It was quite some moment to be sitting 10 feet away from Ryan Giggs at the precise time he was waiting to find out whether his entire world was about to come crumbling down.

Giggs was as vulnerable as anyone had ever seen him.

It was September 2022, and the jury had been asked to deliver its verdict into allegations that the most decorated footballer in Manchester United’s history had subjected his girlfriend to three years of psychological and, at times, physical abuse.

Giggs had been cross-examined by a KC, Peter Wright, whose previous cases had included Dr Harold Shipman, one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers. Even Giggs’ legal team likened their exchanges to a “form of bloodsport” because he was so out of his depth. Giggs, they acknowledged, was a “rabbit in headlights” in the witness box.

Yet the jury of seven women and four men at Manchester crown court were unable to reach a majority verdict on the charge alleging he had headbutted Kate Greville, causing her actual bodily harm, when she tried to break off their relationship on November 1, 2020.

It was the same for the separate charge that Giggs had subjected Greville to controlling and coercive behaviour during a three-year period before the night of the alleged violence. And, again, the jury could not reach a majority verdict on the charge that he had assaulted her younger sister, Emma, in the same incident at Giggs’ home.

All of which brought us back to court in July 2023, 10 months on, to find out that Giggs was being formally cleared of the prosecution’s case that he had committed a “litany of abuse, both physical and psychological, of a woman that he professed to love”.

Greville, it emerged, had made it known in May that she no longer wanted to give evidence because she felt “worn down” and “violated” by the judicial process. Outside the courtroom, Giggs’ legal representatives could be seen hugging and punching the air in their consultation room.

Their client is, in short, innocent in the eyes of the law. The judge, Hilary Manley, issued not-guilty verdicts and Giggs, who was excused from attending the hearing, will not have to face the retrial that was originally listed to start on July 31.

“The position is, he has always been innocent of these charges,” his KC, Chris Daw, told the court. “Going forward, he now looks to rebuild his life and career as an innocent man.”

Yet the damage to Giggs’ reputation is considerable, perhaps irreparable, given the warts-and-all details of this case and what, at times, has been admitted by the man himself.

It has exposed Giggs in a way that has never happened before. It has revealed a dark and hidden side to his personality and, ultimately, it has left a significant question for anyone who has followed his career and wanted to believe that a great football player was also a great football man.

Who is the real Ryan Giggs?

Maybe, in time, Giggs will return to football management. Saudi Arabia, perhaps, or maybe closer to home if there is a football club who think, ultimately, the good still outweighs the bad.

In court, he talked about his time managing the Wales national team as his “dream job.” Giggs stood down from the role in June last year and had not been in the dugout since the night of his arrest 19 months earlier. It has been a golden period for Wales, qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since 1958, yet Giggs was rarely mentioned when the tournament began. He was the subject nobody wanted to discuss as Rob Page, his replacement, took the team to Qatar.

Now, though, Giggs is free to resume his career. At 49, he is still relatively young in managerial terms and, after so long out of the game, he could be excused for wanting to make up for lost time.


Giggs in charge of Wales in November 2019 (Photo: Harry Trump/Getty Images)

What is not clear, however, is how potential employers might view Giggs in the wake of his trial and whether it will be a stain on his reputation that is hard to wash out. PR-wise, how do you come back from some of the more spiteful details that came out, often unchallenged, over the course of a gruelling and often deeply unpleasant case?

He was, according to his former girlfriend, a sufferer of narcissistic personality disorder and, even if that was very much her own interpretation, it was difficult not to conclude that, at the very least, one of the genuine greats of United’s rich football history could benefit from a period of self-reflection.

Anyone who has spent time with the soft-focus Giggs will know he can be warm, charming, convivial. A lot of people have fond stories about that version of Giggs, the superstar, the history-maker.

On the other hand, this trial has shown a side of Giggs that, by his own admission, he has tried to keep away from public consumption. It showed he could be cruel, hard-faced, mercurial. It showed him in his worst light to be, put bluntly, a bit of a bastard. It showed that maybe we, the public, did not know the real Giggs — just the version of himself that he wanted us to see.

