Born: Bury, January 21, 1977
Clubs: Manchester United, Everton. Everton appearances/goals: 264/5
England caps/goals: 59/0
Major honours: Premier League (1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003), FA Cup (1996, 1999, 2004), Champions League (1999), Intercontinental Cup (1999), Charity Shield (1996, 1997, 2003)
Derby record: Played 14, Won 3, Drawn 4, Lost 7. Goals scored 0 (1 own goal), red cards 2
THE numbers say it all; more than 1200 senior club appearances, 149 international caps, seven international tournaments, 32 Premier League campaigns, 13 years of club captaincy, 25 major honours, five FA Cup winners’ medals.
And on Saturday, Steven Gerrard and Phil Neville – professionals, leaders, winners – will head the battle for Merseyside supremacy as Liverpool and Everton meet at Wembley, English football’s biggest stage.
The battle between Gerrard and Neville will be one of the game’s many fascinating sub-plots. The two skippers provide an interesting contrast; the Scouser against the Mancunian, the local hero against the man who left behind a decade of success at Old Trafford to further his career and become a symbol of modern Everton.
The pair are, of course, no strangers to games of this magnitude but with local pride, as well as the chance of silverware, at stake, there is an extra edge to this particular semi-final clash. Not since the final of 1989 has a derby match had so much riding on it.
For Liverpool, securing a place in the FA Cup final at the expense of their neighbours would provide welcome relief from what has developed into a frustratingly poor Premier League campaign.
Having lifted the Carling Cup back in February – ending a six-year trophy drought in the process – Kenny Dalglish and his side are desperate to usher in a new era of success at Anfield, as well as reasserting their local dominance.
At Everton, meanwhile, the hunger is equally strong. David Moyes completed 10 years at Goodison last month, Neville has been there seven. Both would desperately love the chance to add a medal to their Merseyside CVs.
Gerrard was a wide-eyed eight-year-old watching that 1989 contest unfold. He cheered as John Aldridge fired Liverpool ahead, and despaired as Stuart McCall (twice) hauled Everton level. Five minutes after the final whistle, he was in the street pretending to be Ian Rush, the Reds’ eventual match-winner.
Precociously gifted, even then, the youngster was already training two days a week at Liverpool’s Centre of Excellence, developing alongside the likes of Michael Owen and Jason Koumas.
Prior to that, however, and like many others to have worn the red of Liverpool, there had been dalliances with the blue half.
“I would be in the Panini enclosure at Goodison Park one week, singing and swaying on the Kop the next,” admitted Gerrard in his 2006 autobiography.
“As with many families, there were mixed loyalties. Mum’s brother, Leslie, was crazy about Everton. He was always coming back from games with Everton kit for me, trying to turn me into a Blue.”
The plan failed. Despite Gerrard’s admiration for Blues legend Neville Southall – “I copied him perfectly, with the rolled-down socks and the Hi-Tech boots” – and a well-publicised photograph of him posing, in full Everton strip, with the League Championship and Charity Shield trophies at Goodison, the boy from Huyton was destined for Anfield greatness. And to rub Evertonians up the wrong way.
“They have grown to despise me because I score against them so regularly,” he says. “And because I keep saying I love beating Everton.”
Love it he certainly does. His hat-trick at Anfield in last month’s league meeting took his derby goals tally to an impressive eight. Only Rush, Dixie Dean and Alex “Sandy” Young have more.
A Wembley derby strike would simply add to his legend. It promises to be an emotional day for the 31-year-old.
FEAR OF FAILURE
Emotion, meanwhile, will not be in Neville’s thoughts. It rarely is. For him, this Wembley visit is strictly business. The last of his 14 medals came in 2004. He was an unused substitute that day as Manchester United clinched the FA Cup, sweeping aside a Millwall side which contained his current Blues team-mate Tim Cahill.
Now 35, he remains as relentlessly driven as ever, though he admits he fears this could be his last chance to pick up a winners’ medal at Goodison.
“For this particular team, it is probably our best chance,” he says. “We got to the final against Chelsea (in 2009) and were really disappointed that we didn’t perform that day.
“I think at the end of a long, hard season, that was a game too far for us. But we’re a couple of years older now, more experienced.
“I’ve been at Everton for seven seasons now, and for me the club’s history is everywhere. The people you see around the ground, the Kendalls, the Sharps, Ratcliffes, Southalls...they’ve all won something, and they deserve every ounce of praise they get.
“I think now, if I left Everton and I didn’t win a trophy, I would say my time at Everton was a failure, because I measure my success in medals won.”
The incentive for both could not be bigger; a return to Wembley on May 5, to face either Tottenham or Chelsea – and it will be the first time Gerrard and Neville have faced each other directly this season.
Neither started the league meeting at Goodison Park back in October – Gerrard emerged as a second-half substitute as Liverpool won 2-0 – while Neville was rested, along with several others, by Moyes as Gerrard ran riot at Anfield in the return fixture.
They have, however, shared the Wembley pitch before. When Gerrard made his England debut against Ukraine in May 2000, the day after his 20th birthday, he did so as an auxiliary right wing-back. Operating on the opposite flank was Neville. A month later they would line up together at the European Championships.
They were on the Wembley pitch together as Neville earned the last of his 59 caps, against Estonia, in October 2007.
Team-mates then, best of enemies now. As the opposing skippers prepare to do battle, Merseyside expects....
Keep up to date with all the lastest Liverpool FC news, results, comments and more with our sister title the Liverpool Daily Post. Read