Last updated : 01 August 2004 By Editor

From David Elleray's new book:

Over the years I felt I had built up a good rapport, as good as you could hope for, with players and managers. That was until one night at Anfield in May 1999. Liverpool versus Manchester United games are always big matches, for the players and the fans. I was aware of how high passions would run. Then there was the fact that United and Arsenal were in the final stages of their championship battle. A few weeks earlier I had overseen the FA Cup semi-final between the two clubs, including the replay. Things hadn't gone too smoothly in those games. There were claims that I had wrongly disallowed a United goal in the first game and in the replay I had sent off Roy Keane for the third time in my career. I wasn't flavour of the month in Manchester.

Anyway, in the Liverpool game, with United 2-0 up, I awarded the home side a penalty, which they converted. It was a tight decision for which I would have been criticised either way but which angered United. Then, Denis Irwin took the ball out of play; after the whistle blew he knocked it upfield and it looked to me like deliberate time-wasting, so I reached into my pocket. It was only as I pulled out the card and showed it to him that I realised that I had already booked him. There was the usual melee around me, but Denis seemed to leave the pitch quietly enough. Liverpool went on to claim a draw.

I couldn't have prepared myself for what followed. The tunnel at Anfield is very narrow and I was pursued by Alex Ferguson, who was shouting and screaming. I am always thankful to Bernie, a policemen with a particularly meaty truncheon, who managed to get me back to my dressing room safe and sound. The United players and fans were furious, not only about the penalty and the sending-off, but also because it meant Denis would miss the FA Cup final (not a rule I agree with). Then [United chairman] Martin Edwards said that if Arsenal won the Premiership, they should award me a winners' medal. That really hurt. Fortunately, United won it that year.

The letters I received after the Liverpool game were nearly all from outraged United fans. The tone became increasingly menacing and I received death threats. At this point, I realised that I ought to show them to the school authorities, who immediately took them up with the Home Office. I remember walking along the street and a guy pulled up in his car and started screaming insults at me. The police decided to fit a security alarm in my house, which meant they could get to me straight away if anything happened. That really shakes you up. You start looking over your shoulder wondering where your assailant is. A bit of you almost wants something to happen, so at least you will have got it out the way.

As it happens, I went to the Cup final that year when United were playing Newcastle. Not that anyone would have recognised me: for obvious reasons, I was advised to travel in disguise and it has to be one of the most ridiculous disguises anyone has ever attempted. As I made my way into Wembley with the United fans, I remember thinking that if my false moustache and beard fell off then I could be beaten to a pulp.

I didn't go back to Old Trafford until 2001 and I think that was a conscious decision on the part of the authorities. Then, at the end of that season, I found myself in charge of the Manchester derby. We had gone 83 minutes without so much as a yellow card until Roy Keane made that challenge on Alf Inge Haaland. People say to me that it must have been the easiest decision I had ever made. But it wasn't. In fact, it was the most difficult. This was a Manchester derby, Roy had made the challenge right by the Stretford End and it was to be the fourth time I had dismissed him. It was already alleged that I was pursuing a vendetta against him. Back in the dressing room I saw the tackle on television. I was relieved to see that I had made the right decision. As Roy later admitted in his book, it was deliberately brutal.

When I retired, he was good enough to send me a personal note expressing his gratitude that I had hung up my boots. He also sent me a signed United shirt. I like to think that that reflected well on him and on me.