x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Patrice Evra can handle hostilities at Liverpool

Reception at Anfield has always been intimidating for Manchester United players and captain Evra has qualities to remain unfazed.

Andre Marriner, the referee, centre, steps in between Luis Suarez, and Patrice Evra during the match at Anfield last year.
Andre Marriner, the referee, centre, steps in between Luis Suarez, and Patrice Evra during the match at Anfield last year.

I used to get loads of stick from Liverpool fans when Manchester United played at Anfield, but I expect Patrice Evra to get far more abuse tomorrow than I ever did

The United captain will be the most unpopular man on Merseyside after he correctly accused Luis Suarez of making racist comments.

But the Liverpool supporters are certain to let Evra know what they think and I well remember how hostile a visit to Anfield can be

The rivalry between Liverpool and United is the biggest in English football and the intimidation starts when the team coach gets close to the ground.

The streets around Anfield are so tight that the home fans can get really close to you. We would have good police protection, but the fans are right by the coach when you disembark.

You would hear the abuse and see the hatred in the faces of those giving it. "You're rubbish Cole … You'll never score today … Worst striker in the league Cole … What a waste of money." And much, much worse. Strikers tend to get the most abuse because they are likelier to score. They were worth undermining.

I would put my head down and go straight into the dressing room, completely unfazed by the abuse. On the contrary, I enjoyed it. Sir Alex Ferguson knew that and always used to pick me. I repaid him by scoring goals.

Seeing the hate in those people made me more determined to send them home even angrier. Seeing them laugh at me if I did miss a chance didn't damage my confidence, it just made me more determined to score. I was completely relaxed at Anfield in front of all those who had paid to see me play.

I usually did all right - I scored four goals in seven league starts for United against Liverpool.

They were among the highlights of my career, but there was no love lost between the players.

I can recall games at Anfield when I didn't speak to a Liverpool player throughout the four hours I was at the stadium. The managers may socialise after the game, but the players don't. What's the point in speaking to people you don't like?

I loved playing at Anfield though, because it felt like I'd reached the top as a footballer.

The Liverpool fans really get behind their team and they are a great club with a fine history.

Love them or loathe them, any player has to respect what Liverpool have achieved, even if they are now living off the past and going on about trophies they won in the 1970s and 1980s.

And even though Evra will have to run the gauntlet during tomorrow's FA Cup tie I think he will be able to handle it.

I know Evra. He lives near me and I see him around a lot. He's always very respectful and pleasant.

He has qualities that made him the United captain. They include a strong personality that will not be fazed in the slightest by what awaits in Liverpool. He's an experienced professional who has played in hostile environments before. This will be nothing new.

And he can hold his head high knowing that he did the right thing in exposing racism in football. I hope more players follow his lead and I wish more would have done it in the past.

Suarez's defence was laughable and Liverpool could have handled situation much better.

Those T-shirts supporting Suarez, to me, that condoned the actions of a man who made racist comments, to say that it's OK to racially abuse another player. If I were Glen Johnson, I would never ever have worn that T-shirt. Not as a black man, never. The Suarez affair has clouded another poor season for Liverpool. They were dreadful at Bolton last week and are six points off a Champions League spot and 16 points behind United.

Such a gap would have been unheard of, not only in the 1970s and '80s when Liverpool dominated, but in the '90s when Liverpool put up more of a challenge.

Kenny Dalglish's side have won just four of their 11 home games in the league, though they have drawn seven and not lost one.

Given United's poor form at Anfield, a ground where United haven't won since 2007, a draw and then a replay would be a good result for United. No matter how poor Liverpool are, they raise their game against United.

The domestic cups are more important to Liverpool because they're doing nothing in the league and they're not in Europe.

Liverpool knocked Manchester City out of the Carling Cup on Wednesday to reach Wembley for the first time since 1996.

I hope the players don't make the further mistake of wearing dreadful white suits like they did in '96.


Andrew Cole's column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten