by Gary Neville
Bantam Press, £18.99
Reviewed by Joyce Woolridge
From WSC 297 November 2011
"Put ‘Gary Neville' and 'wanker' into Google and you'll get about 10,000 results." Neville is a man with no illusions about his popularity. The English generally like their professional footballers to be either thick or humble, preferably both. Gary Neville is neither and has taken plenty of flak about what are deemed to be his ridiculous pretensions, such as planning to build an ecohouse and daring to have opinions.
If he was Dutch or Italian, rather than from Bury, he'd be considered an intellectual and his views sought on world affairs. Here in these pages is the Neville we all know, the fan who achieved his ultimate dream of playing for the team he supported, the "Red" who "hates Scousers" and rarely backs down from an argument. Although United's anti-Glazer fans might be disappointed that "Red Nev" does not denounce those damned Yankees, Gary's enjoyable autobiography is saved from blandness by his inherent spikiness.
"A dressing room of Gary Nevilles would be boring," says Gaz, and he should know. Always in healthy competition with his naturally gifted younger brother in football and cricket – "Teams wanted me; they begged to have Phil" – Gary was a good learner with organisational qualities and a hard worker. "Busy" – as he was nicknamed – gave up women, drinking and non-football friends until he was 20 in pursuit of his career and before the year 2000, when he decided he needed to lighten up, was always in bed early and ate Weetabix at 3.30 every day. Even his participation in team-bonding drinking sessions was pursued with the same steely-eyed determination and anal-retentiveness. A barmaid's apron drinker, he nonetheless got so wrecked on cider at one Christmas party that he ended up in a wheelchair in hospital reception under the alias "Simon Brown".
Neville can comment first hand on all of United's trophy-winning outfits under Alex Ferguson. Roy Keane's mordant one-liner when Dwight Yorke, anticipating a career revival under a new manager, hears the news that Fergie's retirement is off, is a particular joy: "That's you fucked then, Yorkie." Gary is, of course, famous for being "Becks' best mate", but he remains loyal and tight-lipped beyond revealing that he helped to broker an agreement between Beckham and Ferguson when the manager discovered Beckham had effectively moved to London after the birth of his first son.
Although only playing for one manager at United, Neville's international caps were won under five of them (six if you count Howard Wilkinson). He runs the rule over them, judging the experience mostly shambolic and a waste of time. Terry Venables's natural ease and authority is contrasted with Glenn Hoddle's appalling man-management. Under Kevin Keegan, ten-hour gambling sessions for high stakes drained the energy and focus from those (not Gary) who participated. Neville doesn't pretend to have enjoyed the rabid abuse he frequently received from sections of England's support: "I was delighted when that tired old ground [Wembley], with its crap facilities and its pockets of bitter fans, got smashed into little pieces."
Uninterested in being a manager or running the PFA, Nev ends the book as he begins his Sky gig. After surviving the initiation inflicted on younger players, such as having "shorts" scrubbed on to your bare undercarriage with dubbin and a wire brush, trying to offer sensible opinions while sandwiched between Graeme Souness and Jamie Redknapp in the studio must seem relatively easy.