are seeing now is determined performances which is what you need at this stage of the season and the football will start to return. You can’t play great football all the time, you have to show determination and grind out results and that’s what we need to do over the next two months, grind out results, win one-nil, score in the last minute, win games, get points where last season we wouldn’t have got points. We are up for it because we have to be and we are desperate to do well.
RN: There are a few comparisons in terms of grinding out results to the Cantona years yet instead there has been a greater focus on the luck element of winning in the last minute.
GN: There was a concern after Christmas, I think it was Wigan, Reading, Newcastle - we just started to leak a few goals and we knew full well that going into the last few months of the season you can’t leak goals, you have got to get back to keeping clean sheets. You have got to get back to being hard to beat and we have done that in the league in the last month or so and it’s not going to be that the forwards go and score 3/4 times for us every week, there are going to be times when they are not going to score, they are going to have off days, feel a bit jaded, a bit tired because they have had 3 games in a week. Those players rely on sharpness so we need to keep a clean sheet for them and hope that one of them can produce that moment at the end of the match and that’s happened for us the last few weeks. Good defending will win us the league there is no doubt about that.
RN: Inevitably with the run we've had people starting talking about the similarities with '99, is there a conscious effort to calm that ‘Treble’ talk down?
GN: Yeah because its ridiculous to think…I said after ‘99 that I never thought it would be done again just because I experienced what happened in ‘99. I think every season since there has been a team that has been in this position, Chelsea can still win the quadruple, Arsenal I think one season could have won the treble and Chelsea last year I think were still in most competitions until the 5th or 6th Round or the semi finals. It’s just everything has to go your way. Everything. You do need an extreme amount of luck. I mean not just determination, winning one nil, you need luck! Genuine luck, we won some of those games and you couldn’t explain in words what happened. We had determination, we went to the end, yeah we did all the right things, we prepared well, we worked hard, we had a great spirit, but you need an extreme amount of luck and I still think that is going to be extremely difficult to achieve and I think talk of it at this stage is really premature.
RN: Reflecting on the great events of not so long ago, John O'Shea said of his goal ‘doing it in front of the Kop in those circumstances is so special. Gary Neville has just told me I have lived out his dream’ - is that the dream then?
GN: That’s what I have said for about seven or eight years, if I ever score a goal it would be to score a winner at the Kop in the last minute. For John to do it - that is a moment that will live with him forever. That doesn’t happen, not just to Man United players, Liverpool have not lost for 30 matches, not many people score at the Kop End let alone a last minute winner for Man United. I can’t think of many United players that have done it. It’s a dream, not out of vengeance but it’s our toughest rival, our hardest game away from home, it’s hard work playing at Anfield just as it’s hard work for them playing at Old Trafford. If you get a win there it’s the most special place to win a football match at, there is no doubt about that and that’s probably showing them a bit of respect because they would probably say the same to us - the best place for them to win is Old Trafford.
RN: We won't go over certain ground to get you in any bother but at Anfield and Old Trafford you've seemed to deliberately celebrate our goals with Van der Sar in front of the Utd fans, is that consciously because of the ridiculous fine last year?
GN: I think in years gone by I’ve always celebrated at Anfield. Usually we are kicking towards our fans in the second half, to be honest I can’t think of many times that we haven’t when I’ve played. I have always celebrated near the Kop. I’ve seen Liverpool score two or three last minute goals at Old Trafford with Danny Murphy celebrating at the Stretford End and nothing seems to be made of it. Don’t get me wrong, I just think it’s part of football, if you can’t show emotion and passion in that game. I genuinely can’t see the problem with it. Don’t get me wrong you can’t go over abusing them or anything like that, but just to celebrate a goal, I’m not winding them up all the way through the match, I’m concentrating on the match. I’m not doing anything then it’s just when we score a goal, especially in the last minute….
(Gary’s phone rings with some Caribbean tune, turns it off. Good lad) GN: Sorry about that.
