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Jonathan Pearce recalls watching Ryan Giggs

Manchester United's Ryan Giggs
Ryan Giggs wheels away after scoring his famous winner for Manchester United in the 1999 FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal

Jonathan Pearce
By Jonathan Pearce
BBC football commentator

That great colossus of Irish rugby Keith Wood and I both roared and jumped to our feet when Ryan Giggs was named as BBC Sports Personality of 2009.

Unashamedly, I had wanted him to win the award. As a United fan, big Keith has followed Giggs from the stands. I do not support the club of his choice but I have always been an admirer of United's rich tradition of developing marvellous young talent and over the last 18 years Giggs has been a constant marvel to me.

I'll never forget the first time I saw him play live in the flesh. It was 28 September 1991 and my radio co-commentator at White Hart Lane that day, former Arsenal and Spurs manager Terry Neill, excitedly chatted about the 17-year old United kid we were going to watch.

He'd sensationally scored on his full debut the previous season and was the latest name to be branded as 'the new Georgie Best'.

He was never going to fill those boots but he's never needed to and it's significant that the media no longer labels an emerging United kid as the next Bestie. One day they'll be describing a fledgling Old Trafford talent as the 'new Giggs'. He is a United legend in his own right - up there with the greatest of them all.

That is the attribute I most associate with Ryan - he has always been dignified

Jonathan Pearce

On that first sighting back at White Hart Lane I was surprised at his confidence. It was clear he loved to run at opponents in that beautiful, swaying flow that has been a dominant feature of Premier League history.

There was nothing coltish or gangling about the way he took on full-backs. He had the desire and bounce of a boy but the furious concentration and ambition of a man at work and on his way to the top of his profession. He was still a youth team player but he had the carriage of a veteran.

Spurs had started that season well. Gary Lineker had scored 11 goals in the opening seven games including four the previous week at Wimbledon. Gudni Bergsson played right-back and he had to go off - twisted blood probably! Giggs turned in a mercurial show and a late Bryan Robson goal won it for United to take them six points clear at the top.

They should have won the league that season. Commentating for Capital Gold, I saw Giggs become a regular as they drew at home to Arsenal, won in style at Crystal Palace and Chelsea but finally tossed it away when Kenny Brown scored a freakish winner for West Ham at Upton Park.

The willowy Welshman looked totally at home alongside the established big names. He seemed to thrive on advice from Robson and took the barking from Schmeichel, Bruce and Ince in his stride. Here was a special player.

In defeat at West Ham and amidst the agony of his first lost title, there was dignity. That is the attribute I most associate with Ryan - he has always been dignified.

There was the odd youthful misdemeanour and paparazzi moment and occasionally he has berated a referee but he has never bad mouthed opponents or the game.

He has always carried himself well and respected football and in return I can't think of another current player who is now respected as highly and universally as him.

As his career has unfolded the great goals have punctuated my many commentaries of Giggs in full flow.

Ryan Giggs
Giggs was the fifth footballer to be named BBC Sports Personality

There was a special one to take United back to the top of the table at QPR in January 1993 and the unique FA Cup semi-final wonder winner against Arsenal in 1999. It was a moment of sublime beauty when football, dance, art and history fused into one glorious vision and a man wheeled away twirling his shirt over his head to create an iconic image for ever.

Joy still courses through his body with every shoulder-dipping, hip-swivelling run. Bravery is etched in every painful ache that follows each game and maturity has brought enhanced self-awareness and greater understanding of his place in society. He is a good man.

As an interviewee he grips you in an intense stare. The eyes are dark, penetrating and focused, he is humorous and intelligent. I am proud to have met him and to know him.

He is the most successful Premier League player of all time. The medals have stacked up - no-one can dispute that - but Ryan Giggs should be remembered for more than that. He has become an emblem for the way football should be played.

As Gary Lineker said on Sunday, he has transcended club rivalries. He is admired by so many, however partisan they may be to United's rivals.

Keith Wood's roar used to terrify opposition front row forwards. He knows a good sportsman and a good man so no wonder we roared together when the nation voted for this fine athlete and human being.

Ryan Giggs - Sports Personality of the Year 2009. It was a long time coming, it was overdue. Now bring on the knighthood!

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see also
Giggs shocked to land BBC award
14 Dec 09 |  Sports Personality
Giggs wins BBC Personality award
13 Dec 09 |  Sports Personality

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