Neville: I preferred cricket to football

Phil Neville on growing up playing cricket and how he had to choose between Lancashire and Manchester United

Phil Neville found fame and fortunate in Manchester United’s defence, but cricket was his first love. He played for Lancashire’s age-group sides alongside Andrew Flintoff, who said that watching Neville “gave you an idea what a good player looked like”. He went on to play one game for the second XI and represented England schools at cricket and football.

Alongside his older brother Gary, he won six Premier League titles with United plus numerous other trophies including the Champions League in the treble-winning season of 1998-99. He joined Everton in 2005 and also won 59 caps for England. He now lives in Valencia, where he was a coach and where his son Harvey is in the academy.

He spoke to the official programme ahead of fourth Investec Test between England and South Africa starting at Old Trafford on Friday.

Brother Gary and former Manchester United and England team-mates Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes are cricket lovers

Phil Neville 

On living with Aussie legends...  

I grew up around cricketers. My father played for Greenmount in the Bolton League and they had some fantastic professionals – like the Australians Mark Taylor and Matthew Hayden – who stayed at our house. I learned a lot about professionalism through mixing with cricketers.

On who was the better brother...

Gary and I probably had more rivalry at cricket than football. We had to get each other out in order to have a bat. Everyone wants to bat – nobody wants to bowl! I was an opening bat, I wanted dot balls and to keep the ball on the deck. My brother called me Geoff Boycott – he was more Ian Botham.

On being bounced by Ottis Gibson...

I faced Ottis Gibson in my early teens when Greenmount 1st XI were a man short against Farnworth. Ottis was their overseas pro and he saw that I was tiny and came in off two paces. But two or three overs later he was coming off his full run, bouncing me, but he still couldn’t get me out. Afterwards, he came up to me and said well done.

Neville once played against current England bowling coach Ottis Gibson

On playing with Freddie...

Playing for Lancashire schoolboys from the age of 11 to 15 were the best days of my life. I played with and against the likes of Mark Chilton, Freddie, Paul Collingwood, Vikram Solanki and Marcus Trescothick. they were just fantastic memories. It’s not like football where you meet up, play for 90 minutes and then go home. We did everything together: several hours playing then socialising with families afterwards.

On choosing between cricket and football...

When I was 14 or 15, I’d have preferred to play cricket for England. But then I played football for England Schoolboys in front of 80,000 people at Wembley, compared to 150 to 200 watching my England schools cricket debut at Cirencester. Football had a wow factor.

The choice was made when I was 15 and I still feel sad that it had to be made so early. I’d just been called up for Lancashire 2nd XI, but my headmaster told my parents that I was missing too much schoolwork and that I had to make a decision between the two sports.

On cricket fans at Manchester United...

There were quite a few cricket fans at United. Steve Bruce was a big fan and Scholesy is brilliant – he loves it. In the treble year in 1999 we had an indoor cricket match because the weather was so bad outside. Imagine – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Jaap Stam playing cricket, holding the bat like it was baseball. It was unbelievable. Nicky Butt’s coming in trying to bounce me and my brother. It was fantastic.

On his love for cricket...

I became an ambassador for the Lancashire Foundation in 2012, and I faced Murali and Saj Mahmood. I had half an hour in the nets and I said to my wife: “I want to be a cricketer now.” I didn’t want to take the pads off – I was back in the zone.

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