“In his heyday, he played locally for Manchester United and internationally for Wales,” Wright told the jury on the trial’s first day. “He was idolised, and still is, by his adoring fans and supporters. On the pitch, his skills were abundant and a thing of beauty. Off the pitch, in the privacy of his personal life and home, behind closed doors, there was a much uglier and more sinister side to his character.”

It certainly wasn’t easy, sitting through every minute of some excruciating evidence, to peel away all his different layers and make sense of the many contradictions.

History will remember that Giggs never heard the word “guilty” during a trial that, if convicted, could conceivably have finished with him serving time in prison.

But there were also moments when he admitted in court that some of his behaviour could come across as threatening and bullying, that he would play with his girlfriend’s emotions and that his behaviour, in the worst times, caused her psychological harm and distress.

He was, according to the prosecution, “preying on her vulnerabilities for his own gratification” while, in his public life, putting himself forward as a champion of mental health campaigning.

The time, for example, Greville found out about his cheating (Giggs admitted having eight affairs at the same time) and emailed him to say she wanted to call off the relationship. She was upset, angry, broken.

“Give the therapist a call, Kate,” read Giggs’ response. “I don’t give a fuck about your feelings.”

Greville talked about “the nice Ryan” and “the nasty Ryan” and “it was almost like two different people, it was like, ‘Is he a good person? Is he a bad person?’.”

The nice version would send her love poems telling her she was “the jam in my doughnut, the truffle in my pasta, the salt in my tequila.”

In this era of social media, Giggs will probably never be allowed to live down his attempts to rival John Cooper Clarke as the next Bard of Salford. And, yes, the members of the jury did well, at times, to keep a straight face.

In one exchange, Giggs wrote that he loved his girlfriend “to the next planet those clever fuckers at NASA find” and more than “all my Premier League appearances, and that’s a lot.”

He compared her to Fort Knox — “because it’s full of gold” — and sent lewd verses and acrostics (though not all the ones you might have read on social media are genuine). In total, there were 19,671 messages between the couple (“Team Awesome”) — enough, in this trial, to fill 56 lever arch folders containing 350 pages each. The detective in charge of the case found more used data on Giggs’ phone than any other investigation in his policing career.

The reality, however, is that the lovey-dovey messages jarred with the other side of Giggs’ personality when he opened himself to allegations of having a Jekyll and Hyde nature.

One series of emails had the title of “C***!!” (without the asterisks) and featured Giggs telling his girlfriend during a long, disturbing tirade to “keep hiding behind anxiety.”

Giggs knew at the time she was having counselling. “You don’t deserve to be a parent,” he wrote. “I hope your company fails too. Will only tell people what a horrible c* you are… evil horrible c*.”

Perhaps Giggs could make the point that he is not the only person to write something deeply unpleasant in a state of anger and then accede, as he did in court, to how awful it looks in black and white. It could be shocking, all the same, to be exposed to the malevolence of his rages.

He would threaten to go to their work WhatsApp group if Greville did not reply quickly enough for his liking. Giggs part-owned the company where she worked, GG Hospitality, and knew he had the power.

Plus there are other elements to his story that, if we are trying to find out who he really is, show Giggs in his least attractive light.

Ryan Giggs

(Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images)

If you are unaware of the background, a quick search on the internet might help to explain why his younger brother, Rhodri, was not in the public gallery with their mother, Lynne, listening to Giggs’ admissions about having never been faithful in any of his relationships and referencing so many other women that, genuinely, it was difficult to keep count.

When Greville found out about her partner’s infidelities, she sent him messages trying to end the relationship. “You’re a liar. You’re a cheat. You’re a narcissist. You’re a manipulator. You’re controlling. You’re aggressive. You’re violent. You’re a disappointment. No (sic) fuck off out of my life.”

Giggs’ first response was to correct her typo. “Now, not no, love. That angry you can’t write. Chills.”

He was asked in court why he had not taken offence to, or refuted, her list of accusations.

So many times Giggs would stare back from the witness box, a glazed look on his face, and respond uncertainly with the same line, over and again: “I don’t know.”

This time, however, Giggs was willing to give a longer explanation.

“There were a lot of things on the list,” he said.

