“The Kop” won’t bait Neville tonight

Anfield will be packed tonight for the visit of the England national team in what should have been their last match away from Wembley. The new super-ground wasn’t going to be ready in time though of course and so England will play their last home friendlies before the World Cup at Old Trafford.

Although the ground will undoubtedly contain a lot of Liverpool supporters, it’s not entirely accurate to call the gathering of fans at one end of the stadium “The Kop”. That part of the ground is called “The Kop Grandstand”, it used to be called “The Spion Kop”, but “The Kop” is about more than concrete and plastic seats. “The Kop” is the collection of Liverpool supporters who sit there for Liverpool games, who used to stand there for Liverpool games. The individual supporters making up “The Kop” may have changed over the years, in some cases for the worse, but in the main “The Kop” consists of the best supporters in the world, a label few neutrals would argue with. Tonight “The Kop Grandstand” will not be populated by “The Kop”.

At yesterday’s England press conference, Steven Gerrard was asked what
kind of reception he thought Gary Neville would get from the fans at
the game. Neville’s numerous quotes for year upon year about his hatred
of Scousers means that any supporters of Everton or Tranmere, not to
mention any neutral locals (if there is such a thing), will not
chanting his name in a complimentary manner. It’s not because he plays
for Manchester United – Rio Ferdinand, Wes Brown and the absent Paul
Scholes wouldn’t get the same amount of stick – it’s because of his
hatred of the city. Peter Crouch was booed for England when he played
at Old Trafford, for no reason other than perhaps because he was a
Liverpool player now. Stevie perhaps had to be diplomatic, perhaps he
didn’t realise just how far across the line Neville has gone over the
years, but he doesn’t see there being a problem for Neville tonight: “I
think it will be a lot different from the Liverpool-Manchester United
game. I think the Liverpool fans built themselves up for that game for
days and even weeks beforehand. It will be a little bit different on
Wednesday. It is an England game and Gary Neville will be at Anfield
representing the country. I’m sure and I hope the Liverpool fans who
are there get behind Gary and show their support. It’s not Liverpool on
Wednesday, it is England.”

Neville’s old friend and someone used to criticism is England’s
captain. Beckham remembers getting his name sung from the Kop
Grandstand in a previous England appearance, and hopes Neville hasn’t
gone too far: “Gary is playing for England and it should be different
on Wednesday. Mind you, he has not stepped out of the hotel yet!
Seriously, I don’t think he will be worried about it. Knowing the
player and the person Gary is, he will just go out there and play. The
last time I played here for England against Finland we won 2-1 and I
got a great reception from the fans. They were singing my name from the
Kop and that for me was incredible. The Saturday afterwards they were
ripping me apart when playing for Manchester United. Hopefully it will
be different for Gary on Wednesday to when he is playing for United.”

Stevie will be playing for at least 45 minutes tonight, maybe even an
hour, as Sven Goran Eriksson tries to use his strongest available side.
Frank Lampard left the England camp yesterday with a “hamstring injury”
which we’ve no doubt he’ll recover from by the weekend, but it makes a
difference to Eriksson’s plans. Gerrard is the player that every pundit
says should be in the side, but often has to play in different roles to
what would be considered his best. This is because England are short
elsewhere or because other players aren’t so flexible at playing
different roles. Flexibility is key in tournament football due to the
limited numbers of players available and the likelihood of injuries and
suspensions. Gerrard says he feels he’s able to do any job asked of
him, and that England have plenty of choices available: “We all know
that if we come up against a really difficult side the manager may go
defensively with Ledley as the holding player, but, if he needs to use
me in the holding role, I’m ready and I feel I can do a good job in
that position. There has been a lot of debate but we feel – whether
it’s Ledley in there or me and Frank – that we can deliver.”

Gerrard says England’s victory over Argentina in a friendly wiped out
the bad memories of the embarrassing defeat by Northern Ireland and
that confidence is improving all the time: “Since we beat Argentina the
belief has just grown. That was all that was spoken about at dinner
yesterday – it’s all about the World Cup. I think we are close to being
a really good team and I think we will go really close in the summer if
we keep everyone fit. In the World Cup in Japan we had a lot of young
players and I don’t think we were 100 per cent confident we could go
all the way. Everything was against us. It was a long journey, the
climate was difficult and the age of the squad was not right. It wasn’t
ready. This time the mix of youth and experience is right. It could be
the last World Cup for the likes of David Beckham and Gary Neville and
I think everyone this time around will be desperate to deliver.”

Gerrard also feels that England will play better if they are able to go
out and attack their opponents: “The games the team has done well in
have been where we have been aggressive and played our own game. When
we have been a little bit negative and sat back, that is when we have
come up against some problems. By the time that first World Cup game
comes around, this team will be ready. You will see a very hungry