The next former Boro player in my QA series is with the brilliant Gary Gill. I was lucky enough to talk to Gary on the phone recently, talking about his time at Middlesbrough. Here’s his truthful and honest account of his Boro career. Enjoy!
Gary Gill was born in Middlesbrough on the 28th November 1964. He came through the Boro youth ranks breaking into the first team in 1983, making six appearances, before being loaned out to Hull City in the same season. He only played one game for the Tigers, before returning to Boro in the following season. His career began to take off for Middlesbrough playing a creditable 90 games, scoring two goals. Not a bad tally of appearances with all the injuries he suffered in his time at Boro. He was also lucky to play in the fantastic team of 86, also known as Brucie’s Babes.
He left his home town club to join local neighbours Darlington in 1990 after a seven year stay at Boro. At the Quakers he played 68 games, scoring a decent 11 goals in his two year stint at Feethams, before deciding to try his luck in Wales signing for Cardiff City in 1991. Gary only played 6 games for The Bluebirds, scoring one goal, before retiring from the game in 1992. He later managed non league Gateshead.
You came through the youth ranks and made your first team debut in 1983. What was it like to be a Middlesbrough lad playing in the first team and did you feel pressure to perform week in week out?
GG. Yes, I did feel pressure as I wanted to do well for my family and friends all from the area and the fans. It was a dream to play for my home town team, I felt a great honour to play for Boro and always wanted to do my best.
Can you remember your debut?
GG. I came on as a sub at Swansea City away in April 1984 under Jack Charlton, who was in temporary charge. My starting debut was against Charlton a week later In May. I was ok. The game itself was a typical end of season affair. I think Heine Otto scored the only goal of the game, but despite a small crowd and such a low key affair that a very special moment for me.
What was your best game for the club?
GG. To be honest there were a lot of great games in the Div 3 promotion years. A 4-0 win at home to Bournemouth stands out, drawing 1-1 at Wimbledon in Div 1 against the “Crazy Gang” with Vinny Jones and all was interesting and a real test of your resolve, but a great day for me personally was a 3-3 draw at home to Everton in front of a big and appreciative Ayresome Park crowd. Playing in the top flight was the best time playing at the club for me and was a dream come true. It was shame it was so abruptly ended quite soon after when I broke my leg against Southampton.
Who was the manager who gave you your big chance and what was your relationship like with him?
GG. The manager who influenced me the most was the late Willie Maddren. He was my youth team coach and he really believed in me. He was fair with you, but would also give you it when you needed it. He cared for you both on and off the pitch and I really trusted him and what he told me. I also got on very well with the charismatic larger than life Malcolm Allison and Bruce Rioch in the early days.
Can you remember the two goals you scored for the club? Did you score one against Carlisle on Boxing Day, not sure if I am right. I seem to remember seeing it?
GG. Yes, I remember both goals. Funny enough both goals were headers from crosses by Gary Parkinson and both were in front of the Holgate End. I also remember jumping on the fence after one of the goals just like Bernie did. Don’t know why I did that really as we used to laugh at the Wolf when he did it!
Who was the best player you played with at the club and are you still in touch with them?
GG. Gary Pallister was the best player I played with. He had everything Pally, and his talent was justified by performing at the very highest level when playing for England.
Who was the biggest influence on your Boro career?
GG. My parents were my biggest influence by far. They attended all my games I played in through all the different levels from youth to the first team. They pushed me and encouraged me throughout and really believed in me when I sometimes doubted myself.
Who was your footballing hero and why?
GG. Pele. I loved him. He was my first hero and is still my favourite footballer. I was bought a Brazil shirt when I was six-years-old. I loved the colours of that strip and the way the Brazil team played.
Can you tell us how you came to join Boro?
GG. I was part of a very successful Middlesbrough Schools U15 football team that won the National U15 tournament under a really good coach at the time, Steve Smelt. After winning that trophy we had the title of best team in the Country at this age category and all of the players were picked up mainly by Middlesbrough, me included. The late and great Stephen Bell was in that side and what a player he was! There were other clubs asking for us especially Belly, but it was easy for everyone to go to Boro.
Who was the toughest opponent you faced?
