Do you ever dream about football? If so, what happens in them?
In truth we’re probably all a little too old for that sort of thing now, but every so often your subconscious might just drift toward what might have been. Hey, what still could be with a bit of luck. You never know.
In a dream you can do whatever you want in football. You might be lifting a trophy, playing for your country or hearing the adoring fans sing your name. And also, if you really, really concentrate and your dream hits the spot just right, you can make life an absolute misery for your fiercest rivals.
Right in front of their faces.
In the dying seconds.
When you’d been battered for 90 minutes.
That’s what a young Gary Neville dreamed of anyway, and Phil probably did too for that matter.
But sadly for the Nevilles theirs weren’t to be football careers filled with many attacking thrills. No they’d have to rely on others for that. Others like John O’Shea.
By now you surely know that we’re going back to March 2007 and a Manchester United smash and grab that registered as a big win in that season’s title success.
"I would have trouble explaining how we lost that in Spanish; in English I find it almost impossible,” was the brief insight into Rafael Benitez’s mood at full-time, as his unfortunate Liverpool side were left to rue several missed opportunities.
“Liverpool will feel unlucky and they deserve to,” said Sir Alex Ferguson with a glint in the eye. He almost meant it.
In truth this was probably the period in which Liverpool were closer to United than at any point since they’d last won the league 17 years previously. Both clubs would reach the last four of the Champions League in this and the next season, as well as the last eight in the following campaign.
But Benitez’s side just didn’t have the consistency or the nous of Ferguson’s players, who hung on in this game as several Liverpool attempts flew just wide or were well saved by Edwin van der Sar, with one of the Dutchman’s stops from Peter Crouch particularly impressive.
Liverpool, who saw Wayne Rooney go off injured for their opponents, were given another late boost when Paul Scholes was sent off after swinging an arm at Xabi Alonso, but just when you thought it was going to be the hosts who struck a late blow there were United.
Cristiano Ronaldo ’s free-kick was insufficiently dealt with by Pepe Reina, and there was O’Shea in front of the Kop to smash the ball into the roof of the net and spark wild celebrations among those in white.
“The 90th minute at Anfield, in front of the Kop…” said O’Shea breathlessly at full-time. “Gary Neville's just told me that is his dream and I've just gone and done it!”
Not that Neville seemed to mind that much.
Just over a year on from being fined £5,000 for goading Liverpool fans with an overly excessive celebration to a Rio Ferdinand winner at Old Trafford, this time Neville headed straight to the visiting supporters again, charging towards his own kind as he only stopped to be embraced by ecstatic teammates.
After the game he was doing it once more, shirt off for good measure, as the enormity of both beating their rivals in this fashion and going nine points clear at the top of the table began to sink in.
“As a young United fan growing up at the time that I did, it was just a fact that you didn't like Liverpool Football Club,” said the now media stalwart Neville before United’s visit to Anfield in December 2018.
“You didn’t want them to win a game, never mind a trophy, so fixtures between the two clubs are always special.
“That’s always been the way at all levels of the two clubs. When I joined United, it was bred into us even as kids: you don’t lose to Manchester City, you don’t lose to Liverpool.”
He did lose nine times in his 26 meetings with the club he wanted to beat above all others, but the 13 wins would have more than made up for that.
“It’s a rivalry that still means so much, even though the circumstances have changed since I first started supporting United,” Neville continued.
“We still don’t want them to win. We still want them to lose every match… that’s just the nature of a football rivalry. For a United fan, the perfect weekend is United winning and Liverpool losing.
“The very first thing that any Manchester United player should have explained to them when they join the club is that it’s unacceptable to lose to Liverpool, but also that there’s no feeling to rival beating them.”
There certainly wasn’t on this Saturday afternoon in early March 14 years ago.
Neville will have had plenty of United heroes growing up, but there and then his one and only idol was the unlikely figure of O’Shea.
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