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From a Wembley Q&A to catching up with Ryan Giggs and David Moyes

"Have you ever had a price put on your head?"

I had just done an hour's talk at Wembley Stadium to 150 students from the University College of Football Business degree course. One of its leaders is Richard Flash, who was once a young professional at Manchester United and is now in academia.

While the Wembley pitch was being prepared for an NFL game on one of the warmest October days recorded, I spoke to the students about journalism, travel and sportswriting.

They enjoyed the tales about being abducted in Israel or being stranded on The Kop in a Liverpool vs. Manchester United game and, afterwards, the floor was opened to questions.

Hands were raised and the first question was the one about a bounty which, to my knowledge, hasn't happened yet. A journalist told me that I was told that I was "public enemy number one" in Turkey in 1996 for an article on Galatasaray, and there have been hairy moments on my travels, but I've lived to tell the tales.

The students came from around the world and were keen to grill me. Good. That's far better than a sea of blank faces.

Flash once roomed with David Beckham. He was probably the best player in England at 13 but injuries, which he hid for years, ruined any chance of making it at United and he was limited to a few professional games in the lower leagues for Watford, Lincoln and Plymouth.

When Alex Ferguson signed Flash for United, he told him: "If you're good enough, you're old enough. We have a lad here called Ryan [Giggs] and he's got a great future here." It was all the encouragement that was needed.

I spoke to Giggs last week. United We Stand, the fanzine I started in 1989, is 25 years old this week and he had given us an interview. He's been frank in the conversation, which comes out this weekend.

I asked a few people who know Giggs well to put questions to him, and the replies included one from a Manchester City scout who drove him to games at age 11 and 12.

Giggs smiled when I mentioned his name and said: "I didn't enjoy going to City. I'm not sure why, but I wanted to go because of him. When you're 11 or 12, it's the little things that you remember. Eric [the scout] made sure that I got lifts and that I was there on time. I wasn't really poor, but we didn't have a lot of money."

Ryan Giggs and Alan Smith were Manchester United teammates from 2004-07.

I spoke to Giggs while driving through England's beautiful Peak District, with its forests, villages, hills and lakes, between Manchester and Sheffield, having earlier interviewed Alan Smith, formerly of Leeds United, Manchester United, Newcastle United and England.

Now 34, he's not one for doing media and said he'd never done a big interview before but we share a mutual friend who smoothed the way. That took two months of negotiation, which is not unusual when seeking a conversation with someone.

Smith invited me to his house, showed me his motorbike memorabilia (he's a big fan), put The Smiths (naturally) on a loop, made two cups of tea and talked away for three hours.

He's still got his strong Leeds accent and was open and amusing as he spoke about his career, which went from him saying that he'd never join Manchester United ... to playing for Manchester United.

In his defence, how could he foresee that Leeds, the club he'd grown up supporting, would go into financial meltdown and start shopping him around to other clubs without his knowledge? He left Elland Road for Old Trafford in 2004 after Leeds were relegated.

He's had serious injuries but is still playing in League One -- England's third tier -- for Notts County, where he is player/coach in a team punching above their weight. Gratifying days like that make you think "this is the best job in the world."

I had another interesting experience when, the morning after watching a Newcastle team featuring four Geordies beat Manchester City in the Capital One Cup, I drove to Preston the following day to meet David Moyes, the former Manchester United manager who is looking to get back into football management.

We were meant to meet in Haydock, by a racecourse on the motorway between Manchester and Liverpool. I texted to confirm, but it's wise that I checked the message before sending as the predictive text intended to say "Haydock" came out as "Haddock."

I didn't meet him there, but in a hotel called the "Tickled Trout" when we spoke for over an hour. Moyes cut a happier figure than in his last month or so at Old Trafford.

He has his side of the story as to what went on during his time at the club, though he has to be careful what he says on the record as he signed a nondisclosure deal when he departed Old Trafford.

He did, though, ask in confidence about Real Sociedad, a club who've offered him the manager's job and one I know a fair bit about. And that stayed in confidence, though the story of him being offered a deal was reported in the Spanish and British media.

Moyes -- and those he has asked to join him on the staff -- will be weighing up moving their families overseas. He's had other interest from Italy.

Giggs had Italian suitors -- AC Milan -- 20 years ago and chose to stay in Manchester. Smith told me that he loves people who have do "something completely different," and part of him wished that he'd played abroad in his career.

Now, it's Moyes who is weighing up his options.

Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.


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