In 2006, Manchester United traveled to Anfield to face Liverpool in the fifth-round of the FA Cup.
Having crashed out of the Champions League a few months earlier, and with their Premier League hopes appearing slim, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men were under pressure to produce silverware and the FA Cup was the trophy in sight.
However, there was little Rio Ferdinand could do to influence the game as he was injured at the time. Still he decided to turn the Anfield trip into an “eventful” occasion as he wrote in his 2006 self-titled autobiography.
Also injured was John O’Shea and together they decided to experience the game as “proper fans”. So they turned down the tickets to the directors’ box and decided to join the United fans in the away end at Anfield while trying to keep their identities under wraps.
“The car had tinted windows but they weren’t that dark and so we had to crouch down in the back seat so the Liverpool fans wouldn’t see us as we came towards the ground.
“I had a cap on, a scarf round my face and a coat with a big hood. I looked like a proper wrong’un”
All was going to plan for the duo until they were approached by policemen who demanded that Ferdinand and O’Shea take off their hoods so their faces could be seen.
“Sheasy protested that we couldn’t, but one of the coppers just snatched my hood and cap off my head. The Liverpool fans went absolutely mad when they saw who I was. I felt like I was completely starkers!
“The match commander appeared and gave us an escort to the away end, for our own safety. When we got inside, we put our hoods, caps and scarves back on so we’d be anonymous and took our places among our fans.”
When Peter Crouch scored the game’s only goal in the 19th minute, the Liverpool fans went wild with celebration, showering the United fans in the section below them with urine and coins. Luckily for O’Shea and Ferdinand, they were far enough back to escape from it but it was a reminder of what it was like to be a football fan at such encounters between rivals.
“I’d forgotten what different characters you get. Some supporters, on both sides, had obviously not come for the football, they were just there to shout abuse at each other.
“Mind you, I was shouting at the ref as well and I felt helpless when Alan Smith got badly injured and I was not around to see how he was”.
Eventually, the duo were forced to shed their disguises and the ruse was up.
“Nobody clocked us until near the end when, because it was so hot and we were sweating like mad, we removed our hats and scarves.
“The fans were amazed to see us and demanded we give them a song. I did mine and then Sheasy came out with some lame little chant and the fans started singing, ‘What the fucking hell was that?’
Crouch’s goal resulted in Liverpool’s first FA Cup win over Manchester United in 85 years but despite the loss, the game was still a memorable experience for Ferdinand and O’Shea.
“I was gutted we lost but it was an amazing experience to be a fan for a day. We even got kept in for half an hour at the end!”