China in your hand: Giggsy’s dreams shattered

Step back in time with Gary Parkinson to the 1980s and a curly-haired teenage hopeful...

It’s November 29, 1987. A gloomy Sunday evening in Salford, the night already long drawn in, but one household is happy, and it’s about to get better. 

Gradually getting used to life away from his beloved Cardiff, Ryan Wilson is upstairs, marking his 14th birthday by listening to the Radio 1 chart show. Top of the hit parade for the third week is the T’Pau power ballad China In Your Hand, which Ryan quite likes, despite himself. 

There’s something about the lyrics that strike a hormonally-affected young man: it seems as if Carol Decker is talking about Ryan’s life, albeit couched in the feminine second person. “It was a dream she had on a scheme she had, told in a foreign land,” she purrs. 

And as Ryan sits listening to his Binatone bedside radio, there’s a knock on the door. 

It’s only Alex Ferguson and Manchester United scout Joe Brown, come to sign him at the first opportunity, and on associate schoolboy terms rather than YTS. “And three years today, you can turn professional,” beams the avuncular Ferguson.

Upstairs, the plucked strings and pounding piano seem to sound their assent: “To take life on earth to a second birth, and the man was in command.” He’d played well in that trial last year, scoring a hat-trick against United’s U15s at The Cliff, but young Ryan can’t help being impressed by the arrival on his doorstep of Mr Alex Ferguson, the actual manager of actual Manchester United… 

...fast-forward 29 years. Ryan Giggs is sat in his car at Carrington, absorbing the news that he will be passed over once more, with Jose Mourinho set to be appointed. He turns the key in his top-of-the-Range-Rover and the radio comes on – the oldies station he’d been sneakily listening to on the way in.

On comes Carol: “To take life on earth to a second birth, and the man was in command. It was a flight on wings of a young girl’s dreams, that flew too far away…

Transported back to that Salford bedroom, Ryan realises he should have listened to Carol’s warning, which adds in bombast what it lacks in subtlety. 

Don’t push too far, your dreams are china in your hand,” she insists, her Charity Shield-shaped earrings bobbing with the earnest motion of her head. 

Don’t wish too hard, because they may come true and you can’t help them.” Ryan did indeed achieve his ambition of coaching his beloved United, but only in the intermission between two unloved interlopers to whom he was the silent sidekick. 

He had signed for an underachieving club that hadn’t won the League in 20 years. He had helped them to win 34 trophies (including 13 league titles). He had helped to turn them into a globe-straddling pre-eminence that had now become too big for him to manage.

You don’t know what you might have set upon yourself…” 

He guns the engine and drives away.

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