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Jun 5, 2013

Bring Me The Head of Ryan Giggs

Rating:

The football version of that most under-admired of nineties chick flicks Sliding Doors, Rodge Glass' Bring Me The Head Of Ryan Giggs examines the fine line between success and failure in professional sport.

Set in an alternative reality not a million miles away from the one in which we currently reside, Mikey Wilson is a Manchester United fan who has dreams of making it as a footballer. His prayers are answered when he is scouted and signed by his boyhood club, becoming the freescoring striker in a youth team including the familiar faces of David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes.

Like his team-mates, Mikey is tipped for great things and sure enough his dream is soon realised when he makes his first-team debut at Old Trafford. Then the nightmare begins. Within minutes of his United career starting, it ends. A loose pass from Ryan Giggs leads to him stretching to make a dangerous challenge - think Paul Gascoigne on Gary Charles - and Wilson is red carded and stretchered off with a cruciate ligament injury.

As the star of Ryan Giggs continues on its meteoric trajectory, Mikey Wilson fades away, never playing for United again; that one moment of misfortune igniting a sequence of events that leaves him a heartbreaking shadow of his former self, condemned to be remembered alongside other United failures like William Prunier and Ralph Milne and obsessed with Giggs, the man he blames for all the ills in his life.

Part social commentary, the novel shares many of the qualities that made Ken Loach's 2009 film Looking for Eric so popular - exploring the idea of football as an escape from real life. Despite United being the source of his pain, the club continues to be Mikey Wilson's crutch, the team's low points magnifying his own personal turmoil and the highs freeing him from the shackles of the daily grind, of the endless thoughts of what might have been.

Glass creates a hugely likeable protagonist who, although not without his personal flaws, the reader is always rooting for - an emotionally compelling figure who had his childhood dreams snatched away from him. Mixed in with a character-centric narrative are plenty of amusingly perceptive descriptions of the average fan's matchday experience, notably the "Three Unwise Men" - a moaning triumvirate who seemingly refuse to ever be happy with their own team's performance.

For Wilson, read any player. For Manchester United read any club. It is a story - minus the Ryan Giggs obsession - that plays out all the time in football. Young players spurned by professional clubs at a key crossroads and forced into the real world lacking the education necessary to succeed because all of their attention was understandably ploughed into hitting the big time. Bring Me The Head Of Ryan Giggs provides a reminder that while football can giveth, it can equally taketh away.

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