Vilified and loathed by Merseysiders, valiant and loyal to Mancunians. Brash and loony to others, brave and loved he is to Manchester United. Gary Neville is United through and through - revered and adored is he at Old Trafford for his grit and spirit. This polarization of Neville is what makes him uniquely our own. What cannot be disputed though are his achievements and his contributions to club and country. "Gary was the best right-back of his generation," United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said. "He is an example of any young professional: hardworking, loyal, and intelligent. As a United fan born and bred, his fantastic career at Old Trafford has cemented his place in the affection of the club's supporters everywhere."
After spending his entire 20-year career with Manchester United, the 35 year-old Neville announced his retirement on Wednesday. During his remarkable tenure with United, the one-club man won everything there is to win: eight Premier League titles, two European Cups, three FA Cups, two League Cups, a Club World Cup, and the Intercontinental Cup. Neville captained the club for five years as well, and he is able to walk away with distinction and no regret. "I have been a Manchester United fan all my life and fulfilled every dream I've ever had," Neville said. "Obviously, I am disappointed that my playing days are at an end, however it comes to us all, and it's knowing when that time is. For me, that time is now. I have played in the most incredible football teams, playing with some of the best players in the world as well as against them, and I have been lucky to have been part of the team's achievements and the club's great success."
Neville also earned 85 caps for England, the most ever for a right-back. He was selected for the 1998 and 2006 World Cups, as well for Euro 1996, 2000, and 2004.
Having lived near the city of Seattle my entire life and been a sports junkie since I can remember, I'm privy to the sports scene here and it's relatively young history as a sports town. The University of Washington football program is all some of us have for tradition-laden longevity. I was born and raised to love my local teams. When a sporting event happens here, I have a decent understanding for the context of it's significance: whether it's for a team or player.
My relationship with United was a gradual courtship from afar. As a child, I came across a Peter Schmeichel VHS tape and I was instantly wowed by the Dane's prowess. This led to my discovery of King Cantona and the Frenchman's collar-popin' flair. Then came my exposure to the Giggs' slalom run through the Arsenal defense and the magic of Sheringham and Solskjaer at the Nou Camp. This was followed by hangover weekend morning viewings of the Premier League with my college teammates; most cheered for Thierry Henry and Arsenal while I was the lone supporter of the Red Devils among our group. I finally witnessed United in person when they thrashed Celtic on a warm summer evening in Seattle during their 2003 pre-season tour. Then when Park Ji-sung penned his name on a contract at Old Trafford, that was the moment I realized United was the one - it is because of United that I now know (football club) love.
Since then, I have watched every single United match that I could and I have immersed myself into anything I could find in order to learn more about the club's rich history. While I was I initially attracted to the beauty and theatrics of United, I was won over when I later discovered that the steel backbone of that success was due to footballers like Neville. The defender's dogged-determination, dependability, and desire was a driving force that made him as important as any playing peer during his trophy-laden years at Old Trafford. He can proudly stand as a stalwart alongside with his fellow "Fergie Fledgings:" David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, Giggs, and brother Phil.
When I initially decided to write this piece, I felt intimidated and completely unworthy; I didn't want to do Neville an injustice by not fully understanding the context of his place among the United greats. I felt the best way I could honor him was to describe my own background with sport, and how through my delayed discovery of his contributions is how I fully came to appreciate him. What was evident to most, took some uncovering for me to realize that his passion and spirit are imprinted on all those trophies he helped win.
Not that Neville isn't without his own drama and theatrics, there's a reason for the adoration for him by United supporters and strong distaste by others. He fully admits "I can't stand Liverpool, I can't stand Liverpool people, I can't stand anything to do with them." He further expressed this sentiment in 2006 at Old Trafford following a Rio Ferdinand stoppage-timer winner, by celebrating in front of the away Liverpool fans. Neville also let Carlos Tevez know how he really feels about him, which only endeared himself more to the United faithful.
Thank you Gary Neville for everything, you truly are United through and though. A simpler way to describe Neville...
Gary Neville is a red, is a red, is a red,
Gary Neville is a red....
He hates Scousers!