Manchester United legends make it a special birthday for Carryduff Supporters' Club
Steven Beacom reflects on the night that three superstars from the Old Trafford club helped celebrate a notable landmark for a supporters’ club in Carryduff
At times Belfast’s famous Europa Hotel sounded like a mini Old Trafford.
Hundreds of Manchester United fanatics were roaring at the top of their voices, in tribute to Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.
The legendary trio were in Northern Ireland on Sunday to mark the 20th anniversary of the George Best Carryduff Manchester United Supporters’ Club.
It was a remarkable coup for the Carryduff club to have these footballing greats in attendance to celebrate their big night.
You may wonder how they managed to entice such illustrious names.
Put that down to Sir Alex Ferguson and his excellent relationship with branch secretary John White.
Fergie couldn’t make it himself, but sent a video message and “the pensioners”, as he called them, in his place.
Neville, Giggs and Scholes. Not bad substitutes, are they?
Scholes and Giggs are reserved characters and seemed embarrassed when their names were chanted and as details of their careers and astonishing list of honours were read out.
Neither spoke at the event.
You get the feeling Scholes would rather have all his teeth pulled out than speak in public, though he did appear to enjoy the wit and wisdom of John Linehan, aka May McFetteridge, who sat beside him on table three.
Throughout the night as expected, despite repeated calls to let the lads eat their dinner in peace, the trio were swamped by autograph hunters and fans looking for photographs.
One bloke came up to Giggs asking him to speak to his son on the other end of a mobile phone.
Giggs took it in his stride and joked with the young lad that he was Gary Neville.
“Sorry to disappoint you,” said the Welshman.
Known for timing a pass, his comedy timing is not too bad either.
When asked if he fancied coming out of international retirement for Wales v England this weekend, Giggs replied: “I would if Gary Neville was playing for them!”
Neville enjoyed the joke — the three United stalwarts all clearly fond of each other.
Unlike some football relationships that have gone sour, familiarity has not bred contempt with these lads, all of whom are down to earth, humble guys.
Neville perhaps gave an insight into why as he addressed the crowd.
Unlike Giggs and Scholes, who prefer a ball at their feet, the recently retired right-back is as comfortable with a microphone in hand.
Asked why Sir Alex Ferguson continues to deliver and get the best out of players, Neville revealed: “Fear”, — a simple answer that brought laughs and cheers in equal measure.
Neville, who could talk for England as well as play for them, told the Carryduff members how much playing for United meant to him and his team-mates and spoke about some of the greats he has been lucky to play alongside.
He also recalled how it all started for him at United, when he and a few others — Scholes, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Keith Gillespie — won the Milk Cup.
“That was a great experience for all of us,” he said, recalling how the team had stayed in Harry Gregg’s Portstewart hotel.
The goalkeeping great was also at the Europa Hotel, signing as many autographs as the contemporary heroes. Four United legends in one room, and video messages from Fergie, chief executive David Gill and club president Eamonn Holmes, entertainment on stage from Martin Lynch’s Dancing Shoes production and you had the ingredients for one heck of a night for the United supporters.
Oh, and to their credit, Neville, Scholes and Giggs went round every table (around 40) to have their picture taken with the guests.
Branch secretary John White, chairman John Dempsey and all the Carryduff club can feel proud of their efforts.
Goodness knows though, how they are going to top this for the 25th anniversary.