Ryan Giggs: One-on-One
Ryan Giggs is something of a paradox. On the one hand, he's the oldest 28-year-old footballer you're ever likely to meet and, after more than 10 years of club and international football, he's got the caps, the medals and the testimonial money to prove it. On the other hand, he still has the boyish charm and good looks of the fresh-faced 17-year-old who first burst onto the scene before the Premiership even existed, looking like a throwback to a 1950s outside-left. He still plays like one too.
There's the odd fleck of grey in the jet-black hair now, but as he strolls casually into the room decked in jeans and trainers and with stubble bordering on a full beard, you wouldn't know you were in the presence of somebody who's been there and got the (many) replica T-shirts. He's also unassuming and friendly almost to a fault.
Maybe it helps that the main topic of conversation today is not centred around the reasons for Manchester United's failure last season. Instead, he seems rather pleased to be talking about Elvis, women and cars. Well, what man wouldn't?
When you first came into the United team, you were a teenage pin-up getting thousands of letters a week from young girls – how many do you get these days?
Pete Danson, Middlesbrough
Not a lot [laughs]. No, I think when you're 19 or 20 things are a lot different. As you get older you probably have a different fanbase. Teenagers will probably be looking at Becks and other younger players. I'm the housewives' and grannies' favourite now.
What's the strangest encounter you've had with a fan?
Andy Monk, via e-mail
Probably when I had a bit of a stalker when I first got into the team. It wasn't that scary or anything. She used to turn up at every game and stand at the front of the railings by the coach and just stare at me. But it was no problem. I was in good company, actually, because she stalked Ayrton Senna and Michael Jackson as well – it was the three of us.
Who is the toughest opponent you've ever come up against, and why?
Darren Hawkes, Manchester
There have been a few actually. Internationally I'd probably say Paolo Maldini when I played against Italy for Wales. And when I was first coming into the Manchester United team the likes of Lee Dixon and Earl Barrett were very experienced right-backs. I always enjoyed playing against them because it was always a test, but there's never been a defender I've felt has always got my number. Not really.
I heard a story that when you were a youngster, you asked Fergie if you could have a club car...
Colin Mason, via e-mail
[Laughs] That was a big wind-up, really. It was when I first got in the team and someone told me that when you make 25 appearances you're allowed a club car. I'd made 20 or so appearances so I asked the likes of Bryan Robson and Steve Bruce: "Do you think I'm OK to get a club car?" And they said: "Yeah, you should go up and ask the gaffer. You're a first-team member – you're entitled. Ask the manager: he'll get it for you, no problem." So I went up and asked him if I was eligible for a club car, and as I asked him I could see his face turning purple. He said something like, "Club car? You've got more chance of getting a club bike!" And when I walked out all the lads were there listening at the door, laughing.
What's the biggest row you've ever had with Fergie?
Leon Crowley, London
There's been a few. Probably the biggest was when he took me off in the Champions League game against Juventus away a few years ago [United lost 1-0 to an Alen Boksic goal]. We had a big row at half-time and he took me off. Obviously I didn't agree with the decision.
Do you become less scare�d of Fergie over time?
Steve Wyatt, Northwich
Not really, no, although I think scared is the wrong word. You just respect him and know to abide by his rules. I've had enough experiences over the years to know that if you don't he'll come down on you.
How did you feel when you heard that Jaap Stam was off to Lazio? Come on, you've missed him, haven't you?
Rob Dunlop, via e-mail
I got on really well with Jaap and he was a brilliant player, but you can't argue with the manager's decisions. Obviously Jaap had three great years at the club. Yeah, we were surprised because normally players come in and out in pre-season, other than the odd occasion. It was just into the season so it was a bit of a surprise.
Although United have won the Treble, will you need to win the European Cup at least once more to be remembered up there with the great Milan, Liverpool and Real Madrid teams?
Derek Fox, Dagenham
Yeah, I think so. What we achieved was a great achievement and nobody can take it away from us, but I think we need to go on and keep winning in Europe to be regarded alongside the likes of Real Madrid and AC Milan. We do need to win it again.
How do you feel when you see your club team-mates competing in international tournaments such as the World Cup?
Paul McCarthy, via e-mail
It is hard, obviously. There's no jealousy or anything like that. It's just up to me and the rest of the Welsh team to try even harder to get to the finals of a major championship. There are a lot of good players in the team who deserve to be playing on stages such as the World Cup and the European Championships.
How much harder is it for you to gain the individual recognition you deserve when you don't get to showcase your talents on the biggest international stages?
Tony Reid, Horsham
I feel it is difficult. Obviously, a lot of great players carve their reputations on the international stage. Obviously they do well for their clubs but in just one World Cup or one European Championship you can seal your reputation for life. I've never played in an international championship. With the amount of European games I've played for United you can still make an impression, but it does make it harder.
