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My night with Ryan Giggs: IAN HERBERT watches as the Man United legend is consigned to the after-dinner circuit on a drab night in Chester


A mild Friday evening in mid-February and had things taken the course we always imagined, Ryan Giggs would have been planning a weekend assessing players for his Wales squad or perhaps preparing a side to play in some Championship, even Premier League, game. It didn’t turn out that way, of course. 

It was in the depths of Chester’s bland and unprepossessing Crowne Plaza hotel that he was to be found, last week. Reduced at the age of only 50 to an outing on the speakers’ circuit, relating all his yesterdays to a not-quite-full banqueting suite. 

The hotel was turning it into a nice little earner, flogging low-grade hotdogs and cheeseburgers for £6.50 a pop and the event’s organisers were also sweating their asset for all it was worth. 

The £200 VIP tickets for this event entailed a meet and photo-op with Giggs but those of us who’d paid less were offered some kind of picture too. ‘It will be £45.’ There was an unmistakable pathos about this.

I remember meeting Giggs about ten years ago for an interview which was part of a promotional campaign for a yoga and Pilates DVD he was launching. It involved me attempting to do some rudimentary yoga with him. 

Ryan Giggs was once an all-conquering superstar during his playing career at Man United

Ryan Giggs was once an all-conquering superstar during his playing career at Man United

The former Welsh star used to be untouchable, and he was blessed with the Midas touch

But his reputation is tarnished by allegations about his attitude towards, and treatment of, ex-girlfriend Kate Greville, who accused him of controlling or coercive behaviour and assault. Giggs maintained his innocence and a jury trying Giggs failed to reach a verdict. The charges were subsequently dropped

But his reputation is tarnished by allegations about his attitude towards, and treatment of, ex-girlfriend Kate Greville, who accused him of controlling or coercive behaviour and assault. Giggs maintained his innocence and a jury trying Giggs failed to reach a verdict. The charges were subsequently dropped

But he's been consigned to the after-dinner circuit and Mail Sport went to see Giggs in action

But he’s been consigned to the after-dinner circuit and Mail Sport went to see Giggs in action

‘Pull up from the obliques,’ he told me, quietly but insistently. The man was astonishing. About to turn 40, yet still turning out for United. You felt would go on forever.

The allegations about his attitude towards, and treatment of, ex-girlfriend Kate Grenville, who accused him of controlling or coercive behaviour and assault, came seven years later, rendering him an individual with whom the Wales FA wanted no association. 

A jury trying Giggs failed to reach a verdict and the Crown Prosecution Service withdrew its plans for a retrial when his former partner, whose sister also alleged abuse, said she could not face testifying again. Giggs has always protested his innocence but the testimony, vivid and damaging, has stuck.

It was the Giggs who had a world in front of him that we heard about, last Friday. The boy who found himself in a dressing room with his idols, Mark Hughes and Bryan Robson. Who parked his Ferrari around the corner from The Cliff training ground so the manager wouldn’t see it. Who had the misfortune to be right in Sir Alex Ferguson’s eyeline, in front of the fridge, beer in hand, when the manager famously acted on another tip-off to chase him out of Lee Sharpe’s house party in 1992.

‘Fifteen years later, I heard my mum had grassed me up,’ Giggs told the audience. ‘I think after that I was just a little bit more careful.’

He was describing individuals who put something of the fear of God in him and seeing Giggs reduced to mere reminiscence made you wish that those influences had prevailed for years and years. The world is not made that way, of course. You make your own destiny. Your reputation precedes you. 

It was hard not to contrast Giggs’ diminution with Eric Cantona, actor, poet, musician, whom I watched launch his singing career on a crazy night in Manchester, four months back. A world beyond this.

On the face of things, there was much to like as ever in the public-facing Giggs last week, not least his self-effacement and modesty. He didn’t seem immediately at ease and when eventually leaning back in his chair managed to bring a banner advertising the event’s promoters crashing down from a pole behind him.

But the evening’s transactional element stripped away what dignity he has left. He arrived on stage mid-way through an event billed to stretch from 6pm to 11pm, was up there for about 90 minutes, across two halves, with much of the rest of the time devoted to the picture-taking and an interminable auction of signed United shirts.

