“The people here love their city” – Gary Neville talks business, politics and Sunderland AFC

Written by on 11th October 2023

Written by Liam Brusby, Adam Foster, Kiara Armstrong and Ben Boyd

One of football’s most recognisable figures today addressed a Sunderland audience about business, politics – and the city’s football team.

Former Manchester United and England defender Gary Neville is perhaps best known nowadays as a forthright Sky Sports pundit.

But he’s also a successful businessman, with a business portfolio that spans property, hospitality, education, media and sport.

Today he was a special guest at the Sunderland Business Festival, an event aimed at inspiring enterprises from across the region.

And during the hour-long conversation with former Chronicle and Manchester Evening News editor Darren Thwaites, Neville spoke on everything from his career in business, to the leadership skills he learned while captain of Manchester United.

Here’s just some of what he had to say…

Gary Neville speaking at Sunderland Business Festival – Credit: @SunBizfestival via ‘X’

The conference began with host Darren Thwaites asking Neville a question sure to ring the ears of Sunderland fans in attendance. “Would you like to see Sunderland back in the Premier League?”

Neville said: “Yes, I would – during my career, it used to be a given that you would play at Northern clubs like Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough.” 

The former Manchester United full-back reminisced about his time playing at Roker Park and the Stadium of Light, but was quickly reminded about the 2-1 defeat in 1997 – his only defeat against the Black Cats in his 20-year career.

Neville, who won eight Premier League titles with Manchester United, voiced his criticism about the lack of investment in the North East-based sides. 

He said:  “I have no doubt there is more investment in Premier League clubs in the south. It has become more difficult for clubs in the north to establish themselves recently, we need a fairer representation of northern clubs in the Premier League.”

City of Sunderland Business Festival Credit:@SunBizfestival via ‘X’

Moving away from football, the former Three Lions full-back also went on to highlight the lack of investment regarding transport links between Sunderland and the south.

Speaking on the recent cancellation of the HS2 project, Neville said, “We’re not surprised anymore, are we? We’re not surprised by any of it, we’ve had 13 years of it [Conservative government].” 

The Manchester United legend also touched on the current state of transport links in the north, saying, “It’s taken me over three hours to get up here this morning in the car, and I think the train up here, to be honest with you, I looked at it and it didn’t even bare thinking about.” 

“How can I be 3hrs 15mins away from Sunderland, and I’m literally two hours away from London? They [Government] have to connect us. They have to connect Sunderland with Manchester, with Burnley, Blackburn, with Wigan, and all these amazing towns with great history…We must better connect them so Northern towns and cities can realise their full potential.”

Clearly passionate about the north, Neville compared his much beloved Manchester to Wearside, stating: “We need to get more people living in our city centres. 20 years ago, Manchester’s city centre was tiny, nobody lived there. But, now it’s thriving and there’s no reason why Sunderland can’t follow suit.”

One of the ways in which Neville believes Sunderland can do this is to attract “institutional and international investment”, citing local production company ‘Fulwell 73’ as a ‘perfect example’ – following their recent plans to build a state-of-the-art movie complex in the city.

Despite Neville praising the future investment, he stressed that local people must remain the priority.

“The people here love their city. They’d run through a brick wall for it and the city must channel that as it continues to develop and grow…It must bring them on its transformational journey.”

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