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Published: 31 October 2002

THE FIVE HUNDRED CLUB
by RED11.ORG StatMan Paul Hinson

When Ryan Giggs ran out onto the pitch at Loftus Road to face Fulham on October 19th, he joined a very select band of players who have made 500 senior appearances for Manchester United.

Quite a landmark for a player who first appeared as a skinny 17 year-old back in March 1991, getting his baptism as a substitute in a fixture against Everton at Old Trafford, the visitors already 2-0 up and the cause lost. Giggs was then behind Lee Sharpe in the left-wing pecking order, the pacy Sharpe having made his bow three years prior and close to a England call up. Who recalls Guiliano Maiorana? He was another rival for the left flank for a time, before injury wrecked his chances.

Young Ryan had made his mark with Salford Schoolboys and the England Youth team, despite being born in Cardiff. His rise was meteoric. He scored in his first senior start, against Manchester City in May 1991, which was ironic given that he was on their books for a time.

By the end of his first full season, 1991-92, Giggs was a full International for Wales, collected Youth Cup and League Cup winners medals, and had been voted PFA Young Player of the Year. His searing pace and close control, allied to goalscoring prowess was admired by many in the game.

Despite recurring Hamstring problems, his appearance tally in the last 11 years has been impressive, and his place in the side rarely questioned. Now the Welshman has over 100 goals to show from his 500+ appearances, and a proud collection of medals, the pick being 7 Premiership, 3 FA Cup and a Champions League gong.

He is still only 28 years of age, has already enjoyed a Testimonial, and fitness permitting, could go on for many more years.

Giggs is the seventh to join the 500 club. The first was a man who gave service to United for 14 years without winning a single medal.

Joe Spence was a miner from the North East who was spotted playing for a local side, Scotswood, before being signed in March 1919. Capable of playing Right wing or Centre forward, he became a big fans favourite, being able to weave past defenders and a lethal finisher, rattling up 168 goals and regularly leading scorer for United.

When he reached 481 League appearances he broke the League record, which lasted until 1966. His final tally was 510 games, a lot of endeavour in a time when his team were struggling.

Despite the lack of club honours, he was capped twice by England and also represented the Football League. The terrace cry of 'Give it to Joe' summed up the worship of him by the supporters at Old Trafford.

Spence died in 1966, at just about the time that his appearance record for United was being eclipsed. The man who overhauled it was also a miner, this time from the St Helens area.

Bill Foulkes was fitting in stints down the pit with a career as a budding footballer, when he joined the Reds as an amateur, making his first-team debut at Anfield against Liverpool in December 1952. A hard-tackling Right back, he was capped by England 2 years later having established himself in Matt Busbys second great side fashioned after the war.

Strong, fit and powerful, he graduated to play at Centre half, and having survived the Munich Disaster in 1958, was one of those who had to nurse the younger players through the diificult times afterwards. In all he wore the United shirt for 18 seasons, claiming 4 League titles, one FA Cup and a European Cup winners medal.

One of his finest moments was scoring the critical goal in the Bernabeu against Real Madrid that secured them a place in the 1968 European Cup Final. His 682nd and last outing was in August 1969, and he later served the club as Youth Team coach.

Next to reach the milestone was an unassuming Irishman from Dublin, who was signed in 1960 when Matt Busby was still rebuilding a side that had been decimated by tragedy, and struggling to find players with the quality of the much-missed Busby Babes.

Tony Dunne was a small but intelligent Full-back, able to play on either flank with pace and ability to tackle decisively. He was promoted to the first eleven at Burnley in October 1960, having cost a mere 5000 from Shelbourne.

A faithful servant, he won an FA Cup winners medal in 1963, League Championship honours in 1965 and 1967, and a European Cup medal in 1968.

Dunne made 530 appearances in his 13 years at the club, plus 32 caps for the Republic of Ireland.

Just as Foulkes had pushed Uniteds appearance record to another high, a fellow survivor of Munich was about to surpass it himself.

Bobby Charlton was a much-coveted schoolboy footballer who was recruited in 1953 and won Youth Cup winners medals in 1954, 1955 and 1956.

He played in a range of forward positions, scoring twice in his first-team debut against Charlton Athletic at Old Trafford in October 1956, and his good ball skills and powerful shooting soon earnt England recognition.

After Munich, he spent a time playing on the Left wing before finding a niche as a midfield playmaker, capable of good short and long passing, as well as scoring spectacular goals from distance.

For United his finest hour came in 1968, captaining the side that won the European Cup, and he also accumulated 3 League titles and an FA Cup winners medal. His 756 games and 247 goals between 1956 and 1973 are club records that still stand.

For his country he won a then-record 106 caps, adding a World Cup winners medal to his collection in 1966. His 49 goals have yet to be beaten. Charlton was voted Footballer of the Year in Europe and in England, and in 1994 was knighted for his service to the game.

In all, four of the seven to exceed 500 games for the Reds turned out in the 1968 European Cup Final against Benfica. The next man made a vital contribution to winning the cup that night, having arrived 2 years previously from Chelsea for a sum of 55,000.

Goalkeeper Alex Stepney made his United bow in the heat of a Manchester 'Derby' at Old Trafford in September 1966. He kept a clean sheet in a 1-0 victory and was the final piece in the Busby jigsaw that went on to win the League Championship in 1966-67.

A good shot-stopper, his save against Eusebio at Wembley earnt his side an extra 30 minutes to go and destroy the Portuguese Champions, and bring the holy grail to Old Trafford for the first time.

A regular for much of his 12 seasons, his 535 outings between the posts is still a record for a United keeper. Stepney even converted 2 penalties in the 1973-74 season to be joint leading scorer at one point. His final medal was in 1977, when at 35 he was still agile enough to help win the FA Cup Final against Liverpool.

The year that Charlton made his farewell to United, Ryan Giggs was born, but the penultimate member of the 500+ club was then a schoolboy in Cork in the Republic of Ireland.

Unlike most of the others, Denis Irwin did not begin his senior career at United. His path to the top began at Leeds United in 1982, and then Oldham Athletic, who he played for between 1986 and 1990.

A skilful Full back capable of playing on either flank, Irwins career was boosted by two good performances against the Reds in the 1990 FA Cup Semi-Finals. Soon afterwards 625,000 was invested in his talents, and Sir Alex Ferguson certainly got value for money.

The Irishman established himself as a regular and cemented a place for another 11 campaigns, his consistency taken for granted. In the golden Ferguson era, he garnered 7 Premierships, 2 FA Cups, a League Cup, the Cup Winners Cup in 1991 and the Champions League in 1999.

For the Republic of Ireland Irwin made his bow in 1991, playing in the 1994 World Cup Finals and displaying for them the same unflappable qualities.

Some players came close to joining the 500+ club. Mark Hughes and George Best were roughly a season short of the mark, whilst Arthur Albiston finished on 482. Giggs could reach the top 3 in United appearances by the end of this season, and if he can remain a first-choice until 2008, maybe he can eclipse Bobby Charlton and set a new record.

The magnificent Seven - all great servants.

RED11.ORG StatMan Paul Hinson


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