A hundred people mentally or audibly asked, "Who's that?" and a man in a United tracksuit told them. "Gary's brother," he added to reinforce the identification, "and you know what, he could be even better." As Neville elder had made it to the fringes of the first team, it was a bold statement.
But Phil, who was called up to the England squad yesterday and may play alongside big brother against Bulgaria next week, has been encouraging Neville worship almost from the start. If an international can be spotted amid the pitfalls of apprentice football it was him.
Now he has reached the England squad, and if Phil, 19, and Gary, 21, play they will be the 20th brothers to appear together for England and the first since the most famous of them all, the World Cup-winning Charltons.
Bobby and Jack came from a footballing dynasty that included Jackie Milburn, but the Neville pedigree is scarcely less impressive. The father, Neville, is commercial manager at Bury football club, while their mother, who also works at Gigg Lane, was an athlete. Phil's twin sister, Tracey, is an England Under-21 netball player.
They were born to sport, you could say, although for a long time it appeared that Lancashire Cricket Club would get the benefit of Phil's talent rather than United. Gary had been hooked on the club from the age of five, while the younger brother's passion was for bat and ball until he was 14. Gary's going to Old Trafford, the football ground, clinched it for Phil, too, and he decided to follow.
To emulate, too, because, although Gary came to the club as a centre- back, he made it to the first team as a right-back, the same position Phil filled. At one time it appeared they would be fighting for the same position until the younger brother showed he could play on the left side.
And how. As soon as he made his debut, coming on as a substitute against, of all teams, Manchester City, it was apparent that he was a remarkably composed player for his age. Unflappability tends to come with experience but Phil has it naturally, never more so than in the first half against Newcastle this month when the United defence endured a fearful battering.
Peter Beardsley and Faustino Asprilla roamed to his flank and although he was stretched at times, he emerged with Steve Bruce as United's best defender. That, you imagine, probably did more to persuade the England coach, Terry Venables, of his readiness for higher things than any recommendation.
Gary already has five caps after making his debut against Japan last summer after only 17 games in the Premiership. Phil played his 17th League match against Arsenal last night despite the reluctance of his manager, Alex Ferguson, to expect too much from his young players.
Already Denis Irwin has been switched to right-back to accommodate the youngster and, until Gary Pallister's injury allowed him back again, Gary was also being kept out of the team by his prodigy of a brother. Competitive as only siblings can be, Phil will have enjoyed that.
"Both boys have admirable temperaments," Ferguson said. "You like to take young players through slowly but the Neville boys have forced their way into the side and I had no hesitation promoting them despite their youth and inexperience. Phil has played magnificently recently and it must be a question of when, not if, he will play with Gary for England."
The "when" could be next week. For the next 10 years the initials G and P might become a regular fixture on the England team sheet.
BAMBRIDGE Ernest (1 cap, 1876), Charlie (18, 1879-87) and Arthur (3, 1881-84)
CLEGG Charles (1, 1872), William (2, 1873-79)
RAWSON Herbert (1, 1875), William (2, 1875-77)
HERON Hubert (5, 1873-78), Frank (1, 1876)
LYTTLETON Alfred (1, 1877), Edward (1, 1878)
CURSHAM Arthur (6, 1876-83), Harry (8, 1880-84)
HARGREAVES Fred (3, 1880-82), Jack (2, 1881)
WALTERS Arthur M (9, 1885-90), Percy M (13, 1885-90)
DOBSON Alf (4, 1882-84), Charlie (1,1886)
SHELTON Alf (6, 1889-92), Charlie (1, 1888)
TOPHAM Robert (2, 1893-94, Arthur (1, 1894)
PERRY Charlie (3, 1890-93), Tom (1, 1898)
FORMAN Frank (9, 1898-1903), Fred (3, 1899)
WILSON Charles P (2, 1884, Geoffrey P (2, 1900)
CORBETT Bertie (1, 1901), Rex (1, 1903)
OSBORNE Frank (4, 1922-26), Reg (1, 1927)
STEPHENSON Clem (1, 1924), George (3, 1928-31)
SMITH Jack (3, 1931), Sep (1, 1935)
CHARLTON Bobby (106, 1958-70), Jack (35, 65-70)Reuse content