UTD Unscripted: Father and son

Friday 26 February 2021 16:41

My Dad was a Greco-Roman wrestler, but I can’t tell you how good he was. Maybe he can tell you, because I’ve never seen him wrestle competitively. Never ever.

I’ve just seen his scrapbooks and newspaper cuttings, which I found really, really interesting when I was a kid. I loved reading about it all and finding out how successful he was.  
He was in the Norwegian national team, he was Norwegian champion in 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970 and 1971, six years on the bounce. He was also competing for Norway in the European Championships and at major tournaments. He never got medals on those biggest stages, but nevertheless he was an absolutely massive inspiration for me. 
By the time I was born, he’d finished wrestling – thinking about it, maybe I was the reason he finished! – but my mates and I all knew about his career. We grew up in a small city, Kristiansund, where both my dad and Ole Olsen, who’s still coaching today, were first team wrestlers, so of course we heard all the stories. Everyone in the area knew who my dad was. 
Even though I never saw him wrestle, I always looked up to him. I loved to listen to his stories of how he practiced, how he trained and how he kept fit. He was very professional, very determined. He had some sort of talent as a sportsman, of course, because he was able to make it to that level, but probably his best talent was his mentality. That stuck with me even at a young age.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says

“Probably his best talent was his mentality. That stuck with me even at a young age.”

My son Noah was born in 2000. He’s 20 now and six foot four – he made his debut against us for Kristiansund in a pre-season friendly last summer – but he’s been going to Old Trafford since he was a tiny kid. In the past when we’d won the Premier League and did our lap of honour around the stadium, I carried him in my arms, so you could say that very early on in his life he was environmentally damaged! 
I injured my knee in August 2003 and I had four or five months out. I came back that season and played in the FA Cup semi-final win over Arsenal and I came on against Millwall in the final, but I knew inside that I wasn’t fit. I knew I needed an operation on my knee which would keep me out for at least a year. 
The surgeon who performed the operation was from Sweden, and my friend from Kristiansund, who’s also a doctor, was there with me throughout the entire operation so he could see exactly what had happened, what needed to be done and the details of my recovery programme.  
Sir Alex was brilliant with me. He let me go back home to Norway and do my recovery there. He trusted me to do the right things, he knew I would stay in touch with the surgeon and I had my friend there in Kristiansund too, so that meant we could all go home and stay together as a family, which was a huge help for me.
I’ve always had great support from my family throughout my career. My wife Silje has always gone with me wherever it has taken me. As a professional, you go to work, you do what you’re told, you do whatever you think is right, but you know that when you’re a family you’re together, you support each other and, of course, when you’ve got that kind of long-term injury, it dominates your home life. When you’re a fit footballer, you don’t always bring football home with you, but when you go through that kind of operation and there’s such a long road to recovery, you know that you have to really be doing everything absolutely right every single step of the way. In my case, that meant my rehab took over evenings and nights at home too, but I had great support throughout. When I had a setback in pre-season 2005, about a month before I was due to come back to training, the support was there for me. 
Throughout it all, it was my family that gave me extra motivation to get back. Like I said, when I first got injured in 2003, Noah was three years old. Obviously you don’t remember your dad when you’re three, so when I decided to have the big operation, Noah was one of the big inspirations, maybe my biggest motivating factor, for me to get back. 
I wanted to play at Old Trafford in front of my son. I wanted to be playing so that he could remember his dad as a professional footballer, and obviously I wanted to win so that he could remember me as a winner. Really, that all comes back to the history of me and my dad. I never saw him wrestle, never saw him compete and win, so I wanted Noah to at least remember me out on the pitch, winning. 
That would be going through my head when I was in the gym. 
That was my main focus then: that I needed to do everything right to come back to be able to play for Manchester United. It was a lot of hard work over a long time, and obviously there were setbacks along the way, but I got there in the end.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says

"Sir Alex was brilliant with me. He let me go back home to Norway and do my recovery there. He trusted me to do the right things."

In December 2005, just after Christmas, I came on at Birmingham. I knew I still had work to do, so over the next four or five months I was playing in the Reserves, working with Rene Meulensteen, just so I could get myself properly fit. Pre-season in 2006 went really well for me and I was back as a proper part of the manager’s squad for 2006/07, which turned out to be a pretty decent season! 
At Charlton, right at the start of the season, I scored my first goal for United in almost three years, then I scored the winner when we beat Celtic in the Champions League at Old Trafford. Those goals both felt amazing after so long out, but they were both scored at night, so Noah wasn’t there. He was there, though, when I made my first start at Old Trafford against Newcastle.  
October 1st, 2006. That was a special day. 
Just before half-time, Cristiano Ronaldo cut in from the left, hit a low shot through a crowd of players and it smacked against the far post. The ball rebounded and I was just there to react and tap it in. Then, just after half-time, Nemanja Vidic took a shot which deflected off my shinpad, changed direction and spun into the net at the Stretford End. 
We won 2-0, I was credited with both of our goals, so when that final whistle went, it felt incredible.  
Walking off the pitch that day was probably one of the proudest moments of my life.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says

"Walking off the pitch that day was probably one of the best moments of my life."

Heading towards the tunnel, looking over to the Family Stand and seeing Noah looking right at me, clenching both of his fists and grinning. That, right there, was exactly what I’d been working towards for most of the previous three years. All those hours in the gym, all those long nights making sure I did everything I needed to, they all led to that moment. It was all worth it.  
I won a lot of trophies with United and had so many great memories, but that day was more personal than any trophy. 
My daughter Karna and my youngest son Elijah are younger than Noah, of course, so they don’t remember their daddy playing, but Noah can vouch for me (I hope!). No need for any scrap books or newspaper clippings, he can just tell them about the time he saw dad scoring the winning goals for United at Old Trafford.