In more innocent times, an interview with Giggs appeared in The Guardian newspaper introducing him as “the last good man in Premier League football”.

As a teenager, he was the boy who played football like a man. In later years, when the first flecks of silver started to appear above his ears, he was the man who played football like a boy.

“A gold miner who has searched every part of the river or mountain and then suddenly finds himself staring at a nugget could not feel more exhilaration,” Alex Ferguson wrote in his 1999 autobiography about the first time he saw a schoolboy Giggs, then known by his father’s surname of Wilson, with the ball at his feet.

“I shall always remember my first sight of him, floating over the pitch so effortlessly you would have sworn his feet weren’t touching the ground. He carried his head high and looked as relaxed and natural on the park as a dog chasing a piece of silver paper in the wind.”

Giggs broke into United’s team at 17, wearing a shirt that always seemed slightly too big for him, and went on to spend 23 years, in Ferguson’s words, “tramping up and down that bloody wing.”

Manchester United

(Photo: Neal Simpson/EMPICS via Getty Images)

Nobody has played for the club more times or won more trophies: 13 Premier League titles, two Champions Leagues, four FA Cups, three League Cups and enough individual prizes to fill a museum. There was an OBE in 2007. Giggs was named the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year in 2009. He is one of only six people in the 21st century to be awarded the Freedom of Salford.

His barrister made sure, too, that the jury knew Giggs had been sent off only once in more than 1,000 matches and that it was for two bookable offences rather than lashing out at anyone. Giggs, it was explained, had no reputation for violence.

And, yes, that shaped a likeable persona. Giggs was a popular member of the dressing room. The journalists covering United saw him as one of the good guys. He was never as intense as Gary Neville or Roy Keane. He felt more real than David Beckham, never so out of reach or affected by fame. He always had a smile and a twinkle in his eye. There was a lot to like. Even opposition fans seemed to have a grudging respect for Giggs in the days when United were winning all the trophies.

Then, on the tenth day of the trial, there was a remarkable piece of theatre when Daw introduced Giggs’ character witnesses. Even some of the court officials were visibly taken aback by the identity of the first person to give evidence.

“I call Sir Alexander Chapman Ferguson,” said Daw, and in came the most successful British football manager of all time, still healthy enough at the age of 80 to opt for the stairs when someone on reception offered to show him to the lift.

What a man to have on your side — and Ferguson, that fierce protector of his own, told the court he had never seen Giggs lose his temper in more than a quarter of a century as manager and player.

Giggs, he said, was “without doubt the best example we had in the club. Everyone looked at Ryan as the number one”. And, in pure sporting terms, this was true. For dedication, longevity, professionalism, who in football has a better CV?

Except, of course, this was not a trial about sporting achievement and one of the first questions Giggs had to face on the witness box asked whether he accepted there was “a world of difference” between the way someone behaved in their public life compared to their private life. Giggs, for the record, agreed.

Opening his cross-examination, Wright put it to him directly that “there is a very different side to Ryan Giggs… there’s the Ryan Giggs the public know and the Ryan Giggs that you know”.

But Wright chose not to ask Ferguson what he thought about the more excruciating details of the case or to take him back to some of the occasions when Giggs was not always the goody-two-shoes that he portrayed.

Ferguson was, after all, the manager at Old Trafford when Giggs was taking out a High Court injunction to hide stories about another drama in his love life, culminating with an MP in the House of Commons using parliamentary privilege to blow his cover.

Giggs opens his autobiography with a story about how, after the 1999 Champions League final, he had a drunken fight with the son of Martin Edwards, then United’s chief executive, that ended with his clothes covered in blood.

As for the line about him never losing his temper… well, that did not exactly correspond with what the jury had heard about Giggs’ relationship with Greville.

In one of their arguments, Giggs sent a message to his girlfriend to let her know: “I’m so fucking mad right now I’m scaring myself. I could do anything right now.”

He used to refer to her as Stacey, the name of his ex-wife, because he knew it was particularly hurtful. “I actually hate you,” read one message. “Hate you. HATE. HATE. HATE.”

There was also Greville’s account about the time she received some devastating family news. “My dad got cancer and I remember telling him (Giggs). He didn’t even look up from his phone.”

