You have never seen a harder-working group of sixteen-year-olds in your life than the class of 1992 at United. […] There’s no doubt that we had an unbelievable work ethic. At the time we thought it was normal, but there’s no doubt looking back that we were an extraordinary group in our eagerness to practise.
We loved to play and work at the game. It’s no coincidence that we’ve all played into our mid-thirties, and beyond in Giggsy’s case. We’ve wanted to squeeze every last drop out of our careers from first kick to last.
–Red: My Autobiography, Gary Neville
Are you seeking a short break from literary fiction? Interested in sports memoirs/autobiographies? Are you a fan of Manchester United football club? If so, Gary Neville’s autobiography, “Red”, is perfect for you.
Gary Neville is a former footballer of Manchester United, the world-famous English football club. After spending his 20-year career playing for only MU, Neville retired in 2011 and released his autobiography shortly afterward. The book’s title “Red” refers to the MU uniform color and the nickname that fans give Neville – a “Red” at heart.
The book has 25 chapters, chartering Neville’s life with MU and the people closest to him.
The first two chapters recount Neville’s childhood and family, whose impacts on him reverberate throughout the book. Narrated in a memoir style, these chapters feel both intimate and candid. Undeniably, Neville was born in a family of sport-enthusiasts; all three children were “sports-mad kids”. Discipline and healthy competition between brothers seem to foretell young Neville’s career.
The remaining chapters discuss Gary’s football career, professional relationships (i.e. with coaches, manager assistants, teammates, rival clubs), and perspective on the contemporary football industry.
Neville joined MU as an apprentice in 1991, won a major youth cup in his first season, then emerged as part of coach Alex Ferguson’s youth team (called “Fergie’s Fledglings”).
Six members of that Youth club went on to achieve global fame: Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Gary Neville, Philip Neville, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt. “Class of ꞌ92”, as they were called, was part of the massive revolution in English football from 1992 to the Champions League in 1999.
Coach Eric Harrison (far left) with Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, David Beckham, Gary and Phil Neville, Paul Scholes and Terry Cooke, a group significant to Sir Alex Ferguson’s success and MU’s revival.
Neville openly admits that talent was not his edge, compared to his contemporaries. Instead, his magic potion has been an unfailing love for MU, and a serious work ethic. It also means an obsessive and ritual lifestyle: “If the coach said ‘run 5 miles’, we would run 6 miles”, eating the same meals, sleeping like clockwork (lights out at 9:15PM), and almost no time for romantic relationships, etc.
Professional football, in Neville’s confessions, seems to have many rituals found in the macho environment. Sometimes it includes hazing-like welcomes, excessive partying, boozing, gambling, explosive clashes among teammates and with coaches. These incidents shall be glared by the media at any moment. Another problem is each footballer’s responsibility to himself. A modern-day footballer is likely to be a robot, devoid of passion and spirit, argued Neville. Many footballers are “lazy and careless”, too dependent on their agents. Neville discusses these matters in the final three chapters, with a critical eye, but without pontificating.
About the book’s weaknesses, certain things dissatisfied me. First, some chapters are incoherent and not well-organized. For instance, when talking about transfer negotiations, the author wanders off points, ending with another Championship victory and a Christmas party. A chapter on Cristiano Ronaldo strays in the same pattern. Second, Neville refers to his team mates by using their nicknames, “Giggsy”, “Scholsey”, Butty”, “Wazza” (for Wayne Rooney), etc. causing confusion (for there are already so many names). Third, I anticipated seeing a vivid Alex Ferguson, the manager who guided MU to its golden era. Instead, his image is painted favorably and rather vague.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading this book and imagined a football fan would cherish it. Neville’s passion for football and for United drips off every page. Playing football with such passion and loyalty seems rare these days, especially when the football arena is full of million-dollar transfer stories and notorious negotiations. This book reminds me that success is an interesting journey, not a destination; that journey rewards those who keep passion and a serious work ethic.
“You cannot stay at the top in professional sport for very long without commitment and sacrifice. There is nothing worse than not making the most of your abilities. That is what the boss would remind us day after day after day. Be proud to say you work hard.”
Lastly, if you care about the Vietnamese men football which is struggling to progress, pick up this book. Not a book of instructions, but it has much that we benefit from reading.
Winning team: Neville (front right) lift the Premier League trophy in 2007
**“Gary Neville is a Red”—a chant song by the FC fan.