GG. The best player I played against was a very young Paul Gascoinge in a youth team game. We played in a league called the Northern Intermediate League which was a really tough league. I had already played in the 1st team at this point but was asked to play and captain the side in an important game against Newcastle. He was that good that at half time after the team talk I asked the coach who the “skinny kid” was who I couldn’t get near!
He was absolutely on a different level to anything that I’d come across even then. A very very special talent indeed. I caught him in the 2nd half and many years later he pulled me aside at a sportsman dinner he was speaking at to tell me I was the 1st person to ever really catch him and showed me a scar down his leg to prove it. I told him I’d never needed to do that to anyone before which was the ultimate compliment!
Who did you room with on away games, and were there any amusing incidents to tell?
GG. The player I roomed with was Stephen Pears. I used to get involved in a few pranks in hotels at away games. Water fights often used to get out of hand. Rooming with Pearsy kept me in check as he was and still is a sensible lad and a good friend of mine.
What was your relationship with the Boro fans like?
GG. It was a bit mixed really. It could be hard to play in the first team as a local lad, with the added pressure of being expected to perform and I did get some stick which was unfair at times I thought. At other times the support could be exceptional and really helped you lift your game.
What was your preferred position with Boro?
GG. I really loved playing as the 2nd central defender or sweeper behind the two centre halves, but I played a full season in our Div 3 promotion year as a holding midfield player and played regular at right back – versatile I think they call it now. When I went to Darlington I played as a goalscoring box to box attacking midfield player!
You played just short of 100 games for Boro. Do you feel you could have played more, or did you feel this was a fair amount?
GG. As a player you always want to play in every game but for me injuries stopped me at important times of my career so realistically I probably did well to play as much as I did. I had a terrible back injury at 19 and had 2 discs removed from my back. I did very well to return from that. Without the injuries I got I would have played many more games.
Have you ever thought about writing your autobiography?
GG. (Laughs) it would be an interesting read, but no.
You left Middlesbrough in 1990 to join Darlington?
GG. I didn’t want to leave Boro, but sadly me and Bruce Rioch fell out and the writing was on the wall. Brian little had just taken over at Darlington and he had enquired about my availability. I worked with Brian when he was Reserve Team coach at Boro. I had a lot of respect for him and he was very persuasive so I decided reluctantly to go. They were in the Conference at the time and I didn’t need to drop as I could have stayed in the same league as I was at the time with Boro, but I don’t regret going and played really well for a very good and successful team when Brian was in charge.
Can you remember your last game for the club?
GG. It was against Plymouth at home, the season after we got relegated and my 1st game back since breaking my leg. I think we lost.
What are you up to these days? Are you still European scout for the club, and how long have you been involved with the club?
GG. I have been in and around the club since I was a youngster in one form or another. I have moved on from my old position as European scout to Head of senior recruitment.
What were your thoughts on the departure of your good friend Tony Mowbray as manager? Did you speak to him at the time?
GG. It was really sad that Tony left. I played with him right from an early age and grew up with him. I have been in touch yes, and I really hope he returns to management in the future very soon as he is a good guy.
Have you any involvement in the Middlesbrough former players association?
GG. I don’t have any day to day involvement, but I attend and support events when invited. I think the guys do an excellent job.
What were your thoughts on working with BBC Radio Tees as football summariser with Ali Brownlee?
GG. Great fun with Ali and before that I really enjoyed working with a top commentator in Paul Addison. Two different styles and people, but a couple of very accomplished broadcasters.
Who was your best mate at the club?
GG. I got on very well with all the lads there, we were all very young coming through to the first team together, players like Alan (Kerny) Kernaghan, Gary (Hammo) Hamilton and Mark Burke, but the player I was closest to was probably Stuart (Rippers) Ripley as we both came from Acklam. I still see quite a lot of Burkey as he works with us on the Recruitment side due mainly to his links in Holland where he currently lives. I really value his “eye”.
And finally Gary, can you tell us what it was like to play for Boro, and what the club means to you?
GG. All I ever wanted to do as a kid was play for Boro. I was very proud to wear the red shirt at all levels, but playing in the top flight for Boro was the pinnacle of my career and despite the setbacks I loved every minute.
Thanks for taking time out to answer my questions, it was great to chat to you. All the best Gary.
Up the Boro!
Stuart Whittingham (@originalwhit89)