Greville’s evidence was that he “flipped, absolutely flipped” when he was challenged about his cheating.

Giggs, it emerged, used to send her so many emails, after she had moved to Dubai to start a new job, her employers asked their internet provider to block his account.

Then there were the times when Giggs subjected Greville, 10 years his junior, to what the prosecution called “hate-filled outbursts of bile” and threatened to end her career if she was dating somebody else. He spelt out his message in capital letters: “IF YOU ARE, YOU’RE FINISHED. END OF.”

This, according to the prosecution, was “a shaft of light on the real Ryan Giggs, sitting in the dock, not the public persona.”

It was, in Wright’s words, “all part of a game, playing with her emotions, gaslighting her, bending her to your will… seeking to don the mantle of victimhood.”

Even Giggs’ own legal team presented a picture of a man who was guilty of immaturity, of being addicted to his phone, of scoring cheap points by blocking and unblocking his girlfriend and a pattern of behaviour that would hardly have been expected of a serious football manager who was trying to take his country to a World Cup. Greville talked about “a constant bombardment” and feeling like “a slave to his every need and demand.”

Giggs, said Daw, accepted “his behaviour on a moral level was, at times, far from perfect.” Giggs admitted he was famous, justifiably, for being a “love cheat” and had an “appalling” way, at times, of talking to the woman he professed to love.

“You’ve had relationships with many women,” said Daw. “Have you managed to be faithful to any of them?”

Giggs: “No.”

Daw: “If an attractive woman shows interest in you, are you able to resist?”

Giggs: “No.”

Daw: “Do you consider yourself a flirt?”

Giggs: “Yes.”

Daw: “Have you lied to your ex-wife and Miss Greville and other partners about cheating.”

“Yes, I have,” came the reply. “Many times.”

On the morning the trial was due to begin, Gary Neville posted a message on his Instagram account.

Neville co-owned the company with Giggs, his former United team-mate, that had given Greville a £100,000-a-year job to run the PR for their business interests, including Hotel Football opposite Old Trafford.

His post read: “Truth always wins. Unfortunately… liars get their turn first.”

Beneath, Neville had written: “A thought for the week.”

What could not be reported until the end of the trial was that Neville’s words were brought to the attention of the judge and she, in turn, passed it to the Attorney General to investigate a possible contempt of court. Neville has insisted he was talking about the Glazer family, United’s unpopular owners, rather than Greville. The post was removed and the Attorney General announced in December that Neville would not face any action.

Giggs, Neville

Giggs and Neville watching Salford City (Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images)

Unfortunately for Greville, it was also clear that parts of the prosecution case were undermined by a number of incidents that, according to Giggs’ legal team, showed she was “capable of twisting reality to her own ends”.

Greville, it emerged, had pretended to Giggs that a smear test had diagnosed cancerous cells. Her explanation in court was that it was to get out of having sex at a point in their relationship when she had decided to leave him. She admitted it was an “awful” deception.

The court was also told that Greville had not wanted to give the police her phone records and that Giggs’ solicitors had to make an application in court before she handed them over. Some messages had been deleted and, on further investigation, this turned out to be Greville arranging a staged photograph with The Sun, showing her walking in the countryside with apparently bruised and swollen lips.

In a remarkable twist, the defence claimed to have found evidence almost a year after the trial that Greville had, in fact, undergone a medical procedure to have “Russian lip fillers”, causing the swelling, shortly before the alleged headbutt.

Greville, giving her evidence behind a curtain, was cross-examined during the trial about telling the police she had lost two phones. The first was a freak accident that attracted derision from Giggs’ camp — “I tried to rescue my dog from the river and it slipped out of my pocket,” she said — and the second was a street robbery in Manchester city centre, when it was said the phone was snatched from her hand by a youth on a bike. More than once, Daw questioned whether she was telling “a pack of lies” or “just making up random things.” In her absence from Tuesday’s hearing, she had no opportunity to deny his latest accusations.

Giggs, one of the co-owners of League Two’s Salford City, accepted there was “no excuse” for parts of his own behaviour but argued it did not make him a violent or controlling boyfriend.