How did you feel when Paul Bodin skied that penalty for Wales against Romania?
Jonathan Chewins, via e-mail
It's a long time ago, is that. Obviously it was disappointing because it's the closest we've ever been and after that we just went downhill really. We were probably one kick away from getting to the World Cup. That team had so many good players, so many experienced players, but a lot of them were coming to the end of their careers. Since then, it's been all about rebuilding and we've never even come close. But I never look back at that game and think I've missed my chance. Maybe when I've finished my career I'll look back and think that was my big chance, but while there's still a chance of us qualifying, I'll never think that.
What impact has Mark Hughes had on the Wales team since he became the manager?
Ivor Griffiths, Pontypool
He's had a great impact. We went from nearly qualifying for the World Cup in 1994 to not even coming close in 1998 and 2002, and Mark's brought stability and got the players playing for each other and playing for him. And winning. We've been on a great run lately. The last 12 or so games there have been signs that we can come close next time, although obviously we've still got to improve enormously.
Has the emergence of new Welsh 'Golden Boys' – players like Simon Davies and Craig Bellamy – taken the heat off you a little?
Scott Nightingale, Brighton
No, I wouldn't say it's taken the heat off me at all, because there's always pressure on me when I play for Wales. �But it certainly helps when you've got so many younger players who are capable of scoring goals and making goals – the likes of Craig Bellamy, Simon Davies and John Hartson, when he's fit and playing well. If John Hartson plays well there's nobody who can handle him. There's a lot of promise there. Mix that with the experienced players like Gary Speed and myself and things are definitely looking up. I wouldn't necessarily say it was the best Wales team I've played in, because when I first came into the squad we had Ian Rush, Mark Hughes, Dean Saunders and Neville Southall – they were something special – but since then it's the best group of players we've had available.
Do you know all the words to Land Of Our Fathers? If so, a rendition please!
James Pritchard, via e-mail
[Laughs] I do, yeah. And no. No way!
Have you really got a Welsh crest tiled into the bottom of your swimming pool?
Katy Davies, Cardiff
Yeah. [Long silence]. It is true. [Mischievous laughter – could Giggsy be fibbing?]
How much truth is there in the rumour that you chose to play for Wales after Graham Taylor told you wouldn't get in the England team ahead of Tony Daley and Andy Sinton?
Martin Reddish, Runcorn
[Laughs] That is showing my age, that – Tony Daley and Andy Sinton. No, no. I've never heard that one. Absolute rubbish!
What's the most ridiculous rumour/story you've heard or read about yourself?
John Braithwaite, via e-mail
That Graham Taylor one [laughs]. The one about the goldfish is probably the worst. There was this thing on Soccer AM where people called in and they had a minute or so to tell a ridiculous story they've heard about a footballer. One day there was a story about me; that my stairs were made of goldfish, or there were fish going all the way up the stairs or something. It went on for months and months. It's not true, obviously.
Tell us your funniest/strangest Eric Cantona story. Is it true you thought it was one of your team-mates winding you up when Eric returned your call about playing in your testimonial?
Mick Lewis, Colwyn Bay
There aren't any funny stories about Eric, really. There are all these rumours because he was different on the pitch and he said a few strange things off it, but he was just like any other member of the team. Within the dressing room he was no different from anyone else. Regarding the testimonial, I'd spoken to his wife a couple of times at home but he was working. All he did when he called me back was ask me when it was and told me he'd be happy to play, which I was delighted about.
How did you feel about the negative reaction to you, a wealthy man, having a testimonial at the age of 27?
Gareth Burley, via e-mail
I think a lot more was made of it by the press than by genuine fans. Every fan I spoke to had no problem with it. I mean, 67,000 people turned up. It was mainly the press and a few politicians jumping on the bandwagon.
How would you describe yourself as a person?
Rebecca Lowe, Derby
I'm quite confident but quite shy as well. I'm quite shy unless I know someone well. With the team I'm one of the jokers but other than that I'm quite shy really.
Apparently you fell off a table doing your Elvis dance at about 5am on the morning after the 1999 European Cup Final win. What happened, what were your injuries and are Elvis impressions a bit of a speciality of yours?
Si Johnson, via e-mail
Yeah, I did fall off. I can't remember much of it. It was about six o'clock in the morning and I was a bit the worse for wear. We were all taking it in turns to do daft celebrations and singing different songs and I got up on these two tables – one foot on each. Everyone could see that it was gonna go any minute, apart from me. And when it did go I just fell flat on my face. I just got straight back up and started doing it again, stupidly. I didn't have injuries the next morning, thankfully.
What's the worst chat-up line you've ever heard used by a team-mate?
