Andy Mitten looks at Manchester United's Welsh connection
Will anyone ever eclipse the mark of legendary Red Devils winger Ryan Giggs
Manchester United play in Wales on Saturday, yet while some of the club’s greatest ever stars have been Welsh, United no longer have a senior Welsh player.
As football has become globalised, so the number of players from closer to home has declined in the Premier League.
Manchester United didn’t have one player from outside the Great Britain and Ireland until as recently as 1980. He was the elegant Serb midfielder Nikola Jovanovic, who promptly disappeared back behind the iron curtain with his club BMW.
As this is a Welsh newspaper, I thought I’d look at the Welsh connection following a conversation with Ryan Giggs last month. It went something like this.
“Ryan, you played in 963 competitive games for United’s first team, but how many games did you play for United overall?”
He didn’t know. And why would he?
Convinced that it was easily more than 1,000, I started to dig about. None of United’s official statistics sites had any such record, nor any books. I must have almost 200 United books, but such information was nowhere.
I asked around and was pointed to the redstat.co.uk website which I believe is done from Norway.
Within a few minutes I’d established that Giggs played his first game for United, a friendly for the youth team in May 1988 against Colchester, when one of his close friends was also on the bench. “Wow!” said Ryan. “Seriously. Brilliant.”
Giggs played 963 games and scored 168 goals between 1990 and 2014. No other United player comes close.
Growing up, I didn’t think that anyone would come close to Sir Bobby Charlton’s 759 games for United. Giggs annihilated it as he played on and on until his fifth decade. He also said recently that he enjoyed playing at 38 and 39 more than at any stage in his career.
The calculator came out as games were totted up from the 24 seasons where Giggs played games for United, the friendlies and reserves matches over a quarter of a century. Almost all of them were in open age matches against adults.
In total, Ryan Giggs played in 1,142 matches for United and scored 209 goals. Juan Mata, United’s current top goalscorer, has scored 36.
It’s staggering, but when he stopped playing three years ago, United were without a Welshman.
Welsh international and turn of the 20th century onwards superstar Billy Meredith, who hailed from Chirk, is the only player to have played for United while older than Giggs. He played for United at 46 before joining City at the age of 47. He’s the oldest player to have played for either club and Wales.
Legendary assistant manager Jimmy Murphy, who came from the coalfields of the Rhonda, also managed Wales in the 1958 World Cup finals, which featured a United player Colin Webster.
Ruabon’s Mark Hughes was a childhood hero of this writer and played 467 games, scoring 163 goals, while Mochdre’s Mickey Thomas was – and is – one of football’s great characters. Clayton Blackmore, from Neath near Swansea, where United play their second league game of the season, had a fine career in professional football.
Three men called Davies also played for United. Along with Ryan and a lad called Adie Mike who’d join Manchester City, Simon Davies was the best player in my junior football league. Simon is now at City, coaching the under-21s.
Ron Davies played centre-forward for United for a year in 1974-75 but couldn’t replicate his previous goal scoring feats, while Alan Davies, who played in the 1983 cup final, had a notable career before he took his own life, aged 30 in 1992.
Brothers Jack and Roger Doughty played for Wales and Newton Heath in the club’s early years, while international Graham Moore played for United in the 60s.
Which brings us back to Cardiff born Giggs, who, as I could now tell him, had walked onto the pitch as a Manchester United player 1,142 times, before becoming the assistant manager for two years.
Unless youngsters like defender Regan Poole, currently out on loan, make it through, or United unexpectedly sign Gareth Bale, it looks like it will be exit the dragon for a while.