I will always celebrate a goal. That goal in the last minute…We celebrated at the end of the game by throwing our shirts into the crowd. If we had won away at Middlesbrough that day we wouldn’t have thrown our shirts into the crowd, because it was Liverpool everything was unbelievable about it. Down to ten men, away at Anfield, everyone 4 probably expected us to drop points on the day and we went and won in the last minute, down to ten men. It was just an incredible day out for us, I will always celebrate against Liverpool because they are our biggest rivals and I don’t think anyone should get too wound up about it. They have just got to accept it haven’t they, while I’m still playing for United it’s going to happen.
RN: There are moments in life that mean more to us fans than anything else (Liverpool away, for example) do you enjoy certain games more than others?
GN: I think winning a game in the last minute is the best way to win a football match. I’ve lost in the last minute a couple of times and it’s the worst way to lose. Porto at home you remember Mourinho running down the touch line, we lost in the last minute there and it’s a killer but win in the last minute it’s just the best feeling in the world. Usually it means that we’ve not played well if we win in the last minute or it means that it’s been such a hard game. To win in the last minute is just unbelievable. I think the Fulham and Liverpool games, Fulham we just did not play well at all and I was cringing on the bench watching on the sidelines. It’s horrible when you’re not playing and you think ‘come on lads, this is a massive ten minutes’. I was watching the clock thinking that this ten minutes is massive for us and we got the goal, same at Liverpool. I was happy with a point at Liverpool, Scholes got sent off, I was thinking a point, no problem to us that. We got the goal and you come off and that’s a massive result not because it wins us the league but…
RN: It gives us breathing space.
GN: Yeah, it’s unexpected to go and win at Anfield with eleven men, let alone ten men when you are not playing well. I think everything about it was brilliant. The best way to win a football match in the last minute.
RN: I’d rather win it earlier though!
GN: That feeling of leaving the ground when you have won in the last minute is better than…I’ve been at Old Trafford hundreds of times, we have been three-nil up at half time, it’s a damp squib second half and you go out there and it’s ‘poor’ isn’t it? Fans are bored out of their head. RN: Laughs.
GN: You have seen it, you play some teams and you’re three-nil up. Watford at home you are four nil up and the fans are walking out ten minutes before the end. You are there thinking, ‘no injuries, let’s just get to the next game’. It’s not that you don’t enjoy playing in the game but the real games are the ones where everyone is there until the end and no one leaves because it’s nail biting. Roma at Old Trafford, that will be a proper match, everyone will be there until the end, it will be a real atmosphere. They are the games that really get everyone on edge and worked up and really that is what we are there for. We are there to win three or four nil, don’t get me wrong, I’d take three or four nil every single game of the season but sometimes it’s great to have those, I think as a fan you want games that give you that feeling, that spirit inside you that makes you want to come every week. RN: You can quite easily forget the four nils...
GN: You remember Liverpool at the end of the season, you won’t remember Watford at home. In fact I bet you couldn’t tell me who scored now?
RN: Not a clue.
GN: (Laughs) And I couldn’t tell you who scored in the game but you never forget that John O’Shea scored in the last minute at Anfield. You know what I mean, they are just not memorable games. They are what I call just another game. You have got to do your job in these matches, they’re the matches that win you the league. Saturday, Bolton at home, they are matches that win you the league. You have to do your job in them matches - we have messed up in these matches and cocked up in the last few years and it’s cost us.
RN: You said at the very start of the season ‘the league is the trophy we want. We have underachieved the last three years. We have to be winning championships.’ and you could tell right from the off against Fulham we were ready and waiting, was it something specifically targeted to make a good start and bring the battle right to Chelsea?
GN: We have played in two Championships this season. The first one was for the first six months because we were shocking (the year before). Well no, we weren’t shocking but for the last three years for the first six months we have done what we have done in the previous ten but the problem is that the other teams that have won it in the last three years have gone on incredible runs and not lost a game. We have ended up ten/twelve points behind so we knew this year we couldn’t afford to be in that position again, we do have to be winning championships.
