Ryan Giggs: Man Utd winger, by the milkman who discovered him
Dennis Schofield was a milkman and part-time Manchester City scout who parked his milk float outside a school more than 30 years ago and discovered a willowy eight-year-old who became the most enduring footballer of his generation.
Here, Dennis tells the story of how he discovered Ryan Giggs, who turned 40 on Friday, and why he doubts there will ever be anyone else quite like the man who has made 953 appearances - more than any other player - for Manchester United.
When did you first set eyes on Ryan?
Ryan Giggs at Man Utd
- Age: 40
- Position: Midfielder
- Appearances: 953
- Goals: 168
- Premier League titles: 13
- FA Cup titles: Four
- League Cup titles: Four
- Champions League titles: Two
"I was a milkman in those days, which was handy because after my round I would often park my float and watch the kids playing for their school teams.
"One such school was Grosvenor Road Primary in Swinton. As I was passing, I saw some pupils walking out of a door with their football boots on and decided to stick around. They had an eight-year-old on the left wing who ran like a gazelle and was dynamite on the ball. His name was Ryan Wilson.
"I asked if his parents were at the game and I was pointed in the direction of his mother. I introduced myself as someone who ran Deans Youth and Ladies FC, and asked if Ryan might be interested in playing for my team.
"She was keen and explained the family had just moved up from Wales and were looking to settle down.
"For our next training session, I picked him up from his house and took him and his younger brother Rhodri along knowing I had something special on my hands."
What was it that made him stand out?
"Even at that age I knew he was an absolute gem. His dad was a class act as a rugby league winger and young Ryan had his speed and balance to swerve past people as though they weren't there.
"I've been a coach and scout for over half a century and he was the best prospect I'd ever seen. He had skill, control and movement, and he was destined for the big time. I'd seen Stanley Matthews play in his pomp and he had the same characteristics.
"He was naturally gifted and also played rugby for his school, attracting interest from Wigan and St Helens, who both wanted to sign him.
What was he like?
"His dad was living in Wales, so sometimes I was the only one able to give him some male advice. I told him that if he was in trouble or just needed a friendly ear, I was there for him.
"I did feel like a father figure from time to time, but he was a model kid. He can come across as shy, but that isn't the case. He has always been chatty when the subject is football or, his other favourite sport, rugby league. When he was a kid I never heard him talk about anything else, not even girls."
Do any games stand out from his time playing for you?
"We reached the Timperley Under-16s Cup final and, even though Ryan was just 14, I knew we could only win with him in the side.
"He had just signed for United, so I had to get special permission from Sir Alex Ferguson to play him. He agreed, but said it would be the only time he could allow it.
"Ryan ran the show and scored the winning goal, gliding past three or four opponents in the process. One of my fondest memories is of Ryan running over to me after he scored and putting his arms around me."
Most Manchester United appearances in all competitions
Ryan Giggs: 953
Sir Bobby Charlton: 758
Paul Scholes: 718
Bill Foulkes: 688
Gary Neville: 602
How big a draw was he?
"Opposition players would often come up to me before a game and ask if Ryan was playing. It made me laugh because Ryan was only about nine or 10. If he wasn't available, they were genuinely disappointed because they wanted to say they'd been on the pitch with a future star.
"No-one was allowed to swap shirts because we didn't have any spares, but I'm sure a few would have wanted to do so if they had a chance.
"There were always scouts from other clubs sniffing around and they would pester me with questions about him. I remember the Manchester United scout attending three times and wondering why he hadn't made his mind up about him after the first one."
You were a Manchester City scout, so why did he end up at United?
"As a keen Manchester City fan and scout, I wanted Ryan to sign for them but knew nothing could be done until his 14th birthday.
"Near the time, I bumped into the comedians Syd Little and Eddie Large, who were both big City fans, especially Eddie. They urged me not to wait and make sure City got his signature.
"When it came to the day of his 14th birthday, I got wind that Sir Alex Ferguson and United's chief scout Joe Brown were after him. I warned City to get down to his house, but they chose to sit in their office waiting for Ryan to go there, while Sir Alex went straight to his house.
"Ryan was a United fan and, to my disappointment, he signed for United. I was furious with City and cut my ties with the club after that.
"In truth, Ryan probably did the right thing because United had a great youth team in those days with Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Gary and Phil Neville. He had players alongside him who brought out the best in him, which would probably not have been the case if he'd gone to City."
What's the secret to his longevity?
"I still run my youth teams and I always tell the kids that they should use Ryan as their role model.
"I know that he was lucky to be blessed with his genes because he will never put on any weight and even now he is fitter than most professional footballers, but the real secret is he is not content with all that, he always wants to give of his best.
"It's about working hard and that is a habit that he has followed since the first day he joined United.
"Ryan is the closest we will probably ever get to Stanley Matthews. Sir Stan played in the top division until he was 50, and I can certainly see Ryan playing for United for at least another three or four years.
"Whatever he might lose in terms of physical attributes, he will make up for in speed of thought. He has always been an intelligent footballer, but I watch him now and can see that he is a pass or a split second ahead of everyone else in the mind."
Giggs' first outing for United
Giggs made his Manchester United debut as a 17-year-old on 2 March 1991, coming on for Denis Irwin in a 2-0 defeat to Everton at Old Trafford.
What do you think his long-term future holds in the game?
"I have no doubt he will become Manchester United manager, probably the next one after David Moyes.
"Although he is a quiet lad, and has always been so, he knows the game inside out. He is always calm, never loses his temper and doesn't get carried away by highs or lows.
"I've seen him in dressing rooms talking to individuals and groups, and his presence and intelligence can captivate people. He knows United inside out and will be an ideal fit when his time comes to manage the club."
Will there ever be another Ryan Giggs?
"I doubt it. The game is changing and it's slowing down. Even Arsenal don't play at the intensity that you saw from Ryan when he was at his very best. When he was in full flow, sprinting down the wing and swerving inside, no-one could live with him.
"If he was starting his career now, United would struggle to get his signature. Barcelona, Real Madrid and every club in the world would use their scouting networks to try and sign him. United have been so fortunate to have got him.
"I often wonder where City would be if he'd signed for them."
Still got it
He may have been preparing to enter his fifth decade but Giggs set up three goals in the 5-0 Champions League win at Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday. Manager David Moyes said: "He is an unbelievable footballer - and you could say he is getting better."
You played against John Charles in the army and coached a young Ryan Giggs, arguably the two greatest footballers to come out of Wales. Who was better?
"John and I were on opposite sides in the 1952 Army Cup Final. John would have been about 20 then and only just coming out of his shell, while Ryan was already a world-class player at that age.
"I'd have to say Ryan was probably the better player, but there wasn't much in it."
Are you still in contact with Ryan?
"I see him quite often and he's an honorary life member of my club, with his pictures on every wall to act as an inspiration for the generations that follow him.
"Not long ago, Ryan opened a swimming baths in Swinton and I was asked to go along with him. You can see by just being in his presence how much of an icon he is to young people.
"My most prized possession is a large signed photo of Ryan with me when he captained England Schoolboys. It hangs proudly in my living room."