Football people on TV: Phil Neville

Date published: Friday 19th August 2016 10:01 - Matthew Stead

Johnny once saw the Neville Brothers in Las Vegas; sadly neither was called Phil. Feel his love for silly billy Philly.


Fashion police
There’s a whole section of the male population that somehow look like they’ve been dressed by their wives or their mother. Phil is a member of this section. Definitely dresses like a dad in that, yes, he’s wearing clothes, but no, he doesn’t care at all what they are. Sports those tight thin jumpers that only footballers seem to wear. Wouldn’t know fashion if it hit him in the face and that’s very much in his favour. Would be happy enough wearing a 50% polyester, 40% rayon, 10% cotton shirt bought from a service station, which is the real test of the anti-fashionista. I bet his wife regularly says “you’re not going out wearing that, are you?” to which Phil will look down at himself and says “what’s wrong with it?”

He is surely a very wealthy man, but you would never know by looking at him and I like that about him. In essence, he has the air and deportment of a manager at the Halifax in Bury who is keen to give a pair of newlyweds a mortgage.

Despite owning what is basically a triangle-shaped head, he used to have quite rugged good looks in his younger days. Definitely the more handsome of the Neville brothers. Now seems to favour the slightly gaunt, hollow cheeks of the ‘healthy eating’ obsessed vegetarian.

Despite hair being in permanent retreat, still favours a bit of ‘Sun In’ or highlights done by a lass called Tracy at a hairdresser’s in Ramsbottom called “Curl Up & Dye”

Suits his age, somehow


Lingo bingo
Distinctive Lancashire tones. Flat ‘a’s and a tendency to make a click noise to pronounce any that ends in a ‘c’ or ‘k’. Once delivered a co-comm on England v Italy in the 2014 World Cup that was so flat and monotone that over 400 people – who had nothing better to do with their lives – complained to the BBC about him. He later said he didn’t even recognise himself and that he’d been trying to be something he’s not, all of which seems typically honest and unspun. True, he did sound like some sort of Mancunian hurdy gurdy, but he’s improved vastly since those days. Now gives the impression of being an exceptionally eager beaver who can’t wait to disseminate some random detail about a player.


Hits and misses
Well, let’s start with a stellar playing career which saw him scoop six league titles, three FA Cups and a Champions League trophy. Add in the 59 caps over 11 years and that fact he was also very good at cricket and you’ve got an elite player by any measure.

Seemed to be doing rather well as a coach in Spain until Gary arrived at Valencia and broke all his toys. To listen to him talk about the Premier League last week was to hear a man who hadn’t merely done his homework; he’d inhaled it. At one point there was even a small echo of David Pleat’s encyclopedia brain, and there can be no greater praise than that. Has added a lot of Spanish knowledge to his football riff-a-rama.

There was that storm in a teacup about hurting Tomas Rosicky in 2015 where Phil appeared, to some of the more sensitive little luvs who wait to be offended at every turn, to be endorsing an act of physical violence. I mean, c’mon, this is silly billy Philly. Annoyingly, he apologised for the comment, but in a less hysterical world, there’d have been no need at all. However, it did show some of the steel that he must have as a man who played at the highest level for so long,


Big club bias
You’d forgive him for being pro everything Manchester United but in common with proper football nerds (PFNs) he loves the game too much to be too in thrall only to the bright lights, though I’ve never heard him be critical of Wayne Rooney even when Wayne is playing with the skill and grace of an abandoned wheelbarrow with a flat tyre.

Has also bought into the whole Salford City thing, which is hardly likely to deliver a lot of glamour.

Also, he seems to accept that his career was built on being a grafter and a 100% committed solid gold pro, and not on being a dan that could ever be described as fancy. If he was a seasoning he’d be salt rather than a spice. But hey, salt goes with everything and, at the end of the day, Clive, it is the most important seasoning of all.


Loved or loathed
To loathe our Philip would be like taking against one of those three-legged dogs you see in the park that has to work so much harder to keep up with other dogs, but does so without complaint. He’s keen and clearly good-natured and one of life’s doers rather than a moaner, and for me, Mark, that makes him impossible to dislike.

My social media research revealed a lot of people who’d been waiting for a while to be nice about Phil. I sense he appeals to the slightly farty nerd in a lot of us.

“Punditry’s answer to Aldi! Packaging ain’t great, you wouldn’t tell your mates you’re a fan, but secretly it’s quite good!

“Mediocre, conventional wisdom type pundit, worse commentator. Gap between him and Gary is bigger than it was as players.”