It is not acceptable not to be winning Championships for three years. Three can become four we have seen it with other teams. Three can become twenty six. That is not happening, that cannot happen at this club again, we have got to win Championships. We haven’t got a right to win it every year, we are not going to win it every year but we have got to win it. Man United should be winning championships 3,4,5 times a decade, that’s the way I see it. You are not going to win it every season because there are other great clubs out there, the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool - they are going to have their moments aren’t they.
They are big clubs who have spent a lot of money and they are going to get it right at some point and we are going to have a dip and that’s what has happened in the last three years but it can’t go on, we have got to get back up there and be winning it again. Hopefully that’s this season, everyone is desperate to win it this season, that is the most important trophy, it has been the most important trophy for the last fifteen years, it always has been. You win your league it’s the true measure of a team. A cup competition any team can win on any day, we have seen that. A league you can’t win it unless you are consistently good all season and that to me is the measure of a team - you have got to be consistent. 7/8 out of ten, week in, week out, all the way through the season, not just performing in a big match in the cup.
RN: You also said “I think the squad is ready to win again. We’ve had three years where we’ve really suffered and not really performed to our capabilities.” - what do you think the turning point was to see us back on the right course like where we stand now?
GN: I think to be honest with you, from last January onwards our style of play changed. We went back to being…It culminated for me in a point where we had Giggs and O’Shea in midfield, Ronaldo, Saha, Rooney started playing upfront together and all of a sudden the speed in our play, what I call the Man United way, returned. It was speed, quick counter attacking, defending one minute and the ball was in the back of the net ten seconds later. We had lost that for some reason for the previous couple of years or so.
We are now getting back to being that aggressive, quick, attacking team that’s penetrating, cutting through and slicing through teams. Also I think there was a case of we had, had enough, the criticism we got from every single draw or league defeat or cup defeat. We went out of Europe early, we went out of the FA Cup at Anfield, we lost two or three league games, I think we had just had enough. The club had, had enough. We were getting battered for every single defeat or draw and I think enough is enough after two or three years listening to that you think ‘right that’s it, stop this now’. The younger players are starting to mature and get better - we have seen that this season. We were a team that was growing, everyone could see that, we are all two or three years older now and I think you have seen a maturity in our performances this season that you haven’t in the past.
RN: Though Sir Alex and Bobby Charlton have both recently said we should have triumphed more in the European Cup, why do you think that is?
GN: A number of reasons, we never won the league for twenty six years, let’s start with that! If you have not won the league you can’t be in it so that’s the first reason. Second reason is there have been two or three seasons where we haven’t performed as players. Borrussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen, criminal, criminal those two. We should have been in Finals those two years, not performing, not taking our chances. Other reasons; there are a number of clubs in Europe who have the history and tradition of United. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus, A C Milan. We have to respect them, these clubs in their own country are huge clubs with massive tradition. I would always say United is the biggest club but 4 even the most ardent United fans would recognise the size of these clubs and know they are massive clubs. They all have the same ambition, they all want the same thing but they don’t win it five or ten times, apart from Real Madrid who have won it six times, you look over the last few years Real Madrid have won it twice, Bayern Munich once. It’s a hard competition to win.
RN: Do you think it is more difficult to win now than during the 70s and 80s?
GN: Absolutely, no doubt. If Man United had won leagues during the 70s and 80s we would have won European Cups but we didn’t win leagues because to be honest with you there was a team forty miles away from here who won it every year, and that happened and that was allowed to happen from this club. This club allowed that to happen for some reason, twenty six years without winning the league, I’m not putting pressure on us as a group of players here now but three years is unacceptable. Three years is well beyond the period that is acceptable for me. Twenty Six years is just absolutely ridiculous, its unthinkable - it should never happen at this club.
RN: Why do you think Old Trafford has become a fortress again?
GN: Because we had, had enough. It was a mickey take, people talking about Man United before they played us. I remember one lad from Aston Villa, I’m not going to name him. I don’t think he had ever got a touch at Old Trafford and on the Friday before the game you are reading in the paper that he feels he can come to Old Trafford tomorrow and win. People like that - and these are people who have never had a kick at Old Trafford who have been beaten 3,4,5 nil every time they have played against us and had the mickey taken out of them - are talking about how it’s a great place to play, we’ll get chances. That can’t happen.
