Last Sunday footballer Ryan Giggs was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year, weather conditions in the teacup have returned to normal now but for a while you could have been forgiven for thinking he had been implicated in the murder of the first born.
Within hours of the announcement being made the radio phone ins were abuzz with people calling in to say he was too successful, eleven Premiership medals and two European Cup winners medals and counting, played for the wrong team and anyway footballers shouldn’t win awards because they’re all millionaires. The only exception to this rule is when they’re called George best, who, by the way never won the BBC’s endorsement as a sports personality because they gave the award to Princess Anne instead, another injustice to make people who call radio talk shows hot under the collar.
George Best seemed to be a sort of totem for the people who had decided to use part of their Monday morning bemoaning who won a sporting popularity contest live on air. As one unusually articulate, by the admittedly low standards set by his contemporaries, caller put it Giggs wasn’t ‘fit to lace the drinks of good old Bestie.’
Maybe not, and for me that’s why he deserved to win the prize. Listen to a certain type of football supporter and sooner or later and he will tell you there are two types of footballer, the ones who are ‘characters’ and all the rest. By this standard Best was a character and Ryan Giggs belongs to the amorphous category of ‘all the rest.’
They haven’t, I suppose read Gordon Burn’s ‘Best and Edwards’, perhaps one of the cleverest books written about football in recent years in which he tells the contrasting life stories of Duncan Edwards and George Best. Both of men played for Manchester United and could create something close to art with a ball at their feet. Edwards died young in the Munich air crash, Best lived long enough to drink himself to death, and by doing so became a ‘character’ in the minds of people who don’t think about football or anything else any more than they have to.
They make, in the case of Best and the many other footballers who have followed the same sad route since, of seeing a man in the grip of an addiction that would ultimately kill him for the life and soul of the party. Giggs, by happy contrast, seems at ease with his prodigious talent and the fame and fortune that go with it.
I don’t usually subscribe to the notion that success on the stage or the sports field is a qualification for being a role model, but in the case of Ryan Giggs I am willing to make an exception. He seems to see playing football as a lucky break for an ordinary, in the best sense of the word, young man rather than a free pass to tabloid notoriety.
Best died a drink sodden wreck who failed to do justice to his remarkable talents, Duncan Edwards died too young in a plane crash on a snowbound German runway, if you want to take a guess at how he might have turned out and how he might have carried his talents in an age when footballers are tabloid clowns, you should look at a quiet hero called Ryan Giggs.