It has been a week for the veneration of legends. Ryan Giggs was honoured on Sunday as BBC Sports Personality of the Year for 2009, voted for by the people of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. An additional reward was his being scoffed at by many a critic. Giggs' winning of PFA Footballer of the Year in May for season 2008-9 also happened to much consternation.
Sentiment clearly played a part in the delivery of both gongs to Giggs' Worsley mansion and it is that emotion that it is in overflowing supply over on Merseyside where Liverpool FC are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the arrival of Bill Shankly at Anfield. The Scot, hewn from the type of industrial working-class background that has yielded British football its greatest leaders, casts a shadow over the club he took from the obscurity of the Second Division to the precipice of their unprecedented glory of the late 70s and early 80s.
Sunday was a day to relive all our yesterdays, as Ian St. John, Liverpool forward of the 60s, was called into the Sky studio to reminisce about the Shankly era ahead of his still-beloved team's clash with Arsenal. "Saint", previously full of anecdotes and those vocal impressions of the great man all his former charges seem to do (the word "son" gets plenty of airing amid a guttural Scots burr), ended the match looking as disconsolate as he probably did when his legendary ITV show "Saint and Greavsie" got axed in 1992. As tears welled in his eyes at Liverpool's current plight, he desperately needed Jimmy Greaves to steal in with a gag about Scottish goalkeepers to cheer him up.
That St. John was holding forth on Sky came as a great irony since it was that broadcasters' purchase of Premier League rights that precipitated his removal from ITV after they were outbid for the "whole new ball game". Further irony was piled on at the role reversal that has happened to the English game since ITV last held rights to English football's top division. The last ITV Sunday broadcast was a 2-0 defeat of Manchester United by Liverpool, a result that handed the last-ever old-style Football League title to Leeds United.
A far more jocular "Saint" was part of the studio team that day as the Kop belted out "You'll never win the league" to United fans 25-years bereft. One of the players barracked and booed that day was none other than Ryan Giggs, a callow 18-year-old stripling at the time. Infamously, Giggs took the time to sign an autograph for a fan outside the ground on that May afternoon, only for the fan to rip up the piece of paper and laugh in his face with the word "loser".
The rivalry between the two clubs is as strong now as it was then but with roles almost totally reversed. United would seem to have a better chance this season of reaching the grail of 19 titles than Liverpool but in the celebration of two legends then maybe, just maybe, rivalries can be put aside. Giggs has truly been a man for all seasons, the type of one-club man every club used to have. His longevity and reinvention are to be praised and emulated. There are those, and some of them number in Manchester United's supporter-base, who may feel he has never reached the seemingly limitless potential he showed as a teenager yet his personal achievements are still unparalleled.
Those who dismiss his decorations as something akin to a sympathy vote need only look at a Premier League assist table that sees him lie second behind Cesc Fabregas, 14 years his junior. He can still make an impact and it is somewhat churlish to choose to now point out the lulls in his career (1994-5 and 1999-2003 were eras of comparative slump). Liverpool's thwarted quest for glory has often centred around their lack of a decent winger to succeed John Barnes, the key man in that last 1990 title win. Many a Kopite has spoken of their need for a Giggs-esque player and the likes of Bernard Diomede, Harry Kewell and latterly Albert Riera and Ryan Babel have been pale imitations.
And that admiration can be crossed over and matched by United fans admitting their respect for Shankly, a man who was a friend of Matt Busby, their own father figure. Shankly's witticisms, and a boyish passion for the game that lasted until his untimely death, still cast a warm glow to the heart of any football fan. Indeed, Busby used to invite his fellow Scot to Old Trafford after Shankly had been warned off his regular returns to Liverpool's Melwood training ground following his shock 1974 retirement.
We live, of course, in a different era, and it is almost impossible to imagine Rafael Benitez asking a retired Sir Alex Ferguson over to Anfield to take in a game. Yet to award credit where credit is due is to rise above the rather too easily accepted bile-filled rivalries of the modern-day game. And that is no bad thing. Both Giggs and Shankly are to be celebrated, whichever side of the East Lancs divide a fan may sit on.