The 2005-06 season was a fairly depressing time for Manchester United fans, following the Glazer take over, but one of the few highlights was beating Liverpool in injury time at Old Trafford.
Gary Neville, who had been getting stick from the away end all game, celebrated wildly in front of them. He kissed the badge and thumped his thighs, leading the Liverpool fans to rip out their seats and throw them on to the pitch.
Neville was later fined £5,000 by the FA for his celebration but he strenuously denied the charge of improper conduct, arguing that football was in danger of being overly sanitised if a footballer was punished for celebrating a goal.
“It’s a poor decision, not just for me but for all footballers,” he said in response. “And I ask the authorities: ‘where is football being taken?’ Being a robot, devoid of passion and spirit, is obviously the way forward for the modern-day footballer.”
10 years later, Neville was asked again about his behaviour that day when working as a pundit for Sky Sports, and he showed no remorse.
“For 89 minutes, the travelling Liverpool fans had been singing unprintable songs about me and my mum,” he said.
“I looked at the faces of all those fans who had been singing, and in that moment, they had no answer. It was one of the best feelings of my life. The FA fined me £5,000 for my actions. I’d gladly pay it again a hundred times.
“Back then, I remember some very serious people saying things like, ‘That’s not the behaviour of a 30-year-old man’. They were right. And that’s what makes football so magical. For 90 minutes, you get to be a kid again. That’s what we all dreamed about, isn’t it?”
While the Liverpool supporters were infuriated that day, in private they would have to admit a begrudging respect for Neville’s actions.
They would have absolutely loved it if Steven Gerrard had behaved in the same way after an injury time winner against United at Anfield.
In an era where players are disconnected from the fans, for plenty of reasons, it’s wonderful when you see a player react in exactly the same way the people in the crowd would.
Neville repeated this behaviour when Michael Owen scored a 96th minute winner against City in 2009. After running on to the pitch, he charged up the touchline towards the away corner, under the pretence of warming up despite United having made all three of their substitutions, because he loves United, hates their rivals, and enjoyed rubbing in the victory. The City fans felt sick at Owen’s goal and Neville made it even worse for them.
When United won the Europa League last season, Jesse Lingard posted a video on social media of the United players inside the dressing room. They were singing probably the most sung United chant, which goes “U-N-I-T-E-D, United are the team for me. With a nick, nack, paddy wack, give a dog a bone, why don’t City f**k off home.”
City fans were incensed, following the trend of faux outrage in this era of nu-football. The Europa League final came two days after the terror attack in the city centre and rival fans felt the chant was of poor taste, rather than in celebration of victory for Manchester.
The song is a United song, not a chant solely about City, and supporters had sung it plenty of times that night in Stockholm.
To interpret it as showing a lack of respect for the tragedy that happened in Manchester would be ridiculous sensitivity, yet that’s what happened. They were United players mimicking the behaviour of United fans, and it was great to see.
City won nothing last season yet United were able to give the city something to celebrate following the atrocities at the Manchester Arena. They celebrated the way their fans did and there’s no shame in that.
The dressing room.
"Why don't City fuck off home" 😂pic.twitter.com/qHoehSYrFc
— @ManUtd_HQ (@ManUtd_HQ) May 24, 2017
Seven months later, following City’s 2-1 win over United, the away dressing room were apparently playing music and celebrating so loudly that Mourinho felt he should pay them a visit and tell them to quieten down and show some respect. Their players reportedly responded by throwing things at him.
Video footage later showed that City players were singing “park the bus, park the bus, Man United”, adapting the words to the song United fans sing about winning the league title 20 times, which is 16 times more than their rivals.
Only City have scored more goals in the league than United, so while they certainly played defensive football against City, it’s hardly an accurate reflection to claim parking the bus is United’s approach to football.
Regardless, City players sung it and their fans loved it, as they should. Football fans revel in seeing their players behaving the way they would.
This is probably why Romelu Lukaku’s non-celebration against West Brom during United’s 2-1 win hasn’t gone down too well with some sections of the support.
Lukaku chose not to celebrate his goal against West Brom. In the past four games, his goals have ensured that three draws have become three wins.
Mourinho claimed after the game his lack of celebration was due to the loan spell he spent at the Midlands club. That defence doesn’t explain why he didn’t celebrate the winner against Bournemouth midweek though.
Jamie Redknapp, working as a pundit for Sky Sports, claimed that Lukaku is paid to celebrate goals. Mourinho would argue that Lukaku is paid to score and assist goals. This season, only Mohamed Salah has done a better job of this than the United striker, with 17 goals and assists compared to Lukaku’s 14.
Five minutes after Lukaku put United ahead, Jesse Lingard doubled their lead, and the striker was seen celebrating as enthusiastically as anyone else, but Redknapp, and Graeme Souness were not impressed.
Maybe we should just let players react to goals as they wish.
If they want to sing songs that rile up their rivals, all power to them, and if they want to play it cool, that is their choice.
United fans would certainly rather a Neville reaction to a Lukaku one, but as long as their no.9 keeps scoring, they probably won’t be too bothered either way.