The 2nd February 2011 is not a date that will be remembered with significance by the majority of people. However, if you are a fan of football, the events of this day should perhaps be viewed with more importance.
It was on this day that Gary Neville announced his retirement from football, a piece of news that every true football fan, regardless of allegiance, should feel great sadness at.
Before those of you of a scouse persuasion feel the need to argue with me, I would ask you to “calm down” and let me explain myself.
Gary Neville represented one of the few remaining links between the players on the pitch and the fans in the stand. You get the impression with Neville that, had he not been blessed with his footballing talents, he’d be in the stands or in the pub with the rest of us, cheering Fergie’s boys on with all the passion he is renowned for. You get the feeling that, once he’d finished moaning about the head on his pint or the hair in his pork scratching, Neville would be only too happy to discuss the virtues of a flat back four with the rest of the lads, ensuring that his views were heard loud and clear!
Somehow, going for a swift half with Didier or Fernando seems a lot less credible…
Neville represents a different era. An era when a fan could dream of playing for his favourite club and know that, with the right combination of luck and dedication, his dream could be realised. This is no longer the case. As football continues at pace towards a future of finance and commercialism, the dream becomes more absurd by the minute.
Being a footballer is now just like any other job. Mercenary players now view their stay at a club as merely another step on the career ladder. When you watch the Rooney’s and the Torres’ of this world kissing the badge and celebrating a goal, deep down inside you know that it could be any crest that they’re kissing or any shirt they’re wearing. It doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference to them as long as they are being richly rewarded for their talents.
With Neville it was different. Despite his sometimes questionable actions and comments, it was always apparent he cared. When he infamously celebrated in front of the Liverpool fans after that last minute winner, I knew that he felt every ounce of the elation and delight that I felt watching on.
So, when I next take my seat at Old Trafford I shall do so with a sense of sadness. A sense of sadness that I will never again see a fist-pumping, badge-kissing Gary Neville making his way towards the away section, and a sense of sadness that the sport I love moved another step further away from me on the 2nd February 2011.
By John Hall-Galley – Manchester United fan