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The Biography of Ryan Giggs
By Frank Worrall
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2010 Frank Worrall
All rights reserved.
LAND OF HIS FATHER
He would become the most decorated, successful and, many would contend, the best player ever to pull on the proud red shirt of Manchester United. But the road to legend and riches wasn't presented on the proverbial plate for Ryan Giggs. When he finally established himself in the first team at Old Trafford, he would talk about how important the history and the traditions of the club were to him – because he was a local lad. Yet while it is true that he was picked out from obscurity while living just a few miles from Old Trafford, he had been born and bred in an altogether different environment. In a different country, in fact; in a country in which he had known hardship and had had to contend with learning and developing within the confines of a fractured and fractious family.
Yes, he was a local lad (in Manchester) from the age of six, but before that Wales was his home, or more precisely, a tough district of Cardiff. He would never forget his Welsh upbringing, how it moulded and formed him and, in later life, would talk of his pride in being Welsh and how he never considered himself English, even when he captained the England schoolboys' team.
What we are trying to establish early on is this: Ryan Giggs is undoubtedly a phenomenon in world football, but he is not the stereotyped straightforward, straitlaced, somewhat boring 'Mr Manchester United' some pundits would have you believe. Of course, he is an honourable, respectable man – one of the nicest guys in football, for sure – but he is also an intense thinker and a complex character prone to deep introspection and self-analysis, and is at heart a very private being.
It is these very contradictions that help make Ryan the man – and the footballer – he is. Even some of his friends would tell you he can be stubborn, defensive in attitude and dismissive of fools. On the other hand, he is warm, generous, compassionate, and has time for anyone.
It is perhaps surprising that he could ever have been dismissed as one-dimensional, given the contradictions and vagaries of his upbringing. He had to battle his way to the very top of world football after being born into a poor, broken home, with no father by his side for his formative years. But he would overcome all the obstacles to reach the very top of his profession and always remain a truly nice guy. All in all, no mean achievement.
Ryan Giggs is a winner – always was, from the very first day he kicked a football – and a man who gets what he wants. He is driven by a desire for perfection and the goal of being the best. So where do all these complexities of character and ambition come from? It's easy to guess – it was down to his childhood in Wales, the love-hate relationship he 'enjoyed' with his rugby playing, womanising, boozing father over the years and the move to Manchester. It was also due to the bond he has always shared with his mother and subsequently Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United and a surrogate father figure during the early days of their relationship and of Giggs's footballing career.
Giggs weighed 7lb when he was born Ryan Joseph Wilson in Cardiff on 29 November 1973, to labourer and rugby-playing father, Danny Wilson, and children's nurse and cook mother, Lynne Ceri Giggs. The couple met when they were still at school and by the time Ryan arrived on the scene, they were both still only seventeen.
Lynne was Welsh and hailed from the more tranquil Pentrebane in west Cardiff; Danny was born to a Welsh mother and a father from Sierra Leone, and would become a promising halfback with Cardiff Rugby Union Club. His mother Winnie – a hospital cleaner – and Danny senior – a merchant seaman – hailed from the then rough dockland area known as Tiger Bay.
Ryan's first home would be with his mum and his dad on the Ely council estate. The surname on his birth certificate was registered as Giggs, and his mother gave her parents' address in Pentrebane. The space where his father's name should have been entered was left blank.
The relationship between Lynne and Danny hardly augured well from the start. Inevitably, there were arguments as money was tight and they were very young to be coping with a baby. And they wanted different things. Lynne was a reserved girl who wanted stability; Danny was more rough and ready – he was handsome and would become known for his eye for the girls. She had no time for clubs and discos; he loved nothing more than a night on the town.
It was a potentially explosive mix – looking at it, even on paper you would say they were hardly suited from the start. And so it would prove. They would never marry and life was tough: at times, Lynne worked two jobs, and had to rely on her parents to look after Ryan.
That was the one solid base the youngster had throughout his life – the love, care and reliability of his maternal grandparents, Dennis and Margaret. In reality, he would alternate his time as he grew up between staying with his parents in Cardiff and with Dennis and Margaret in Pentrebane. He would become a regular sight in the district as he played with a football and a rugby ball for hours on end outside his grandparents' home.
Staying with them provided him with the stability he needed and which he was often denied when his dad was home. The rows between Danny and Lynne would worsen as the years rolled by and their relationship was in no way cemented when another son, Rhodri, was born three years after Ryan. Indeed, Ryan admitted that the arguments took on a more unpleasant aspect – not just shouting and crying – but 'physical'. Visits from the local constabulary weren't uncommon. In fact, after Rhodri was born, Danny would be arrested after 'one particularly bad fight' and told to get out by Lynne.
Ryan admitted that as he grew up and came to realise the way his father treated his mother, he found he liked him less and less. He was a self-confessed 'mummy's boy' and drifted apart from Danny, rarely talking to him as he grew from boy to man.
In his 2005 autobiography, Ryan described his relationship with his father in these terms: 'I have to admit that at one time I did look up to my dad ... It wasn't until we moved to Manchester that I realised the full extent of the rotten life my dad gave her [Lynne]. He was a real rogue, and a ladies man.' He also revealed that his father 'didn't exactly set the right sort of example.'
The growing rift would lead to Ryan eventually changing his name from Wilson to Giggs when he was sixteen. He would take the decision then, two years after his parents' separation, so 'the world would know he was his mother's son'. The rift would also, inevitably maybe, lead to him becoming a more inward-looking, insular boy. On the plus side, it also made him more determined not to be like his father (whom he considered a failure for wasting his talent) and set him on a path to find perfection in his own career. Ryan would also admit, 'I didn't set out purposely to be different to my dad, but it influenced me subconsciously. He had a great talent and that was wasted. People tell me he was the greatest player they've seen.'
With his troubled early background, it was little wonder Ryan Giggs would suffer something of an identity crisis and strive to find himself in later years. Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson would play a vital role in helping him come to terms with his life and himself. Like a surrogate father and family, Sir Alex and the cosseted world of United provided him with the background he had in some ways been denied as a boy.
Ryan went to Hwyel Dda infant school in Ely and remembers his time there not for playing football – he never played for the school team – but for learning the Welsh national anthem 'Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau' ('Land Of My Fathers').
One day in 1979 he came home from school and found his mother and father deep in conversation. Danny had been offered the chance to switch rugby codes – to swap from union to league – by Swinton, a team in Salford, a few miles north of Manchester. It would be the turning point of his life, a move for the better, although both Ryan and his mother Lynne were against it at the time. It would mean moving away from her mother and father, his beloved granddad Dennis and grandmother Margaret.
There were tears, but Danny insisted they had to go. He talked of it being a new start for them all; the money was good and he could make it in the big time.
The family moved into a house owned by the club and Danny was welcomed as a conquering hero. He settled quickly at Swinton RL club, on the then princely salary of £10,000 a year and the red-brick semi thrown in. Even now, he is fondly remembered as a 'great' for his exploits on the field for Swinton by the club's fans. As one fan writing recently on the Swinton Lions website said: 'Surely Manchester United FC should contribute to our stadium fund! After all, if the club hadn't signed the great Danny Wilson way back in 1979 then in all likelihood Ryan Giggs would have been lost to football and Manchester United and would probably have pursued a career in Rugby Union.'
Ryan and brother Rhodri didn't settle as easily as their father. Growing up in multiracial Cardiff, they had never thought about the colour of their skin. In north Manchester, they had to learn how to cope with being called 'nigger' and being laughed at and abused. Ryan would later admit it was a shock to hear the abuse when he attended Grosvenor Road School in Swinton, but that he dealt with it by dismissing it with contempt – unlike Rhodri, who would regularly get into fights with his abusers.
Giggsy would elucidate more about his struggles in an interview with the Daily Mirror in 2008, saying: 'My dad was quite a famous rugby player where we were growing up. Everyone knew that, and I used to get quite a bit of stick at school because of the colour of his skin. It's obviously not nice, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. My way of coping was to keep it to myself. I was a quiet, shy boy and what I should have done is tell the teachers.' But he didn't even tell his parents. 'It made me feel that I was different, because I felt that I should be fitting in with all these other kids at the school and I couldn't. It was especially difficult at my school. There just weren't that many pupils from different backgrounds. We didn't have many Chinese, Indian or black kids. If there had been six or seven kids in the class who were black or mixed race that would have helped.'
Ryan found another way of deflecting the abuse and getting his schoolmates to see him in a different light – through his sporting prowess. He excelled at rugby and football. His progress in rugby surprised everyone – apart from his father – as he was such a sprightly, wiry figure. Yet he stuck with the game all the way through comprehensive school from the age of ten to fourteen, and turned out for local side Langworthy and Salford Boys. He did well at stand-off and out on the wing – and was also good enough to represent Lancashire, playing one game for the county.
It was a busy time, but somehow he had enough energy in his tank to keep his hand in at football, playing up front for Sunday League outfit Deans FC and representing Salford Boys at football as well as rugby.
It was at Deans that he would make an impact – even though his first game for them ended in a crushing 9–0 loss – and at Deans that he would meet the man who would put him on the first rung of the professional ladder. The team was coached by milkman Dennis Schofield and he would certainly come to deliver on the promise he made to Giggs to help him make the big time.
