Ryan Giggs' crowning glory

Ryan Giggs and the Great Britain Olympic football squad are currently training in La Cala near Malaga in Spain for the London 2012 Games.

And it was a few hours down the Iberian Peninsula 44 years that former United and Bolton striker Alan Gowling’s own Olympic dream began to unravel.

Back in 1968 Gowling was a 19-year-old Manchester University student studying economics.

He was also on United’s books as an amateur and was chosen to help a pool of English part-timers get to the Games in Mexico that summer.

After beating West Germany home and away, the collection of mainly Southern League amateur players, plus a sprinkling from the north, played Spain in a Group Four final that would see the winners go to South America for the Olympics.

However, in March ‘68 the squad went over to Sabadell and were beaten 1-0. Later that month in the return at White City in London a 0-0 draw saw Gowling’s ambitions scuppered.

Now he hopes Old Trafford’s latest Olympians – Giggs and Tom Cleverley – having been fast-tracked past qualifiers as hosts, will enjoy the experience he missed out on. “It was a fantastic honour when I played in those qualifiers and I hope, and am sure they will, Ryan and Tom see it in the same way,” Alan told M.E.N. Sport.

“I was pleased that Giggsy was given the captaincy. It is a great accolade and thoroughly deserved. He’s done everything and won almost everything in the modern game.

“The only thing he had missing was a big tournament appearance. Sadly for him Wales never made the World Cup or Euros, but this is a great honour.

“I don’t see it as a consolation for him, or a good substitute for not appearing in those finals, I think this is a wonderful achievement in its own right.

“It is not a minor thing on his CV at all. The Olympics should be at the top. I am sure he will treat it as a very important part of his career and not just a swansong adventure.

“You can bet that Ryan will give his very, very best. He’s a 100 per center and he will approach the Games in the same way.”

While Giggs has had a lucrative football life and is now in the twilight years of an illustrious career, Gowling’s own Olympic experience came as a teenager. But his hopes of going to Mexico were shattered just days before he made his Reds debut at Stoke City in March ‘68.

“It was the real Olympic ideal in those days because it was all amateur and no professionals,” added Alan.

“It was all about taking part. Whereas the pro side of it now is win at all costs.

“I was delighted to take part but, of course, you wanted to win because I wanted to go to Mexico.

“It was two years before the World Cup in Mexico and England, as holders, knew they were going. So Sir Alf Ramsey hoped we’d be able to go out to the Olympics and come back with some help for him.

“The idea was to bring home ideas about training and playing at altitude. We were going to be guinea pigs for the World Cup. That was a big honour in itself.

“But it was not to be because we failed to qualify. We were beaten 1-0 in Spain in front of 15,000 fans. The interest wasn’t so great back home in England and at the White City in London the crowd was only a couple of thousand.

“Sadly, we couldn’t score and lost over the two legs. It was a huge disappointment but we were just not good enough.

“It had been quite a commitment for me because I was playing for United’s reserves, attending university lectures for my degree and then travelling down to London for those
qualifiers and the build-up to them.

“But I was happy to do it because I wanted to go to the Olympics.

“It was difficult in ‘68 because we were lads thrown together who hadn’t played that much together. I suppose it is a bit the same way now.

“But they’ve at least got time together for some preparation and with Ryan leading the GB team they’ll have someone who can pass on vast experience of so many big occasions. He will be a major help to the squad.

“There is enough quality to go quite far but whether they can pick up a medal remains to be seen.”   

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