If the customary practice of committing auction income to charity was in play, then no-one thought to mention it. ‘There’s plenty of money in the room. ‘You’re buying for the future,’ ‘Fantastic investment’, the audience was told as the clock ticked up to 10pm and you wondered whether Giggs was ever coming back.

An ensuing ‘question and answer’ session included nothing awkward and no mention of the court case, as Giggs answered pre-sifted inquiries sent in on email. 

There was some good value in his responses. Most difficult player faced? Inter Milan’s Javier Zanetti. Two United players who most failed to fulfil potential? Ravel Morrison and Adnan Januzaj. The superstar he was asked to lure to United? Gareth Bale. Gazza or Scholes in his team? Scholes. Robson or Keane? Keane. Phil or Gary Neville? Tracey Neville. And the yoga that he once so eulogised about? ‘I’ve not done it for seven or eight years. It’s hard.’

Giggs’ wish to manage again one day was expressed so briefly – 13 words, all told – that the room seemed uncertain whether to clap or not. The elephant in the room being the reluctance that many in football will feel to offer him that chance now. 

Giggs was in action at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Chester, where VIP tickets sold for £200

Giggs was in action at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Chester, where VIP tickets sold for £200

After news about the pending trial broke, the Wales FA wanted no association with Giggs

After news about the pending trial broke, the Wales FA wanted no association with Giggs

It is hard to avoid the sense that Giggs (bottom middle) and his football story are history

It is hard to avoid the sense that Giggs (bottom middle) and his football story are history 

Perhaps that step would be accepted if Giggs stepped out, addressed the question of his damaged reputation in a way which revealed some contrition and regret to the women who said he did them physical and psychological harm. Perhaps not. 

In the meantime, this show of sorts goes on. He’s Chester again next month. Then Radlett, a village in Hertfordshire.

His face lit up as he described his decisive part in the shoot-out at the end of the 2008 Champions League final against Chelsea in Moscow – he was the seventh kicker – and his troubles seemed momentarily to melt away. ‘I had the philosophy that even if the goalkeeper is going the right way, it’s going in. I’m going to score.’

He seemed untouchable back then. Blessed with the Midas touch. But no longer. As the audience drifted away into the wet Chester night, it was hard to avoid the sense that Giggs and his football story are history. After-dinner material, belonging in the past

It’s a tragedy the FA Cup fifth round has been stuffed away 

If the FA Cup fifth round hadn’t been stuffed away, like an old rag, into midweek, we would be anticipating an afternoon watching the next step of Maidstone United’s improbable and glorious run on TV this weekend. 

The scheduling of their match at Coventry on Monday night is a tragedy but for those seeking a substitute weekend Cup fix, I recommend JL Carr’s How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the FA Cup, which I’ve just read. 

A daft tale about how a village team beat the big boys and made it all the way to Wembley, it is a beautifully observed and still prescient send-up of media and metropolitan pretensions from the viewpoint of a patronised rural England. 

It will make you smile. A minor classic for what we once called fifth-round weekend.

It is such a shame that this weekend is not being spent watching the next step of Maidstone United¿s improbable and glorious FA Cup run, with the fifth round stuffed into next midweek

It is such a shame that this weekend is not being spent watching the next step of Maidstone United’s improbable and glorious FA Cup run, with the fifth round stuffed into next midweek

Heartwarming stories from those on the sidelines

Thanks for sending many pictures and stories of the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren you support from the sidelines. 

Too many to relate here but few have travelled our path quite like Dean Kimber, whose three boys, Liam and twins Callum and Owen started out at Horndean under-7s near Portsmouth and have between them had trials at nine professional clubs.

Those football careers weren’t to be, but the three, now aged 27 and 18, finally stepped out on to the same field together just over a week ago in the same Petersfield team, in the Wessex Premier League. 

‘My three boys in the same team,’ Dean writes. ‘My work was complete. I couldn’t be more proud. Everything that had gone before, good and bad, was surpassed by that moment.’ 



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