x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

The dance of the knight

I never saw Sir Alex Ferguson happier than when Manchester United had beaten Liverpool.

I never saw Sir Alex Ferguson happier than when Manchester United had beaten Liverpool. If it was at Anfield, then we'd be treated to the sight of him dancing around the dressing room in celebration, before he regained his composure and met the Liverpool manager for a glass of wine. The less said about his dancing the better, but it showed what the fixture meant to him. The players felt the same. The minute the United coach entered the city of Liverpool, we'd start receiving abuse.

It seemed that everyone hated us if their hand signals and obscenities were anything to go by. The abuse would get worse closer to Anfield and we'd get called every name under the sun as we walked the short distance from the bus into the ground. I'm sure it was the same for Liverpool players when they came to Manchester. Ryan Giggs was once asked for his autograph outside Anfield. He stopped to sign it, but the two Liverpool fans then ripped up the paper in front of him.

I played most of my United games at Anfield in the 1990s when United were dominant. Yet it was worse in the 1980s, despite Liverpool being the best team in England. The then-United manager, Ron Atkinson, compared a trip to Liverpool with fighting in Vietnam. I'm not sure that he ever fought the Viet Cong, but you get the point. When "Big Ron" was in charge, a brick was thrown through the window and a CS canister set off as the United players left the coach. Everyone's eyes were streaming and Atkinson charged blindly into new signing John Siveback. What an introduction to English football for the young Danish defender.

I used to love playing at Anfield and I usually did well there. Sir Alex would say: "We've got Liverpool at Anfield and I'm going to play Coley because he always scores at Anfield." I scored four goals in seven league starts against Liverpool, but only two in 12 against Chelsea and two in 10 against Arsenal. Compare those statistics with the seven in eight I got against Wimbledon. Or the six goals in two games against Ipswich Town. That was a freak because I scored five in a 9-0 win against Ipswich in 1995.

I didn't pay much attention to the famous "This is Anfield" sign in the players' tunnel. It wasn't like I needed reminding or that I thought I was at Goodison Park. When we left the tunnel and walked out on to the pitch, the Kop would be in full voice singing "You'll Never Walk Alone" - an impressive sight I admit. Was it intimidating for opposing players? It didn't bother me in the slightest. The manager would have already told us to silence the crowd by retaining possession, so the louder they were, the more obvious our task was.

We'd hear the 3,000 United fans at the other end and they'd give us a lift - we knew it wasn't easy for them at Anfield so we wanted to make their difficult journey worthwhile, and we usually did. Usually, we'd return on the coach to Manchester buzzing our heads off. It would only take 40 minutes on the M62 motorway, but it was a sweet, satisfying journey. You might expect that we went straight out to celebrate. We didn't. At the smaller clubs which I played at, all the lads would go out to celebrate after a big win. They'd end up in a club, everyone singing.

At Manchester United, we went straight home. We were programmed to win and only really celebrated when we won major trophies. We couldn't go out after a big game at the weekend, because we'd have another big game three days later, week after week, year after year. The only respite was in the summer, but even then we had to keep in shape or we'd be left behind pre-season. Sir Alex would not have been dancing last week after United were well beaten by Liverpool. Honestly, I just think it was an off day for United.

They have the players to bounce back immediately, but I'm concerned that it has been three straight defeats to Liverpool. After four straight losses before the match, Liverpool looked more up for the game. Yossi Benayoun has really impressed me, because he knows exactly when to pick his pass. I benefited from that at Old Trafford with Paul Scholes and Giggs. I'd make a run and one of them would see me and pick me out. Like my old teammates, Benayoun weighs in with important goals too.

United and Liverpool are way out in front of the rest with 18 English title titles each. Liverpool fans have watched as United have caught up by winning 11 of them since Liverpool's last one in 1990. And I think they'll watch as United make it 19 well before their team do. sports@thenational.ae