Karen Baird, the chair of Salford City, also gave evidence on his behalf and there were written references from David Gill, formerly United’s chief executive, as well as Giggs’ agent, Rhodri Burgess, who described him as “calm, collected and peaceful”.

Giggs’ defence was that the alleged headbutt was, in reality, an accidental clash of heads during a drunken argument and that the case against him was built on the lies of a woman his legal team described as “incredibly manipulative” and “extremely angry… scorned by his infidelity.”

“Has Kate Greville exacted her revenge for that womanising by twisting and exaggerating their routine arguments to a portrait of control, violence and abuse?” the judge, in her summing-up, asked the jury to decide. “Or was the relationship much darker and sinister in which a man exacted and exploited his power over a vulnerable woman?”

Giggs said it was simply untrue that he had forcibly kicked Greville out of bed one night at the Stafford hotel, London, thrown a laptop bag at her head and grabbed her by the wrist so forcibly she was left with bruises. He denied that he had thrown her, naked, out of their hotel room during a trip to Dubai.

Daw asked the jury to remember it was a legal trial, not a moral one, and to keep in mind this was not Saudi Arabia or Somalia where, he said, having an affair was a crime that could mean being stoned to death.

“He (Giggs) is not on trial for being flirtatious. He is not on trial for being a compulsive womaniser. He is not on trial for being an adulterer. He is not on trial for being a liar or a cheat. As Aretha Franklin would put it, he is not on trial for being a ‘no-good heartbreaker’. If they were crimes, he would probably be guilty to most of them. But so would millions and millions of others. Being unfaithful is pretty much as old as the human race. If they were crimes, just think how many prisons we would need.”

Manchester alone, he said, would need five.

As for the evidence that Giggs had subjected her to three years of controlling and coercive behaviour, there were also times when the police investigation came under question.

On the first day of the trial, one of the more shocking allegations was that Giggs had sent his girlfriend an email, titled “Blackmail”, which had a video attachment and a message telling Greville he would share it with their work colleagues unless she unblocked him.

Greville told the court the couple had made a number of sex tapes. She said she assumed the email was a genuine blackmail attempt and felt so violated and helpless she deleted it straight away without clicking on the attachment.

It turned out to be a video of her dancing to Wham’s 1980s hit Last Christmas and one of the detectives on the case had known this for 18 months before the trial began.

“It was just a joke,” explained Giggs.

It was the eighth day of Case T20210225 when Giggs broke down in tears in the witness box, recalling the night he spent in a police cell as “the worst experience of my life”.

Otherwise, observers were taken aback by how calm and relaxed he was in the glass-panelled dock.

Giggs chatted freely with the security staff whose job was to lock and unlock the door. He was unfailingly polite with the journalists — happy, it seemed, to make small talk, maintaining eye contact and showing his capacity to remember everyone’s name. Even when the court was hearing terrible things about him, he rarely showed the body language — head down, staring at the floor — that might have been expected for someone in his position.

Then Ferguson appeared outside the courtroom and, almost by instinct, Giggs felt it necessary to explain to The Boss why he had a few days of stubble on his chin.

We will have to imagine what Ferguson makes of the least attractive details of Giggs’ life and the modern terminology that saw him accused of demonstrating “the subtle psychology of the gaslighter”.

Ultimately, though, the case could not be proven and the retrial never happened because of Kate Greville’s refusal to give evidence, citing the physical and emotional toll of the first trial.

All of which meant Greater Manchester Police had to abandon its plans, in the event of a guilty verdict, for a detective chief superintendent to stand on the court steps and read out a prepared statement denouncing Giggs as a woman-beater. A senior official from the Crown Prosecution Service had also been prepped to speak to the media. The judge would have been asked to release the police body-camera footage of Giggs being arrested, then put in the back of a police van, as well as the recording of Emma’s 999 call.

Giggs had asked for it to be kept from the media because, in part, it might be upsetting for the man who had subsequently bought his house.

Every day, it was the same routine. Giggs would arrive from Bridge Street, turn right into Crown Square, past all the photographers and television crews, then through the double doors, up the stairs and along the corridor to courtroom No 2. The sign read “Public Gallery Full” and a blind was pulled down to stop anyone from peering through the door.

