Ian Herbert: The sad story of Giuliano Maiorana's brush with fame under Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford sums up the fickle nature of football

The journey from Histon to the Manchester United first team had taken six weeks and within a further two months Maiorana found himself starting against Arsenal

Giuliano Maiorana is too busy delivering upholstered furniture around Cambridgeshire to feel angry, after all these years, about the injustice that can be attached to a career in football. But it is a measure of his experience that he wishes he had never possessed the skills that gave him a glimpse of the big time.

His name will trigger a flicker of recognition to those who have followed Manchester United for long enough, because briefly in the late 1980s he was all the rage. The world was a smaller place back then, Alex Ferguson was looking for young players to deliver him from some of his darkest days as United manager, and so it was that Maiorana, the son of Italian parents, was spotted by one of the manager’s scouts, Ray Medwell, playing for Histon, six divisions below the Football League in Cambridgeshire.

He was 19, had been deemed too small by Cambridge United and, when finally persuaded that the call for a trial at United was not a wind-up, was horrified to hear that they wanted to see him immediately. He was glad the traffic made him late when he travelled across with Histon’s manager, Alan Doyle, because he thought that might get him off the hook. He was appalled to discover that Brian Kidd had delayed the training session for him.

A full account of what happened next is captured for the first time in a book I alluded to here last week, Fergie’s Fledglings (Vertical Editions, £14.99) by the United historian Wayne Barton, published next week. Though that first training session was only slightly less than frightening, with 17-year-old defenders harder to shake off than glue, Ferguson gave the young winger a chance in a testimonial match at Birmingham and then put him on the Old Trafford bench for Millwall’s arrival at Old Trafford in January 1989. The journey from Histon to the United first team had taken six weeks and within a further two months Maiorana found himself starting against Arsenal at Old Trafford.

One of the beautiful aspects of Maiorana’s testimony is his ability to explain how it was to play on the Old Trafford pitch in a way that you and I can really understand. “I was running down the wing and it was a strange experience,” he says. “It kept feeling like my ears were blocking and unblocking through breathing heavily. I just heard... ‘United’, ‘United’, ‘United’ fading in and out of my ears...”

But then football’s outrageous fortune began to reveal itself. He and Ferguson just did not get on. Maiorana wore his hair long and, because of the Italianate look that he liked to cultivate, he did not always shave. Ferguson disapproved, kept telling him to cut his hair, and Maiorana’s disinclination to do so did not please the manager. “It was all about respect for him,” Maiorana told me last week when we picked up some of the threads of the story. “He bawled at me, blanked me and he belittled me a few times in front of people. I was my own man. I had come fresh out of nowhere and that made me who I was, whereas most of the others had come out of digs.”

Perhaps Maiorana’s individualism meant his relationship with Ferguson was doomed. His story of how he went down to the bar for an orange juice, during an overnight stay in Dumfries after a game to commemorate the Lockerbie disaster, and was confronted by Ferguson suggests so. Barton’s book certainly reflects the manager’s hugely uncompromising streak. But a modicum of hope that Maiorana would make it back into the first team existed until he was tackled by Dwight Yorke in a reserve team game against Aston Villa and suffered irreparable knee ligament damage. He was 21.

The book’s subtle, but searing, tragedy is located in the succession of Fergie’s fledglings who suffered the same fate. Tony Gill was well on the way to establishing himself when, with assistant manager Archie Knox’s orders to “make sure you get plenty of tackles in” duly “ringing in my head” as he puts it, he suffered a leg injury from which there was no return. The forward Deiniol Graham had just received a pass from Ryan Giggs in a reserve team game against Bury in January 1989 when he broke his arm, an injury which had irreversible complications. Ben Thornley did make it back after suffering serious knee ligament damage in 1994 but the injury prohibited him from fulfilling his potential. Here, laid bare, is football’s casual injustice. Its ever-present risks are a sobering riposte to those who believe that young footballers should not be rewarded handsomely.

Maiorana’s contract expired and he moved to Sweden to play for Ljungskile, though it was no good. His knee was shot. His retirement at 24 brought a dreadful kind of reality, trying to forget football when “your brain is conditioned to it”, as he puts it. He would deny being the person people in the street thought he was and hated the idea of going back to where it all began – the family upholstery business.

He did not watch football for seven years. Gradually he has come to terms with life. “Learning to appreciate the simple things,” as he defines it. “Putting dinner on the table. Paying the bills. Just you and your family and friends.”

McGovern’s ‘Hillsborough’ shows truth worth repeating

Jimmy McGovern’s film, Hillsborough, is freely available on YouTube, and watching it again, ahead of today’s 25th anniversary of the disaster, was a reminder of how the writer stands tall among those who have kept the search for justice alive all these years. With the passing of those years, the demand has grown in the media for a creative output which creates instant gratification. Achieving the most hits and the most views are what supposedly matter in journalism now. Those who can tell things in 140 characters prosper.

McGovern still lives on Merseyside and still fights for those causes which pass the modern media by. The victims of the arcane legal doctrine of joint enterprise, which allows groups of people to be charged with murder, even if only one person delivered the fatal blow, have struggled to be heard for years, largely because they are young black men. McGovern heard the pleas of families affected. His drama, Common, centring on the subject, will secure a 9pm slot on BBC 1 later this year.

McGovern said when Hillsborough was first screened in 1996 that “I can now die knowing my life was worth something”.

On this of all days, his work invites us to forget the currency of page impressions on websites and pursue the causes that really matter.

News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Sport
Wayne Rooney warms up ahead of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane
football
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
News
Danielle George is both science professor and presenter
people
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015