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16th Sep 2017

Gary Neville reveals his distinct pre-match routine

"Stupid things like that through my career had to be right"

Robert Redmond

“Every game, for 25 years.”

Gary Neville has been reflecting on his debut for Manchester United. The Sky Sports pundit made the first of his 602 appearances for United on September 16, 1992, coming on as a second-half substitute in the club’s Uefa Cup game against Torpedo Moscow. He wouldn’t play another game for Alex Ferguson’s side that season, but went on to become a club legend, winning eight league titles, three FA Cups and two European Cups.

He also won 85 caps for England, and was named in the Premier League team of the season on five occasions. Neville would be the first to admit that he wasn’t the most naturally talented footballer at United, but he was an intelligent player, with an excellent work ethic who made the most of his talent.

Since retiring, Neville has become one of the most respected football pundits working in the media. The former defender’s analytical approach forced other pundits to raise their game. It was no longer enough for them to spout clichés about “character” and “fighting spirit” (although many still do that). Neville raised the standards to where the viewer now expects their intelligence to be respected by the pundit and for them to actually detail how a game has been won or lost.

At his best, you learn something every time Neville is on punditry duty. When reading him recall his debut for United and his pre-match routine, you can see why he’s such a good pundit. There’s more detail in a recent interview on United’s website than you would find in a lot of footballer’s autobiographies.

Neville has said that each time he stepped into the tunnel before a match, he would ask himself:

“Have I done everything I possibly can to make myself play well in this match?”

His preparation for matches extended to developing a routine that he recalled in great detail.

“Over the years, as part of that you develop a little routine, even down to being sat in the right seat on the coach or putting the right Tubigrip tape on,” he said.

“When I went back for Michael Carrick’s testimonial the other month, they didn’t have my tape. I couldn’t believe it. They’d had to keep that tape for 20 years. Had to. It was my tape. Tubigrip. D width. Not E. Not C. D width. And then two tie-ups, always cut with the same scissors. I used to have two tie-ups that you were supposed to cut with bandage scissors, but I always cut them with normal scissors because I couldn’t cut them with those weird scissors. Stupid things like that through my career had to be right.”

Neville also revealed that before each game, he would take some time to himself to read the matchday programme, and admits non-British or Irish players, such as Cristiano Ronald or Carlos Tevez, might have found aspects of his routine peculiar.

“I sat in the players’ lounge toilets – the same cubicle – for 15 minutes. When the manager finished his team-talk, I’d get my kit on and go sit on the toilet, with the lid down, and just read the programme in complete peace for 15 minutes. Tranquillity. I did that every game. Even on the day before a game, coming off the training pitch on the day before the game, I used to zigzag sprint off the pitch. Every Friday. The new lads, the foreign lads who came in towards the end, say Ronaldo or Tevez, they’d be looking at me as if to say: ‘What is this muppet doing?’ That’s just how I was.”

The final part of Neville’s pre-match routine was a massage on his lower back, which the physio “hated” doing because Neville admits he didn’t actually suffer from back-pain.

“Every game, for 25 years, I had that massage on my lower back. I just needed it. Having everything just right calmed me right down. I very, very rarely got nervous over the course of my career. I was always intense before a game, but hardly ever affected by nerves.”

You can read Neville’s entire interview here.