Ryan Giggs turns back the Old Trafford clock but night is ruined by Senegal
They weren’t even sure what to chant: the attempt to start a round of “we are team GB, say we are Team GB” which began near the press box fizzled out quicker than a Tottenham title bid.
Less a football fixture than the subject of mild historical curiosity, rather the thousands were here to witness something unusual in the football calendar.
It wasn’t just the return to the Olympics of a Great Britain team for the first time in half a century which drew them here. Nor was it the first competitive outing for what must rank as the least attractive playing kit ever conceived: the GB shirt about which Bradley Wiggins, on receipt of his, tweeted that Stella McCartney must have had a Lucy in the Sky moment when she came up with the design.
No, the crowd was much more interested in the international tournament debut of Ryan Giggs.
This on the very same pitch he had been given his first team opportunity by Manchester United a mere 21 years previously. It was an unusual first start: nobody has played more often on this pitch than him.
And here’s how popular he has made himself over the decades of service on the surface. When the name of every other member of the GB team was announced to the crowd, their club affiliation seasoned how they were greeted.
Craig Bellamy, Micah Richards, Daniel Sturridge, coach Stuart Pearce all had their welcomes peppered with catcalls generated by their Manchester City pasts. Even Tom Cleverley, who plies his trade on this pitch, had a few of blue persuasion booing.
And we thought that the tribal difficulties inherent in Team GB concerned Scottish and Welsh grumblings.
Giggs’s name, however, drew universal admiration.
The crowd, which had spent most of the previous match in this double header booing Luis Suárez, cheered at the very thought of his presence.
As far as the thousands here were concerned this was a man who can do no wrong, even if, like all the Welshmen on duty, he did opt out of singing the national anthem.
Mind, 21 years between debuts has had its effect: how time has changed the player. When he first started he was all gallop and shimmy, a youngster who could give most of the athletes lining up in the Olympic 100 metres a hurry up.
Here he was positioned so deep even Tom Daley would be pushed to reach him.
Playing alongside fellow Welshman Joe Allen, his role was to lurk around the centre circle, controlling the tempo of the side, conducting the orchestra, not veering off on solos.
He did it very well too: one back heel to Danny Rose midway through the second half brought a buzz of appreciation from a crowd who, for much of the game, seemed more distracted by attempting to start Mexican waves than anything happening out on the pitch.
Defence as much a part of his realm these days as attack, he was even once or twice obliged to put in a clearing tackle. Senegal’s Idrissa Gueye took the full force of one of his steaming interventions and limped off soon afterwards.
Not that he has lost the route to goal. It was his free-kick which provided the singular moment of footballing uplift for the gathered throng. Spinning the ball viciously into the Senegal area, his assist fell for Bellamy who fired it home.
Giggs might have thought it would be enough to allow him to finish this game as so many have here for him: with all the points banked. But a late Senegal equaliser spoiled the night he had been anticipating for so long.