It’s a hard game when you come to Old Trafford and it goes back to how it was when teams were beaten before they stepped out onto the pitch and I think there was a case that we had had enough. We had to get back to it being a place (for opponents) where you went in that tunnel before a game you knew you were going to have to work your absolute socks off and even then you might not win, in fact you were probably going to get beat. There was a period of about six months at the start of last season when it became a little bit too easy. We were becoming a club it was easy to knock.
I know that a few teams had come and got results. One season I think it was three seasons ago we lost seven or nine games at Old Trafford. I can’t remember, we lost a number of games at Old Trafford. You can’t lose at Old Trafford, you can, but you can’t lose regularly at Old Trafford. That is when your fans start to lose faith in you, they lose their belief in you. Don’t get me wrong it’s going to be hard work. You do lose games, every team loses games, we lost one this season against Arsenal, that can happen but you can’t let it happen five or six times a season in the league.
RN: Do you think right from the off this season those ridiculous bans for Rooney and Scholes helped galvanised the team, the spirit, sort of bring back that ‘them and us’ barricades that the club, team, supporters seem to thrive upon?
GN: I don’t know about that. I think it was genuinely just a case of us having had enough of not winning. I think the Carling Cup was a big thing for us last season, you have got to remember for a lot of the lads that stood on that podium that had their medals put around their necks - that was their first medal. They needed to experience that, they needed to experience the feeling of winning a trophy and the great feeling it gives you. Even though it was only the Carling Cup it was a massive victory for us, that gave the lads the feeling that, ‘lads imagine what it will be like to win a league, a Champions League or even an FA Cup’. It’s double, treble the feeling you are going to get from a Carling Cup. You will go on a three day bender if we win the League, you win the Carling Cup, you go out that night and you have a good night but if you win the league you are out all week, that’s just the way it is, you just don’t come home. It’s the best feeling in the world, winning the League is the best feeling in the world. To be honest with you I always remember 2001 when we won it for the third time, we didn’t really celebrate it that much, we took it for granted that we were just going to win it every year. Now your experience tells you, you celebrate these moments like it’s your last one in a long time, you never know when it’s going to come back. It is hard work to win a League.
RN: As fans we had the same feeling...
GN: Definitely, the feeling through the club was one of…a lethargic attitude towards winning the league, it was almost like ‘oh we’ve won the league again, there’s the lads going up getting the trophy, let’s go home’. That’s how it was. I think if we won it this year it wouldn’t be like that.
RN: Becks said in his MUTV interview that he can just picture you as captain now, ‘moaning away’ he said, would you have loved to boss him around?
GN: Boss him around? He’s a difficult man to boss around, he’s like a free spirit. No, I mean, yeah, I do a bit of moaning here and there. I obviously played with him for so long, he’s left the club now he plays for Real Madrid and he’s going to America. He’s doing the things he always wanted to. He always wanted to play abroad, he always wanted to play in America but I think he also knows maybe now more than ever how much Man United meant to him and what his time at the club meant to him. I think we all realise that we are all in our last years at the club whether we like it or not, it’s not going to go on forever.
This is an unbelievable place to play football, you are never going to be able to have a stadium where the fans treat you like they treat you, a club where they treat you like they treat you, the people within the club, it really is an incredible club. I know that it’s easy to knock United, the club don’t do this or that, but this I think is an incredible club and the people in it are really good people and they treat people really well. I know there will always be complaints about certain things but all in all, the stadium’s amazing, the view for everyone is fantastic, it’s a great football pitch, it’s a great place to watch, it’s safe, families can come, fans who have been coming for thirty years can come, fans who want to scream their heads off can come, it’s just a great stadium for me. The atmosphere is fantastic. I don’t think there can be any complaints about that apart from the charity match that reminds me of a graveyard. I think the lads who leave the club realise just how special this place is.
RN: It would have been great for Becks to get a proper thank you from the fans if we had got Real in the Cup.
