The long and the short of it

January 1, 2000



Ken Masters’


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It is Monday evening and I have Ollie’s Blackpool v Chelsea on the box, providing a refreshing background to my thoughts at the end of another breaking news day in what is proving to be one of the most notable seasons in the history of Bristol Rovers.



 Change upon change seems to be the order of the times in football. It was not always the case and there are many examples of longevity in the history of the game. Having said that, my Wikipedia research shows that Bill Lambton was one of football’s shortest serving managers; he was in charge of Scunthorpe United for just three days in April 1959 and prior to that he had been in charge at Leeds United for just four months.

Then there was Brian Clough. Wikipedia tells us that ‘Cloughie’ was sacked by Leeds on 12th September 1974 after only 44 days in the job. It was reported at the time that he alienated many of the Leeds star players including Johnny Giles, Norman Hunter and Billy Bremner. Clough had a different view of events. He went on record as saying that his short reign resulted from a run of bad results. It seems to me that both accounts had an element of truth in them.

Perhaps change has always been the order of the day in a professional sports which generates such passion with success providing for so much excitement on the one hand and failure much disappointment and misery on the other. Nonetheless, there is an underlying belief by wily old campaigners that what goes around comes around but how long can that take I ask myself.

Click on to the FIFA website for the long of it and to read of a player much admired in this country and the world over. Yet one more year to contract for Ryan Giggs prompted the following:

“In one sense, there was an element of symmetry to it. Last night, 20 years on, Ryan Giggs’ 863rd Manchester United appearance ended just as his first had: in defeat.

 Yet although Chelsea simply succeeded in doing to the Red Devils legend what Everton had to a skinny 17 year old on 2nd March 1991, there seemed something ill fitting about the outcome at Stamford Bridge. After all, if there is one thing Giggs has perfected in the intervening decades,it is the art of winning.”

 Jose Mourinho said in a tribute to the evergreen 37 year old: “The proof is in the medals.” Certainly, those winner’s baubles -11 in the Premier League, eight from domestic cups and two in the UEFA Champions League – have established Giggs as the most decorated player in English football history.

Sir Alex Ferguson has described him as the greatest player of the Premier League era, while United’s fans recently bestowed an even greater compliment by voting him the club’s greatest ever player. Giggs, typically unassuming, said that he “genuinely couldn’t believe” he had beaten the likes of George Best and Bobby Charlton. But few elsewhere were surprised.

Everton captain Phil Neville said of his former team mate: “He’s my hero. I know United have had some great players, but he’s won everything, he’s broken almost every record, so he stands alone now as probably one of the greatest players who has ever lived. Even now, he is still putting in unbelievable performances. If young players need to know how to live their lives, they should look no furtherthan Ryan Giggs. He is the real football superstar.”

Longevity undoubtedly helped him edge ahead of players such as Best, Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo, whose stars burned brightly at Old Trafford, but over a shorter period. He was eligible to represent England, and EIEA understands Bryan Robson made early overtures to persuade him to do just that. However, the Cardiff born youngster’s mind was set on turning out for Wales, a choice that has left even some of his fellow countrymen to wonder what might have been.

 “He’s proud of his Welsh background like I am,” said Clayton Blackmore, who played alongside Giggs for both club and country. “But if he’d played for England during the seven or eight years when he was at his absolute best, he’d perhaps have been the greatest player on the world stage.”

I can’t help wondering if the fortune of England would have been different if Giggs had donned the white shirt rather than the red of Wales. Would there have been World Cup glory for the player and for England. I think so but of course we shall never know, we can only think that perhaps Ryan would have made a difference.

 Giggs himself claims to have no regrets, once telling that he had never questioned that early decision. “The World Cup is special – your first memory of football as a boy is the World Cup,” he admitted. “But I can’t complain at all. I’ve had a good career and I wouldn’t swap it for anyone else’s.”

A good career and a long one; I can’t think that a 17 year old at a Premier League club today or with a Football League club, for that matter, will still be playing for the very same club in 2031.


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