Giggs scandal hangs over Man United

BY Jamie Trecker • May 25, 2011

The Ryan Giggs imbroglio consumed England for the second straight day Wednesday, casting a long shadow over the upcoming Champions League final — the biggest match in European club soccer — against Barcelona (Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, FOX) and having a profound impact on British politics.

Giggs, one of the most popular and successful players in British history, is alleged to have consorted with a reality TV show contestant named Imogen Thomas. In and of itself, this would merely make for sordid tabloid fare and an awkward conversation around the married Mr. Giggs's dining room table. What made this story explosive is that Giggs apparently sought a controversial gagging order, called a "super-injunction," to prevent newspapers from reporting this. Monday, he saw that order shattered by a Member of Parliament.

The case has riveted the chattering classes and led to some ugly scenes in Manchester on Tuesday night. Journalists were attacked by masked men outside Giggs’ home, with some cars being damaged in the process. At Carrington, a frosty Sir Alex Ferguson attempted to ban The Associated Press' Rob Harris, who had asked a straight-forward question about the midfielder in an open press conference.

Sky Sports cameras and microphones caught Ferguson asking press secretary Karen Shotbolt who the questioner was and then saying, “Aye, then we’ll get him. Ban him on Friday.” Several journalists who attempted to ask Giggs’ teammates about the affair also had their interviews abruptly terminated.

The incident prompted a torrent of outrage from other members of the media, with the Times calling Ferguson in a sports editorial “a one-man Politboro.” TV and newspapers delighted in showing clips and stills of the manager attempting to sabotage one of their own Tuesday, and there was more than a whiff of getting even about the whole affair.

This turn of events has turned what was an ill-timed headache for Manchester United into an outright fiasco. Ferguson’s attempt to use the crisis to reinforce his self-built bunker mentality at the club has backfired badly, taking the gloss off a week in which his team was handed a record-setting 19th title as he won his third Manager of the Year award. While he has often tried to turn provocation into a positive, this time he has succeeded only in making himself and the club look petty.

For his part, Giggs did show up and play for a half hour at Tuesday night’s Gary Neville testimonial match at Old Trafford, a 2-1 loss to Juventus that saw David Beckham’s return to a Manchester United uniform. He did not address the media.

More details emerged about the gag order Tuesday, with the revelation that Justice Michael Tugenhadt granted it because he suspected the topless model at the center of the case was attempting to blackmail Giggs.

Justice Tugenhadt has left the injunction in force, even though it was blown open by MP John Hemming in Parliament on Monday, when he said there was compelling evidence that Imogen Thomas had sought $170,000 from Giggs in return for her silence. Thomas is also said to have claimed that the Sun newspaper — which sued to lift the injunction — had offered her money for her story.

Wednesday, the Sun did little to dismiss that impression. The paper ratcheted up the pressure by splashing a shot on its front page of Thomas wearing a skimpy Manchester United shirt and publishing a series of new accusations about the embattled midfielder.

More information about the super-injunctions — the very existence of which are supposed to be secret — was also leaked to the press Wednesday. According to information obtained by the Independent, about 333 orders are in effect, the vast majority of which are shielding children in a variety of cases.

However, according to several sources, at least 10 gagging orders are in effect on Premier League footballers to cover up evidence of promiscuity; one covers a prominent soccer manager, and two others cover up soccer players who have been threatened by blackmail. Another order, since exposed, covered Chelsea’s John Terry.

Finally, the justification that Hemming used to break the injunction — the alleged threat of legal action by Giggs’ lawyers, the Schillings firm — has itself been called into question. Schillings insists that, contrary to published reports, it never had attempted to file legal action against Twitter or four celebrities, including Piers Morgan and Boy George, who tweeted the news. Hemming on Tuesday also insisted he had in fact not used Parliamentary privilege because Giggs’ name had been made public via Twitter.

This circuitous logic may make folks’ heads spin, but it has become a matter of pressing urgency in legal and media circles as well as a major embarrassment for the government, which is now trying to deal with an ugly confrontation between the media, its elected officials and its judiciary system.

But for United — which just wants to win a football game against Barcelona on Saturday — this is a spotlight they are clearly uncomfortable with. How much of an effect it has on the team remains to be seen, but as it stands, United will have a ready-made and predictable excuse if they lose: that old punching bag, the media.


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