GN: It would have been great for him to play the other night because I think it genuinely would have raised the atmosphere a little bit during the match. It would have been great for him to play for us like Andy Cole did for 45 minutes. That would have been fantastic but I think to be honest with you Becks gave good service, the club treated him well and it was the right time for everybody when he left, he wanted a new challenge and...
RN: He got one.
RN: Since we last interviewed you, there's been Becks, your brother, Nicky Butt, leaving, etc, is that one of the hardest parts of becoming the older pro's at United - the seeing mates go?
GN: It’s hard for about a day. You still talk about them, Sholesey, me, Giggsy we still talk about them at times, they were unbelievable times and they’re great lads. But it’s a selfish mentality you have got to have, if you’re still here you have just got to play for the club, it’s nothing to do with mates. We are just here to serve the club and if you’re got rid of next week then that is just hard lines, you move on and thank your lucky stars that you have ever been here, that’s the way I look at it and I think that’s the way they look at it, they are respectful of what times they have had here. If you had said at 16 when we all first joined that you’ll all be here until you’re 28, 29, then two or three of you might leave we would have snapped your hands off. Considering all we won in that time, the club doesn’t owe us anything, this club doesn’t owe us anything, it has given us everything in our lives.
RN: Does the captaincy role mean you have had to make any changes to either your game, preparation or the way you interact with the rest of your team mates? Are you part of any discussions over team affairs/ selection?
GN: Very rarely, the manager deals with all that with the coaches. No, its not changed much at all, obviously some little thing have changed but pretty much it’s similar - you try and play your game. I am what I am as a footballer, I can’t change, I play the way I play, I’m never going to be a player with the skill of Cantona or you look at the way Robson and Keane played the game and I’m never going to be anything like that but you just play, you do your very best for the club and hopefully give good advice to the players and to the young players at times and off the pitch you might have a quiet word with them. The game is so fast now it’s difficult because it’s so quick, the game never stops, you have just got to basically play your game and just concentrate on that.
RN: Has the bosses managerial style changed much since you have been at the club? And how long do you believe he can go on for?
GN: I genuinely believe that he could go on, because he has got good coaches, good backroom team, I genuinely believe he can go on. I said five or ten years last year and people laughed at me but we’re already a year into that. I see no reason why he can’t go on for at least five years and why not? He doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of tiring, he still comes in here (Carrington) very early in the morning, still goes to all the games and still actively doing what he is doing. To be honest with you he is not a manager who coaches the team every single day, he’s never been like that, he has always had Brian Kidd, Steve McClaren, Jim Ryan, Mick Phelan, Carlos now, he’s got fitness coaches, a medical team. He has always been a manager who will basically stand on the sidelines, watch the training and come in with the odd point but he’s never been an active…I think if he was doing that every single day then it would be more tiring for him but he has never been like that he has always had a coach, Archie Knox before Brian Kidd so I see no reason why he can’t go on for five or ten years. His management style has changed slightly maybe he has mellowed in the last ten, twelve years but there are still times when the odd game or the odd moment can bring out the fire in him.
RN: Giggsy recently reached the 700 games club and Sir Alex said you and Scholes aren't too far behind in how many games you can achieve, do you personally have a target in your mind you'd like to achieve?
GN: Just happy to play. I’ve always said my dream scenario would be to finish my career here and never have to put on another shirt but I’ve got two years left on my contract after this one which should take me to 34. It would be great to get to 35, 36 here but to be honest with you at this moment I would just be happy to win trophies, play as many games as I can and get to the end of this contract. That will be the first target in my mind. To get to Giggsy’s 700 somebody is going to have to shoot him! You will have to shoot him because he is a phenomenon to play at the level he has been playing at for that long in his position. If he was a sluggish left back…he’s not, he’s a flying winger who’s agile and beats players. He still has that same energy, it’s incredible really, it’s an incredible record. The way he looks after himself is fantastic, he is an example to all players at this club.
RN: I think there as a period a few years back where Giggsy’s contribution to the club was questioned by some quarters of the support.
