COMPETITION time now: but just like with Goal Of The Month at the moment, there are no prizes. If you had to pick the Premier League footballer most likely to complain about their team being last on Match of the Day, who would it be?
Yes, it’s Phil Neville. (If you said Gary Neville: unlucky.) Interviewed in Wednesday’s Liverpool Echo, the Everton captain talked about the relative lack of plaudits his team have had from the national media. You can probably see where this is leading…
“We are usually last on Match of the Day and there doesn’t seem to be a great deal about us in the papers,” Phil said. “Let’s keep it that way.
“We are happy to keep everything low key and maybe then we will start to surprise a few people.”
He then topped that by making the claim again during an MOTD interview after Everton’s 2-0 win at West Ham, a game that was on third, despite the fact that Tony Gubba was commentating on it. (I was kind of hoping that Gubba would respond by claiming that he was always last on Match of the Day, and the two of them would then get into a conversation about the Gubbometer, but it didn’t happen.)
It’s typical of Phil’s down-to-earth character, really, that he should play the Last on MOTD card. Neville is one of the most grounded footballers I have ever come across. So down-to-earth, in fact, that he once phoned me up personally to tell me off over a story I was trying to write about him.
Yes, believe it or not, Phil Neville once called me at work and told me to stop harassing his fiancee.
Let me explain. Eight-and-a-bit years ago, I was a reporter for the Chorley Citizen (comedian Dave Spikey’s free newspaper of choice). Phil was then a young first-teamer at Manchester United. He was about to marry his fiancee Julie, and we got a tip-off that the couple were planning to buy a house in one of the picturesque villages on the outskirts of Chorley borough.
I was given the job of telephoning Julie’s then-workplace to try to get a comment from her. I must have called the place half-a-dozen times over a couple of hours. On each occasion, a very polite and friendly colleague of hers answered the phone. On each occasion, she told me that Julie wasn’t around at that moment, but that I could leave a message and try again a bit later.
By about the sixth call, Julie’s colleague was perhaps starting to get a little fed up with my persistence. She didn’t show it, though. Instead, she offered to call Julie on her mobile and pass on my interview request to her. Within 10 minutes, I got a phone call. Not from Julie. From Phil.
“It’s Mr Neville here,” he said. “How can I help you?”
I’d like to say that I responded with calm authority and used my journalistic nous to tease out an exclusive story. But I didn’t, because a) I’d never spoken to a Premier League footballer before, and was incredibly nervous, and b) I was, quite frankly, a rubbish journalist.
Instead, I attempted to ingratiate myself by making a spectacularly ill-judged jokey comment about the fact that Julie’s sister was, like me, a journalist.
“Look, I want you to leave Julie alone,” said Phil, politely but firmly. “She’s got enough going on without people adding to it.”
And that was pretty much the end of the conversation. When I told this story to a very experienced journalist friend of mine years later, he replied: “Well that was your front-page exclusive, then. Phil Neville phones the Chorley Citizen.” Not quite. The story made four paragraphs on page three.
Anyway, the Nevilles have been happily married for eight years now and have two children, so I’m guessing I didn’t do any long-term damage.
Phil may be grounded, but that doesn’t mean he is always right, though. And this weekend, the man who phoned the Chorley Citizen to stand up for his wife and who claims his team is usually last on Match of the Day, is off the mark.
Everton are not usually last on Match of the Day at all. In fact, they haven’t been on last since the opening day of the season. And they weren’t on last this weekend either.
Last night’s final match: Birmingham 1 Reading 1. Commentator: Alistair Mann.
“Well you’re certainly not always last on Match of the Day, and you’re not going to be if you keep on playing like that,” said Gary Lineker, talking about Everton, in response to Neville’s little post-match dig.
No, it was Alex McLeish, on his home debut as Birmingham manager, who got the honour of bringing up the rear. To think you left the Scotland job for this, Alex.
Birmingham should have won after taking the lead early on; Mikael Forssell scoring a contender for scrappiest goal of the month. But they gifted Reading an equaliser; Stephen Hunt scoring a penalty he was awarded when Maik Taylor brought him down following Mat Sadler’s dreadful backpass.
Gary McSheffrey hit the bar with a free kick for Birmingham; Sebastian Larsson’s follow-up header was then cleared via the underside of the crossbar by Ibrahima Sonko. I wonder if Phil Neville was watching all of this?
“And Everton next week definitely won’t be on last,” said Alan Hansen.
“Definitely not,” said Lineker. “Unless they’re last.”
1. Derby: 5
2=. Wigan: 4 (Gubba difference: +1)
2=. Fulham: 4 (GD: +1)
4. Reading: 3 (GD: +1)
5. Aston Villa: 3 (GD: 0)
6. Gubba: 2
7. Bolton: 2 (GD: +1)
8=. West Ham: 2 (GD: 0)
8=. Chelsea: 2 (GD: 0)
8=. Sunderland: 2 (GD: 0)
8=. Birmingham: 2 (GD:0)
12=. Everton: 1
12=. Middlesbrough: 1
12=. Newcastle: 1
12=. Bury: 1
12=. Workington: 1
12=. Huddersfield: 1
12=. Grimsby: 1
(NB. Where teams are level, positions are decided by Gubba Difference; the number of times a team is on Match of the Day last with Tony Gubba commentating.)