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Ex-Red: Gary Gillespie
Scottish defender Gary Gillespie was one of Liverpool’s key players during a great period of success in the 1980′s. He was cultured on the ball, a great tackler and he popped up with his share of goals, including a hat-trick against Birmingham City in 1986.
Gary was born in Bonnybridge, Scotland in July 1960 and he started his career in 1977 with Falkirk. He was made captain at just seventeen years old, making him the world’s youngest team captain. He made twenty two appearances in the Scottish Division Two and made such an impact that Coventry City paid Â£75,000 for him before he was even eighteen. Gary spent six seasons at Coventry helping them through relegation battles from Division One virtually every season. His performances in defence were often regarded as one of the reasons for the Sky Blues remaining in the top flight season after season. During his time at Coventry, Gary was never short of admirers and a number of teams were vying for his signature. In July 1983 Joe Fagan had replaced Bob Paisley as Liverpool boss and he won the race for Gary’s signature and made him his first signing Â£325,000.
Gary had a slow start to his Liverpool career due to Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson being settled as a perfect partnership in central defence. A succession of injuries didn’t help his claims for a first team place either. Gary had to wait almost an entire season before he made his first team debut in April 1984 against Walsall in the League Cup. Liverpool finished the season with an incredible three trophies by winning the First Division, the League Cup (against Everton) and the European Cup. Unfortunately for Gary his one appearance wasn’t enough for him to receive any medals, but he was happy to be a part of such a great squad and as we know he certainly made up for it in the subsequent seasons.
During the following season 1984/85, Gary started to become a regular in the side as Hansen and Lawrenson both suffered with injuries. He made twenty two appearances during his second season which unfortunately ended without a trophy for Liverpool. Gary became a real regular during the 1985/86 season and began to really make his name as one of the best defenders around. He was an important member of the team making twenty four appearances as the Reds won the clubs first league and F.A. Cup double. Unfortunately he still wasn’t able to dislodge the Hansen and Lawrenson partnership and he was unlucky to miss out on playing in the 1986 F.A. Cup final against Everton. At the time only one substitute was allowed and Steve McMahon was chosen for the bench, himself unlucky to lose his place to Kevin Macdonald.
It was during the 1985/86 season when Gary was involved in possibly his most memorable moment in a red shirt. It came on 26 April 1986 at Anfield and our opponents were Birmingham City. We won the game 5 ‘“ 0 and it was the day when Gary scored a hat-trick, a fantastic feat for any player to achieve but even more spectacular when a defender manages it. The only other defender I can ever recall scoring a hat-trick was Steve Nicol against Newcastle Utd. His first two goals came in open play as he made two great runs into the Birmingham area. The third goal came when Liverpool were awarded a penalty. Usually it would be Jan Molby’s responsibility to take the penalties but as Gary was on a hat-trick there was only one player to take this one. Gary placed the ball superbly in the corner of the net to put his name in the history books. As Gary later said, the only way it could have been more perfect would have been if it was scored in front of The Kop. All three goals were scored at the Anfield Road end.
The following season 1986/87 was a poor one for the club as they lost the league title to Everton and the League Cup final to Arsenal. For Gary though it was his most consistent season so far as he missed just three games in the entire season. The following season 1987/88 was absolutely amazing as Liverpool dominated everything in front of them and won the league with awesome style. Liverpool went on a run of twenty nine games unbeaten and only lost two games in total. Mark Lawrenson severely injured his knee during this season, forcing him to prematurely retire in 1988 aged just thirty. Lawrenson’s misfortune led to Gillespie now being installed as the regular partner to Alan Hansen and he missed just five games in the entire season. Possibly the defining visual image of Gary’s Liverpool career, in my opinion, came in the amazing 5 ‘“ 0 victory over Nottingham Forest. Gary scored the fourth goal and celebrated by pointing straight into the air in an aggressive style. Liverpool were denied a second league and cup double when they were defeated in shocking fashion by Wimbledon in the 1988 F.A. Cup final. Liverpool played poorly on the day but Gary was one of the better players. He played that game wearing a bandage round his head after he had cut it open the week before during a clash of heads with team-mate Nigel Spackman, who also played sporting a bandage.
It was during this season that Gary won the first of his thirteen caps for Scotland in European Championship qualifier against Belgium. He was part of the squad at the 1990 World Cup in Italy but only played in one game, the 1 ‘“ 0 defeat to Brazil.
In 1989 Gary was part of the Liverpool side at Hillsborough during the terrible tragedy. He joined his team-mates as they rallied round the families offering comfort and support. Unfortunately due to injury he missed the F.A. Cup final against Everton and for the second time he missed out on a winners medal. Gary helped the team to win their eighteenth league title in the following season 1989/90. His appearances became less regular due to the form of Gary Ablett and the arrival of Glenn Hysen who was brought in to eventually replace Alan Hansen who was now suffering with knee injuries. Gary was to score the winning goal in a 1 ‘“ 0 victory over Derby county to clinch the title.
When Kenny Dalglish resigned in February 1991, Gary’s days at Anfield were numbered. Deemed surplus to retirements by new boss Graeme Souness, Gary was sold to Celtic that summer for Â£925,000. Celtic was his favourite team as a child so it was fitting that this was who he would join after leaving Liverpool. He played sixty seven games at Parkhead before rejoining Coventry in 1994. He made three appearances during the 1994/95 season before he was struck down with a serious knee injury. Despite remaining on Coventry’s books for another two seasons Gary never played again and in 1997 he retired due to his persistent knee problems.
After retiring from his playing carrer, Gary settled back on Merseyside with his family. For the last few years Gary has enjoyed a very successful career in broadcasting with BBC Radio Merseyside. Along with Mike Hughes, Gary is the main commentator on all Liverpool games as well as presenting the occasional one off special. Gary also does work for the Liverpool website and has been involved in special retro shows. Gary also plays for the Liverpool Masters team which has been very successful in indoor tournaments.
It was at an indoor veteran’s tournament in 2006 that I had the pleasure of meeting Gary. It was at the event called ‘˜The Legends of Soccer’ in Vancouver, Canada and I was able to meet two other ex Reds, Paul Walsh and John Wark at the same event. It was fantastic to shake Gary’s hand and thank him for the memories. I was able to thank him for the goal against Derby County in 1990 and he was nice enough to recreate the famous celebration from his goal in the 5 ‘“ 0 demolition of Nottingham Forest.
Thanks to his performances during the glory years of the late eighties, Gary was voted number 68 in the series ‘˜100 Players Who Shook the Kop‘.