“Top lad. A lot of respect for the way he handles himself, humble, sincere and dignified. Can imagine him being a loyal mate.” (Well said. 100% agree. We all need steady people in our life)

“The Lidl version of his brother, cheap, cheerful but you get the quality you pay for.”

“Unfortunately for Philip, the world will always see him in his brother’s shadow in everything he does. Which is a shame.”

“Seems very outdated for someone so young.”

“A face that flips between a clenched teeth look as if anticipating pain & the wide-eyed look of a man who is on morphine.”

“As knowledgeable as his brother. Fergie always said he was the better player too. Glad he ditched the foppish adolescent hair.”

“Has the constant apologetic expression of someone unsure if he’s definitely allowed to be on TV.”

“He is the reason for one of my angriest moments in an England game.”

“Can be very insightful but is also prone to heaping praise on Wayne Rooney regardless of what he’s actually done.”

“Sometimes seems out of his depth on TV but his enthusiasm and knowledge is well suited to radio, especially when with Kilbane.”

“Seems to have reached the age he’s always been and is much better for it.”

“Comms/punditry much improved, good tactical nous. Decent family man endured horrific abuse on this forum around disabled child.” (How can that even happen? Beyond despicable)

“Seems to dress like an 80s quiz show host – think Lennie Bennett on Lucky Ladders”

“I could see him as an overly enthusiastic personal trainer in a provincial Leisure Centre.” (I don’t know who that’s so true, but it really is!)


Proper Football Man
There’s shifty, nervous glances in the PFM Clubhouse of Paranoid Xenophobic Misogyny when Phil walks in all bright-eyed and enthusiastic. Basically, he’s not quite alpha male enough to roister or doister, but a life in football has taught him to rub along with the horrid boys and make the best of it, no matter what terrible crimes against humanity they might commit upon his person.

To the hard line PFMs he’s a bit weird. Too keen, too nice, not cynical, angry or bitter. Working abroad is also a black mark against his name. Abroad is for foreigners. Any fule kno that. Also he bothered to learn Spanish. I mean, who won the war, anyway, Jeff?  He’s a vegetarian, Merse. No, that doesn’t mean he smokes dope and likes reggae; that’s a Rastafarian, you dopey sod. Mind, not eating meat should be illegal, we all know that, and how the hell do you milk a soya bean, anyway?

But confusingly, he’s one of the Class of 92 which is a classic football brand that all PFMs go a bit misty-eyed about. And he was a Fergie protege, and has all them medals, like, and the PFMs like a winner if he’s English. But his brother is Gary and they don’t like Gary because he spent a few seasons on Sky eviscerating their hapless performances. So when Gary flopped in Spain, they got him in a metaphorical headlock and squeezed very hard whilst laughing a little too loud, pretending it was all a joke but hurting him just enough to let him know his sins have not been forgotten and never, ever, ever will be. No PFM worth his stomach ulcer ever lets a grudge drop. Ever. Ever.

In comparison to his brother, Phil has offended them all far less and, as a veteran of dressing room bantersaurusing, he won’t even be put off a night out, either. Being one of those have-a-go-at-anything sorts of lads means he’ll fearlessly grasp one of Reidy’s latest vicious 3-in-1 oil, antifreeze, peyote worm, fly agaric and Carlsberg Special syringes of joy and jab it into the corner of his eye without blinking. In fairness, when you’ve been a young lad in the same dressing room as Roy Keane, the rest of life must hold few fears.

But as a solid, top notch family man, there’s no stink of the saucy night club disco dancer about him, so the attentions of Miss Blackpool Fairground Ride Grease Monkey and Rollercoaster Lubricant Dispenser of 1991 will hold no charms for him, which is just as well because Pards likes the look of her and has had a pits ‘n’ parts wash, so you know he means business. But give Phil a shopping trolley and a deserted retail park and watch him go. It’s all very confusing.

I dunno, he’s like a real person, but one of us as well. I dunno what to do with him, Jeff.


Beyond the lighted stage
His daughter has cerebral palsy and Phil is an ambassador of Bliss, the special care baby charity, and a patron of Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital’s New Children’s Hospital Appeal.

One of those football nerds for whom football is virtually his whole life. Hard to imagine him reading a book, playing an album, or going to the theatre unless the job required it, in which case he’d become an expert in kabuki theatre, if necessary.

Seems a 100% stand up, decent, modest and thoroughly likeable bloke, entirely lacking any side.


John Nicholson

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