Giggs arrived with his legal entourage after choosing Daw — the QC who successfully defended John Terry in his 2012 trial for allegedly racially abusing Anton Ferdinand in a Chelsea match at Queens Park Rangers — to fight his corner. Daw, a former Liverpool season-ticket holder, is probably best known for representing two retired chief superintendents from South Yorkshire Police who faced charges after the Hillsborough disaster, relating to the deaths of 97 Liverpool fans at their FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest in 1989.

Giggs trial

(Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images)

Lynne, meanwhile, sat through every detail of her son’s love life, his poems, his secrets, his occasional nastiness and his apparent obsession with the dishwasher being stacked exactly how he likes it.

Perhaps a bit of family history would be useful here, too.

In Giggs’ autobiography, he writes about his formative years in Cardiff and his parents having “a fiery relationship which would occasionally spill over into real unpleasantness”. There were many arguments, he writes, and too often they became physical, sometimes in front of himself and Rhodri. “I hated it. After one particularly bad fight, when I was nearly three, my father was arrested and my mum ordered him to leave the house. Obviously it was a bad time but I grew up with it and accepted it as normal because I didn’t know any different.”

Is this, in part, what has shaped some of Giggs’ behaviour? Is he more like his father than perhaps he would want to admit?

“It was a view of family life that can’t have done me any good. It definitely had an effect on me. Despite his bullying, aggressive nature, I have to admit that at one time I did look up to my dad. He had that chest-out Cantona strut. It wasn’t until we moved to Manchester that I realised the full extent of the rotten life he had given her. He was a real rogue and a ladies’ man.”

Every day, Giggs and his mother hugged outside the courtroom. She was accompanied by a group of his oldest friends and on one occasion they were joined for lunch by Nicky Butt, his former United team-mate. When the jury filed into court, Lynne crossed her fingers for good luck.

Upstairs, in the public gallery, a domestic-abuse nurse from the Salford circuit was taking notes. A court artist was bemused to have her pencil sharpener confiscated by the security guards at the front desk. Another regular in the public gallery was told by the judge he would not be allowed back if he turned up again in a T-shirt with an anti-Tories message. One chair had to be oiled, mid-trial, because the judge was irritated by its squeaking.

On the Eventful Lives podcast, Rhodri was asked about his brother and explained why their relationship was broken. “He’s got something coming up (the trial), and he’s going to need all the support he can get, (people) who are going to stick up for him, no matter what. I hope he’s got that, because that’s what he would have had with me.”

Giggs, he said, was still his brother, regardless of their tangled love lives. But there was unmistakable anger in his voice and one exchange when he started talking as though directly addressing his brother. “What are you doing?” he wanted to know. “You’re the most decorated footballer in this country, you played for one of the biggest clubs from 17 to 41 (sic), and you’re ruining your fucking legacy. And for what?”

Giggs found his cross-examination such an ordeal that even Daw suggested that a man who had played more than 1,000 professional games had strayed dangerously close to agreeing “his career was not at Manchester United but at Bolton Wanderers”.

It was an intense grilling from Wright — a legal heavyweight described by Chambers & Partners as a “rock star, one of the top silks on the circuit” — that was followed by Giggs, visibly embarrassed, saying he did not know what the word “impetuous” meant.

Giggs ate his lunch in a small, windowless room where, on day four, there was a knock at the door from a United fan who had gone through all the security checks downstairs to track down his hero.

“I’m here to support you,” the fan told him. “Come on, support Ryan Giggs. He’s a legend. Ryan Giggs, Manchester United legend.”

History will indeed remember Giggs as a football legend who, in ordinary circumstances, might have been immortalised one day with his own statue outside Old Trafford.

Maybe, in time, that can still happen. For now, however, Giggs is celebrating a victory of another kind when, in reality, it doesn’t feel like this is a case where anyone wins or anyone looks good. Giggs’ legal representatives might feel differently, celebrating their triumph with unashamed joy.

It is just difficult to know who the real Ryan Giggs is.

(Top photo: Getty Images; design: Sam Richardson)