GN: For me and I’m not just saying this because I know him, this guy in 20/30 years is Charlton, Law, Best, Robson, he is mentioned with those players, there is absolutely no doubt. He will probably have the top appearances in the clubs history, he will have won the most medals in the clubs history, he will be probably one of the best players in the clubs history. This guy will be that sort of icon in 20/ 30 years and looked back upon in that way, there is absolutely no doubt. This is a modern day legend, I never use that word because I don’t like the word but he is genuinely, he deserves all the accolades he will get in the next 20/30 years and will only ever (be) fully appreciated when he finishes playing.
RN: You mentioned before about whether or not to have a testimonial, what are you thinking now about it?
GN: No, I don’t want any distractions to my playing, to me trying to win games, trying to play the best I can and I just want to be able to concentrate on that and hopefully if the time is right I may have a testimonial in two or three years when hopefully it can be right towards the end of my career if that was possible but I have not thought about it at this moment in time.
RN: I don't think anyone has quite seen events quite like those at Lille, it must have been pretty crazy watching what was going on?
GN: (Smiles) (long pause) Yeah, I’ll leave that question, I don’t want to comment on that, I will put that to bed (laughs). I’ve got in enough bother over that one.
SAF walks in: Morning. GN: Morning
RN: It's crazy to say but the press focus/ coverage seems even greater now than since we last spoke, is it hard to avoid their intensity, and their desire to have us on front and back pages?
GN: It’s ok for me I’m not really affected by it in the respect that out of football I pretty much keep myself to myself. The club do the very best for us that they can to try and protect us from the media. Particularly the young players because it is difficult for some of them but I don’t know, it’s part of football, it’s part of life, you have to speak to them and it’s part of your job you should want to speak to them at times. It’s always been the case that players have spoken to newspapers to television channels to magazines, fanzines. It’s the only way which fans can listen to exactly what we have got to say for ourselves. I think sometimes they can be frustrating but they have a job to do, it is getting more and more intense but that’s just life. It is a small, small, small price to pay for the rewards of playing at this club or any other football club.
RN: United fans think that we as a club are picked on by the media, do you think this is the case or are we being paranoid?
GN: No, I don’t think we are picked on, we get praise when praise is due, we are a big attraction aren’t we and there will be times when we will get criticised, there will be times when we are made a scapegoat of. The thing is high standards are expected at United full stop. We are the biggest club, we’ve got the most people watching us, we’re always on the telly so if we make mistakes it is going to be more highly reported or it’s going to get more column inches than any other club so we have to set high standards. On the other hand I think this season you will have seen a lot of comments that this is a great footballing team to watch. You will probably read this season hundreds of articles praising players but then obviously you will get articles that do criticise the club on certain things. I think the praise ones will far outweigh, I think the criticism ones stick in your mind and the praise ones you just think, yeah, he’s right there. I think at times we can all get a little bit paranoid including players who can feel they are picked on but I genuinely think that it is swings and roundabouts and it evens itself out. It’s like people think that we get more penalties and more decisions. We don’t think that though do we? (laughs).
RN: It was great as fans seeing the story about the Xmas party and you singing some fan songs in the pub, was it disappointing though to see another story like that get in the papers and then used against us? Does it make you less likely to want to mingle with fans in future?
GN: We go out every year on our Christmas do and we always always go to a pub in the afternoon. We go for something to eat first and have it private on our own, the players will be on their own for a couple of hours then we always go out in the afternoon for 3 or 4 hours into a pub in Manchester. It used to be Mulligans, now it’s The Grapes, next year it might be somewhere different. We always go to a pub in the afternoon because that’s just like a good laugh, we always bring in a couple of lads who sing and stuff for us then we just have a bit of a sing-along. It’s a Christmas party isn’t it, we’re having a laugh. It was disappointing I think, the problem is nowadays people have got these camera phones and you don’t know whether they are actually doing it because they are a fan or they are going to do something stupid with it.
RN: It seems odd that people want to live their lives through a camera phone rather just experiencing life.