Eddie McCormack, Glasgow
There aren't any from my current team-mates but when I was an apprentice there was this lad who really fancied himself with the girls – he was a really funny lad actually. We were on this tour in Ireland and he went up to this girl, gave her 10 pence and said: "Ring your mum, tell her you're not coming home tonight." And it worked actually [raucous laughter]! But I've never used it myself.
Ryan, any thoughts of settling down and having kids like many of your team-mates?
Simone Powell, via e-mail
Yep, I just haven't met the right girl at the moment. But definitely, yeah.
Do you prefer going out with women who don't like or know anything about football?
Kylie Goodwin, Rochdale
No, they've got to know a little bit about football. It winds me up a bit if they don't know anything.
What are the main topics of conversation in the United dressing room other than football?
Tim Greenhall, via e-mail
Everything really. Whatever's happening in the world. With the economic problems in Argentina, we ask Seba what's been going on. Diego Forlan also, because he's just come from there. He translates for Veron because he speaks really good English. We asked Ruud what that right-wing politician who was shot in Holland was like. Plus girls, cars, those sort of things.
Why are you such good mates with Nicky Butt? What's the biggest practical joke you've played? Is it true that the two of you used to gang up on Phil Neville and beat him up in his hotel room on away trips?
Red Forever, via e-mail
I think we just share the same sense of humour. We've played together since we were 13 or 14 in the youth team, have the same background, more or less, and just get on really well. We just click.
And the biggest practical joke? No, I couldn't really mention it, although it probably involved Phil Neville, come to think of it – putting things in his bed before he went to sleep and stuff like that. No, we never beat him up. I wouldn't do that [sarcastic laughter suggests Butty and Giggsy used to give Pip a right good braying].
Of those people you've roomed with on away trips over the years, who has had the most annoying habits and what are they? What would they say about your annoying habits?
Matthew Franklin, Oxford
Well, I've only had two room-mates really: Paul Ince and Andy Cole. Incey's worst habit was probably going to bed too late. He used to go to bed about two o'clock in the morning and then wake up at 11.30am. He used to watch telly, be on the phone or whatever, just generally being loud. Probably what annoyed him most was me getting up early. I'd go to bed about 11.30pm and get up about eight or nine. Coley was just quiet. Immaculate. You'd be talking to him one minute, then you'd look round and he'd be asleep.
You're known for the odd extravagant goal celebration. In hindsight, which one do you most regret and why?
Mickey Farley, Guildford
Definitely the Arsenal semi-final when I took my shirt off, revealing the rug. I don't know what came over me. I don't know why I did it. I've never done it in my life before. Although that routine I used to do with Paul Ince was probably on a par. I was young then, though. I had no excuses for the Arsenal goal.
What do you make of the current resurgence of violence among football fans?
Peter Steele, Chesterfield
I think it's always been there. There's a m�inority of fans from all the teams who go away from home and meet the home fans. It's all organised. There's a lot more money at stake now and the rivalry's getting bigger and bigger.
Everyone knows you love cars. How many do you have now, how many have you owned altogether and what's the most you've ever had at one time?
Greg Woods, via e-mail
I've only got one at the moment – a bit of a poor show, I know! I've got a Mercedes. I think as a young lad it was just something I was always interested in. The most I've had at one time is three but, I mean, a lot of the stories about my cars are rubbish. I've read stories where apparently I've still got cars that I sold five or six years ago. One story said I had 15 cars and I've not even had 15 cars in my whole life.
A big part of your game is your pace – when you move into your thirties and maybe lose a yard, do you think you'll be able to stay at the top level?
Mal Rutherford, Manchester
I think it's up to me to adapt. Obviously my main asset is my pace and as soon as you start losing it you need to adapt and try different things, but I'm sure I'll be able to do that.
Later in your career would you ever consider dropping down a division to play for, say, Sheffield United, or would you bow out at the top?
Jamie Hamilton, Sheffield
I don't know. You never know what's gonna happen. It depends how long you're able to stay at the top and what sort of offers you get. But you obviously try and stay at the top for as long as you can. I think footballers tend to go on for a little bit longer now, because they're generally fitter. If you look at Teddy Sheringham, Lauren Blanc and Denis Irwin, they're still playing at the top into their late thirties and I think if you look after yourself you've got a good chance.
It's a bit premature, but have you had any ideas about what you might do when you finish playing?
Andy Farmer, Banbury
No, I haven't got a clue. Not a clue. Whatever it is it'll probably be in football. Since I left school I've only ever been involved with football. I don't know – coach, manager, whatever. But I think it's getting harder to become a manager. All the top managers have served apprenticeships at other clubs, not many come in at the top and I think it would be quite difficult for players these days to go to a lower league club and try to build a reputation without much money. With the amount of money we earn now, there's just no need to put yourself under the stress that managers go through – and the stick they get.
Interview: Louis Massarella. Portrait: Stuart Wood. From the September 2002 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe!