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Ryan Giggs ‘a credit to Manchester and his club’

As Manchester United’s Ryan Giggs, the most decorated player in English football history, turns 40 on Friday, Andy Mitten talks two of the Welshman’s schoolboy teammates and the Manchester City scout who first spotted his talent.
Handout images for sports story on Ryan Giggs. (Handout images courtesy-Adie Mike)
Handout images for sports story on Ryan Giggs. (Handout images courtesy-Adie Mike)

Meadow Lane was stunned into silence.

“Ryan shouted urgently for the ball from the edge of our penalty area,” recalls goalkeeper Richard Bibby.

“We were playing for Greater Manchester Boys against Nottinghamshire. Two thousand people came to see the game at Notts County’s ground. I threw the ball, Ryan controlled it, then ran the length of the pitch, taking players on, before drilling a shot past their keeper and into the top corner.

“His teammates were shocked, the other team were shocked and the crowd was shocked. It was the best goal I’d ever seen.”

Bibby was a talented goalkeeper for Victoria Boys in Stretford, Manchester. Good enough to be selected for Trafford Boys, Manchester Boys (with Ryan) and be offered a two-year contract with Manchester City. This writer played in the same team as Bibby as a young teenager.

We played against Ryan Giggs, or Wilson as he was known then, several times. We were usually on the winning side.

I was a poor player in a strong team and was substituted every time I was asked to mark Wilson. He was so fast that I could not get near him.

I did my best, but it was an unedifying experience seeing my father wince as the winger repeatedly ran past me and at me, before crossing a ball in.

Bibby was different. One of the four standout players in the league alongside Wilson, Adie Mike and Simon Davies, he was a solid goalkeeper whose progress would only be hindered by height.

He realised that may be an issue when he lined up for City in a testimonial for club legend Ken Barnes at Maine Road.

“Peter Schmeichel was in net for United and I looked up in the tunnel and thought, ‘he’s massive,’” recalls Bibby, who was 5ft 9ins.

Bibby first played against Giggs as a 10 year old.

“He was very, very fast,” he recalls. “Then we were both selected for Manchester and became teammates. He was our best player, he knew it and we knew it, but there was never any attitude with him.

“I never saw him criticise another player, nor look down at one – and that despite other players looking up to him.”

Bibby was devastated when City released him.

“It was hard to get such a knock at 18,” he says, but, along with his parents who went onto provide lodgings for young City players, wrote to all 92 league clubs asking for a trial.

“I got 10 responses, eight of which said ‘thanks but no thanks’ he recalls. “I had trials with Bury and Stockport County, but no more.”

Then Bradford City approached him and offered him a year’s contract, but when he air kicked a pass back from defender Dean Richards during a reserve game which led to a goal, Bibby realised that a life as a professional footballer was not to be.

He moved into business and now runs a taxi company with 110 cars in Manchester.

Simon Davies, then a 13-year-old star with Allostock, a village team from the nearby county of Cheshire who found themselves playing hardened young Manchester sides, did make it.

Signed to Manchester United as a schoolboy, he was part of the famous class of ’92 and progressed to the first team where he played 13 times, before a career in the lower leagues.

He is now the assistant manager of Manchester City’s reserve team.

Adie Mike was the final junior star of the league. A Manchester City fan raised in the Moss Side area close to City’s old stadium but schooled in Old Trafford close to United, he first played against Giggs aged nine, with Mike representing Flixton Juniors.

“Ryan was always the player we’d try to keep quiet,” he recalls. “But that was impossible, he was so fast and skilful.

“You could tell that, barring injury, he’d make it as a professional footballer – I saw him do things for United that I saw him doing at as a boy.”

Mike, Giggs and Bibby would soon become teammates.

“We played together for Manchester Boys, and then Ryan and I were both selected for England,” Mike says. “We’d travel down to London together and we got on well. I’d go out with Ryan socially and would visit his youth club in Boothstown. Everyone knew who he was and that he was at United, but he was humble with it.”

Giggs and Nick Barmby – who went on to play for Tottenham Hotspur, Middlesbrough and England, among others – were the stars of Mike’s 1989 England Schoolboys team.

“Ryan was quiet, yet he was always involved in the dressing room banter,” recalls Mike. “He would hide the clothes of other players, yet nobody suspected him because he was so quiet. He’d always pleaded innocence, but we knew full well that he was guilty.”

“If you’d have asked me at 15 whether Ryan would still be playing beyond 35, I would have said ‘no’,” he says. “Yet he’s barely put any weight on since he was a boy. I wish he would have played for City, but then City weren’t always a stable club and there’s no way he would have had the same career that he had at United. He deserves all the success he’s had.”

Mike progressed himself. While Bibby was released from City, Mike was offered a two-year professional contract with the club and would play 15 times for the first team.

“I was at City until the manager Alan Ball told me that I didn’t fit into his plans,” Mike recalls.

“I’d been there so long that it hit me hard. I wasn’t completely surprised, but my career went downhill from then on.

“I played at Doncaster and Lincoln, but fell out of love with football. After playing semi-professional at several clubs, I thought ‘there has to be more to life than this’. My career drifted and then I stopped playing. I was 27 and needed a hip replacement.”

Mike became a personal fitness instructor, but in 2011 started a private jet charter company that specialises in VIP trips to sports events. He has come into contact with several of the footballers he once played with and against.

All four players still work in Manchester, as does Eric Mollander, who has worked for City for 41 years as a scout, looking out for emerging talents and relying on a network of tips and contacts.

Mollander’s attention was brought to Giggs when the winger was just 10.

A friend ran the Deans’ junior team in Salford and suggested that Mollander went to “look at this little left winger”.

“Every time I see him play he reminds me of when I first saw him,” Mollander says. “Ryan was a younger, smaller version of what he is today. He was very, very quiet off the field, but on it Ryan showed us that wonderful left peg. He could swerve, weave and dribble.

“And boy did he have good pace.”

Mollander was so impressed that he approached Giggs’s dad and then informed City’s chief scout Ken Barnes, who immediately told him to bring Giggs down. Unlike now, when players can be signed aged nine, clubs could not sign players until they were 14.

“Ryan came to us for almost four years,” Mollander says. “He wore the blue of City, but I never once asked him who he supported.

“Ken Barnes would encourage that Ryan was invited to games and often the four of them would go: mum, dad and both boys.”

City offered Giggs a signing-on form on his 14th birthday, but United had stepped in with a personal visit from Sir Alex Ferguson.

“I was disappointed,” Mollander says. “I think that’s natural because I’d really grown to like Ryan and his family. But if a boy prefers to go to United rather than City, I never call United. And even though I’m a true Blue, United are a wonderful club who had an extremely successful manager.”

“Ryan is a great credit to himself, his family, to football and to Manchester United, his only professional club. His determination, modesty, and desire are a credit to himself and all those who have guided him throughout his career.”

“People use the word ‘great’ all too readily. But Ryan is a great player and a wonderful person who never gave me one bit of trouble in all those years.”

sports@thenational.ae

Follow us on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE

Updated: November 28, 2013 04:00 AM

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