GN: They are obsessed with walking around with these camera phones and they are videoing you…What you doing! I’ve lived in Manchester for five years and sometimes you see a person with a camera phone videoing you and you think ‘I’m walking down the street mate, give me a break’. We honestly didn’t remember it happening to be honest with you (The Grapes incident), we were obviously having a good day weren’t we. (laughs) They were obviously there videoing us and it is disappointing really that is obviously a fan of some kind and they have thought I’m going to film that and get some money out of it. It just happens and it part of…It’s part of the frustrating bit that you have to accept. There was no malice in it from our part, you know what I mean.
RN: At that PFA get together to celebrate its 100 years, Billy Meredith was honoured, someone who played a big part in an early part of United's history, do you pay attention to the history books about United, learn up about events in the past?
GN: I think I do have a good knowledge of the history. We’ve a guy out here, Norman Williams, who comes and watches us train every day and has done every day for the last 15, 20, 30 years and he knows every single little fact, I’m not like him but I do like to think I know a lot about the clubs history but there will certainly be a lot of people who know a lot more than me. The club’s history is the club, that is why 4 the club is what it is for me because of its history and its traditions.
RN: Do you think there is a responsibility on players to be aware of the clubs history?
GN: I think they definitely are aware of it, it is a club where we go to events, we see it on the telly all the time, the clubs history through MUTV, through magazines, through the club magazine, through events that we go to. We went to a dinner before the game on Tuesday and it was to celebrate 50 years of United in Europe. They showed videos of United’s last 50 years in Europe. The players are always made aware of the history and traditions of the club, they meet the old players. Old players regularly come on trips and watch games. I think they are more than aware, I think to be honest with you it surprises a lot of players how big the club is but when they get here they realise how big it is. It’s a massive club but it still has a feeling of, I don’t want to say a family club, that’s a bit of a cliché but they do accept you in, they are still people here. You hear about these clubs in Spain, they have these Presidents who sit up there in the massive big boxes and they don’t mix with the players and they are sacking players, picking the team. That doesn’t happen at this club, everybody knows everybody, from the person in the laundry to the person over at Old Trafford, everybody knows everybody and gets on with everybody, it’s no problem.
RN: You always make the effort no matter what to come to the United fans and show your appreciation at the end of a game, do you tell the other players to do the same?
GN: No, I never tell players to do it. I think they should but everyone has their own way what they do. I think some players do it, I’ve never not done it, I’ve done it every single game I’ve ever played, even at times when it’s been hard when you have lost a game but you have always got to go over and do it. I think one thing I did when I got made Captain was from the line up I walked the players into the centre of the pitch because that is what we always used to do. When we have had our handshakes with the other team I always walk the players into the centre of the pitch and clap the fans at the start of the match. That is something that I always remember United doing as a kid and I’ve always thought we should do that and we do that now. At the end of the game it’s players choice, personally if it was me I always do but I don’t know who does and I don’t know who doesn’t. I know some always do it with me because I always see them there.
RN: You've also started the youth cup commentary on MUTV - do you enjoy that? Good to be keeping an eye on the youngsters?
GN: I’ve done it for five years, I would always go and watch the youth team and they just asked me to do it 4/5 years ago, I’m (rubbish) at it to be honest with you but I watch the game and it’s a bit of a laugh, the lads take the mick out of me the morning after.
RN: No plans to be the next Mark Bright then? GN: No. Mark Bright! I’m worse than him! RN: Bloody hell that says a lot.
RN: As club captain do you get any of the younger players seeking you out for help and advice?
GN: At times, I’ve not done it this year but usually I have a chat with them about things that they should be looking to do. I haven’t done it this season for some reason, usually one of the academy coaches will come and see me to go and have a chat with them but this season it hasn’t happened. They are a really good group of lads and everyone gets on well with each other. When you’re injured in particular you are mixing with the lads who are injured from the youth team so it’s good around the training ground. It’s not like the Cliff where everyone was tight in together and you were almost in each other’s changing rooms but there is a good rapport between all the players at the club.
RN: Do you see yourself going into that side of things in years to come or staying in football, coaching or management? GN: I haven’t a clue, I don’t know what to do.
RN: You have not taken any coaching badges?
