The day Jamie Carragher almost turned into a Scouse Tony Montana
It’s January 2007 and Lucas Neill is attempting to justify his decision to join relegation-haunted West Ham over Liverpool.
Accused by many of being greedy, Neill argued: “It wasn’t about cash – that didn’t come into it. It was about being wanted.
“People have said I put money before medals and how could I make a sideways move like this and not go to a club like Liverpool, who are always in the hunt for trophies and have so much prestige.
“It was an extremely hard decision, but I know it’s the right one.”
Neill was a solid enough full-back during the 2000s, spending six productive years at Blackburn Rovers and starring for Australia at the 2006 World Cup, but he wasn’t quite Liverpool standard and it was a surprise they were interested in signing him.
In fact, some would argue that Liverpool had a lucky escape that Neill chose the higher wage on offer at Upton Park.
But, had the signing come to fruition, you’d have been able to hang a picture of Jamie Carragher’s reaction in the Louvre. It’s safe to say the pair had history.
It all started when Neill shattered Carragher’s leg with a woeful challenge during a Premier League game in September 2003.
Two things stand out upon seeing the clip; firstly, Neill has seemingly no intention of playing the ball. Leaping off the ground with all the abandon of a kamikaze pilot, the full-back then had the temerity to protest his sending-off.
Secondly, the commentator is completely correct to call the challenge an ‘assault’. It would have been an illegal move in wrestling, let alone football, and the passage of time has only increased the poverty of Neill’s tackle.
Despite the evidence of 20,000 pairs of eyes, Neill denied there was any malicious intent in his challenge but did offer his sympathies to Carragher.
And Blackburn manager Graeme Souness, a known facilitator of studs meeting shin pads, instantly came to his player’s defence.
Aiming a barb directly at Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier, Souness said: “You would have to have played the game to realise that these kind of things happen.
“It was reckless, but in football at this level tackles can be mistimed and misjudged. In no way is Lucas Neill a dirty player. He had no intent to injure Jamie Carragher.”
In response, Houllier said: “Carragher was injured at 10 past three on Saturday and the apology came 48 hours later – it was absolutely pathetic.
“Maybe Neill is a good footballer, but he behaves like a bad gentleman. I am not saying he is a coward but I thought the tackle itself was cowardly.
“Of course I understand these things happen. But what is unacceptable is their lack of grace and dignity. The apology should have been immediate.”
But the anger of the Liverpool manager paled into comparison with the rage brewing inside Carragher, who was left contemplating the kind of retribution that would make Scarface’s Tony Montana blush.
In his 2008 book, Carra: My Autobiography, he wrote: “My mates were ready to hunt him down if I gave the go-ahead.
“A few weeks later I received a phone call. ‘You won’t believe this, Jay. We’re at The Trafford Centre and Lucas Neill is walking straight towards us. What do you reckon?’
“Did I really want Neill to take a crack? ‘There’s only one problem,’ added the voice. ‘Little Davey Thommo is with him.’
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“That was that. I could hardly let one of my best mates, David Thompson, now a Blackburn player, become a witness to an assault.
“Besides, he’d have recognised the attackers. The impromptu mission was aborted and I sent a text to Thommo telling him Neill should give him a hug of thanks.”
Carragher added: “As word got back to Blackburn about the near miss, or should that be hit, their coach Terry Darracott, a Scouser, appealed to one of my friends to call the boys off. I agreed.”
How magnanimous. If Carragher had given in to impulse, Manchester’s mecca of shopping would have played host to what the defender called ‘the full force of a Bootle revenge mission’.
The autobiographies of footballers, especially those still playing, tend to be duller than watching paint dry.
In an agreeable change from tradition, Carragher gave the frankest admission of contemplated revenge since Roy Keane picked up his pen and reminded himself of Alf-Inge Haaland.
Remarkably, the centre-back wasn’t punished for his confession – perhaps, unlike Keane, because he ultimately didn’t follow through with his violent urges.
But the episode made it all the more surprising that Neill was ever on Liverpool’s radar. In his autobiography, Carragher wrote: “Our interest in him annoyed me.
“He wasn’t the type of player who’d be able to turn Liverpool into a Premiership-winning side and, of all the defenders available, I couldn’t understand why we were chasing him.
“Neill had the cheek to turn us down for West Ham. I was pleased.”
Turns out that Carragher had the last laugh after all. Without turning into the Bootle Phil Mitchell.
By Michael Lee