Schofield knew a quality player and a star in the making when he saw one – and at the age of thirteen, he secured Ryan a trial at Manchester City. Even then our boy was a Red through and through – he used to watch Manchester United from the Stretford End when he wasn't playing rugby or football – and he hardly endeared himself to the City youth team bosses by wearing a red United top for training!
Nevertheless, his talent shone through and did the talking for him, so he played one game for City youth when he was thirteen. But for Ryan, it was one game too many – his heart lay across the city, at Old Trafford, and he still dreamed of the chance of making it at United. His dream became reality, thanks to another man who had his interests at heart – a newsagent by the name of Harry Wood.
Wood was a steward at Old Trafford and he persuaded Alex Ferguson to take a look at the boy. Ryan headed to Old Trafford for a week-long trial. But Ferguson caught a glimpse of his genius before the trial and is said to have made up his mind that he would sign him right there and then. Giggs was playing in a match for Salford Boys against a United under-15s side at The Cliff, United's then training ground, and he scored a hat trick. As he played, Ryan spotted the United boss watching with interest from his office window.
Ryan believed he had done enough already, but still attended the trial. And on his 14th birthday, his dream became reality. Returning home from school, he saw a gold Mercedes parked outside the house. He hurried anxiously inside and saw Sir Alex Ferguson sitting in an armchair, sipping a cup of tea out of some of the best china Lynne could find. Ferguson didn't beat about the bush, quickly offering his protégé a two-year deal as an associate schoolboy with Manchester United.
Ryan was fourteen, captain of England Schoolboys, and he had signed for Manchester United. The boy with the tough start in life now had the world at his feet ... literally. He was about to embark on the most glittering career ever in British football: a legend was in the making.CHAPTER 2
'I shall always remember my first sight of him, floating over the pitch at The Cliff so effortlessly that you would have sworn his feet weren't touching the ground.'
Sir Alex Ferguson, Managing My Life
'When Ryan ran, he ran like the wind. You couldn't hear him, he was that light on his feet. No disrespect to Beckham and Scholesy, but he's the only one who was always going to be a superstar.'
Former United skipper, Steve Bruce
Ryan officially joined Manchester United FC on 9 July 1990, when he was sixteen – and he turned professional on 29 November 1990, his 17th birthday. Alex Ferguson knew he had a special talent on his hands, but resisted the heavy temptation to throw the wonderboy into the first team at once. Instead, he decided on a softly-softly approach with the lad who would become a United legend – and in doing so, formulated a programme of development that he would employ with countless other young stars during the next 20 years of his reign.
He wrapped Ryan in cotton wool, using him sparingly and keeping him well away from the wolves of the media, whom he did not trust back then (and for the most part still doesn't now). Ferguson would tell the pack to back off; that, no, Ryan was not available for a chat after a particularly inspiring showing, and, no, he would not be doing columns, adverts or promotions until Ferguson, the manager, decided the time was right for him to do so.
Fourteen years later Ferguson would sum up the methodology he used in his treatment of Ryan and other so-called 'fledglings' over the years when he spoke about how new boy Wayne Rooney would be handled. He said, 'We won't ask the lad to climb a mountain tomorrow. The important thing is that he is a major player in five years' time. We have a job to do to make sure he fulfils his potential. We have a reputation for looking after young players here. He will get the same protection the others have had.'
Of course, United were more wary than other clubs may have been with Giggs – little wonder, given they'd had the original whiz kid, George Best, under their wings. After Best's death, many fans believe that United, as a club, still felt some guilt that they had not done enough to help him, and to get help for him. It hadn't been the done thing in the Matt Busby era: you didn't talk through problems, you just fronted it out.
Busby was hardly a therapist or a psychologist, and he never wanted to be. Ferguson was from the same down-to-earth Scottish upbringing – the idea that 'we're all big boys who don't cry' – but, to his credit, he was aware that Ryan Giggs would need his attention and his protection. He knew there would be comparisons with Best and that some pundits would sniff out Ryan's background, find out that he was from a broken home and suggest he could easily go the way of the late, great Georgie Boy and so he determined, from day one, that it would not happen: that Ryan would not be George Best, Mark 2. He would be Ryan Giggs, Mark 1.
Paul Parker, the former United full back who played in the United team of Ryan's early career, summed up Ferguson's influence: 'The boss brought Ryan through from a troubled childhood and always saw him as one of his own. Ryan [also] got very close to Paul Ince, and Incey took him under his wing. Ryan would also socialise quite a lot with Lee Sharpe. But he was always his own man and made his own decisions.
Excerpted from Giggsy by Frank Worrall. Copyright © 2010 Frank Worrall. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
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