GN: No, I don’t want to be distracted at this moment…sorry I took a coaching badge about a year or two ago and it was a bit of a distraction to be honest with you in terms of two or three hours coaching on a Monday or Thursday night to get your badge and you’re thinking I should be at home really resting for the game on Saturday or Wednesday. I don’t think it’s right that I do it while I’m playing now, I just want to concentrate on playing and when it’s finished I’ll do what I do then but I haven’t thought about it.
RN: How do you see football changing, on the pitch and off the pitch, in coming years? Do you think technology will have a big impact?
GN: Yeah it will get quicker, players will get fitter, it will be less contact. I think it’s getting there now but every single movement of every player will be scrutinised and it will almost become not as…you won’t be able to be as emotional as passionate.
RN: It will become more sanitised, in our opinion it is already bad enough.
GN: Yeah it will become more and more, there is no doubt about that, but it will become exciting and quick and players will get quicker and fitter and stronger. The speed of the game will improve, it has done so much in the last 10 years let alone the last 20, 30 years.
RN: Do you think the football boom will bust?
GN: It’s too good a...I’m not calling it a product but it is too good a product. Football is loved so much in this country, the fans love their teams so much, there is so much enjoyment and there are so many great stadiums, in fact attendances are going up. I just don’t think it will bust at all, it’s so exciting, everyone is so excited by the Premier League, it’s a great league and if it does bust, football throughout Europe will have to go as well. The Premier League for me is just going to get better and better. I think it’s fantastic, I genuinely do think that. There are a lot of negatives talked about football, ‘this is wrong, that’s wrong’ but we have got a great league and great players.
Even the other night in that charity game on Tuesday you watch Ronaldo and that’s enjoyment. You can go onto ticket prices can’t you. That it’s thirty odd quid to watch United play. That feeling that you got in that last minute at Anfield, when I see what it costs and I know it costs a lot of money to watch United play, and I’m not for one second saying it doesn’t, but it costs a lot of money for everything nowadays. If you go into town for a meal on a Saturday night and stay out ‘til two in the morning it can cost you 70, 80 , 100 quid. Taxi’s, all your food, your booze, it can cost 70-100 quid, it could cost you more. It’s five quid for a drink in some places, you have seven drinks each and you have spent £70. You would rather watch United win in the last minute at Liverpool, you know what I mean.
RN: Who is the best United player you have played with?
GN: Schmeichel, Scholes, Giggs, Keane...
RN: All this time at United, do you ever get the chance to look back at all you've achieved, to take it all in?
GN: No, I’ll do that when I have retired, too much to think about without thinking about what's gone.
RN: So much has changed at the club even in the time you've been here, what's the biggest change, do you think?
GN: This place (Carrington) This place is a massive change. Just the development of everything, the stadium, the staff, four medical people now, fitness coaches, masseurs. Everything is just massive, its just so much bigger. Everything is just a lot, lot bigger. The stadium is a lot bigger. The stadium has been a massive change hasn’t it? It’s an unbelievable stadium, it’s always been a great stadium. When I first started it was forty odd thousand; there has been thirty odd thousand added on since then. It’s massive I say again. I don’t think we could have a better stadium. RN: Its not the most good looking stadium in the world but…
GN: Once you get in it you couldn’t have a better stadium. It’s ours as well, we have never had to move from it. We have not had to move to somewhere else to build it, it’s ours. It is Old Trafford, alright it’s developed, but it’s still Old Trafford.
RN: Will you really go travel and support United as an away fan after you've retired from football?
GN: I hope so. I was in Lille the other week and David May was there on the team trip doing something on MUTV I think, and I said what a life you’ve got. You come over here, free plane, getting all your food paid for and watching Man United play football. That is just the best life in the world that isn’t it. n
With that Gary had spent nearly an hour once again with us, nearly late for training in the process. He would blame Red News if he got fined. A passionate talker about all things Utd, the media are wrong to give him this ‘shop steward’ tag. He cares and defends what he believes to be right, and that should be admired, not villified.
Interview: John Shaw Photos: Heather. Thanks to Gary and Di Law. Copyright Red News 2007

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