The latest in a series of profiles and interviews, Orginal Fat Bob gives his personal view on the life and career of a footballing guest, before sitting down for a chat and asking a few questions. Our Diasboro special guest this week is Gary Pallister.
1. The Overview – the man and his career
Gary was born in Ramsgate, Kent although he has always been considered by most of us a local lad. He is one of those football players who began and ended his professional career with the Boro. When you see him strolling down Yarm High Street, or still patrolling the corridors of Middlesbrough and Manchester United, where he usually acts as a match host at their grounds, he is welcomed and greeted with smiles at every turn. Tall, greying at the temples and still handsome and athletic looking, he has the appearance, now in his early fifties, of being self-assured and a man comfortable with life. This can be evidenced when seen on Television, when he appears as a guest football summarizer on Sky Sports and other Televised Sports Channels.
He says “I didn’t come into the game until late. I was 19 when I turned pro and I hadn’t done an apprenticeship or anything like that, so I was privileged to end up having such a good career. You take it for granted at the time but, looking back now, I realise how lucky I was.”
He is always ready to laugh, and joke and he obviously loves still being in the football environment, where he can enjoy the craic with his fellow former team mates, as they playfully make digs at one another. Just like the young lads they once were and how we all remember them.
Pally was signed as a youth player from Billingham Town when spotted by the late great Willie Maddren and his management team. A fee was agreed and paid to them of a new football strip (a bargain signing OFB). I remember seeing him as a tall gangly youth and he was quickly packed off to Darlington on loan, to get used to the rough and tumble of lower league football. He came back determined to make his mark and he was helped in that, because he was to have alongside him another Boro legend, in the form of Tony Mowbray. He played as a centre-half and made the rare achievement of representing the English national side in 1988 before appearing in the top flight. He did this whilst playing in the Second Division for the Boro. I remember listening to that game on the radio, in my Managing Director’s office at work. We were surrounded by another ten keen Boro fans, eager to hear how he was doing. Well the boy done well; he was capped 22 times by England between 1988 and 1996 and I tried to see every one of them, proud that we had one of our own, playing for our Country.
Partnered by Mogga, the defensive partnership went from strength to strength and is still considered by many (including me – OFB) as one of the best that the Boro have ever had. Later that year Pally helped ‘Boro win our second successive promotion and reach the First Division, just two years after we almost went out of business. However we were relegated on the final day of the 1988–89 season. As one of the highest regarded defenders in England, his days at Ayresome Park were looking numbered as soon as Boro were relegated, but he did begin the 1989–90 season. He was still at the club in the Second Division, before his move to Manchester United was completed.
He played for Manchester United from 1989-1998, for which was then a club-record of £2.3 million for a Second Division defender. It was also the highest fee between British clubs, and the second highest fee to be paid by a British club (second only to Ian Rush’s return to Liverpool, from Juventus a year earlier).
A few eyebrows were raised when Alex Ferguson paid such an amount of money for him, but Fergie needed a centre-back to partner Steve Bruce. Pally was the only man to feature in the first 10 major trophy successes for the manager at United where he won four Premier League titles and three FA Cups.
Following a blazing row with the Manchester United boss, Gary tells how he feared his career under Sir Alex Ferguson would last just 12 months, though as we now know he survived the dressing room confrontation with Fergie as an Old Trafford novice. Speaking in a documentary to celebrate Ferguson’s 25 years at United, he reminisces about that incident and it reveals a different side of Fergie to that we think we know.
“I’ve certainly witnessed the good cop, bad cop versions of Sir Alex Ferguson. I could take you through a whole file of them! There are far too many to mention. But he does have a public persona and a private one. We all see the fiery Scotsman on TV, at loggerheads with the press, and referees, but I can tell you he is a well-balanced individual. Yes, he put the fear of God into players, but you wouldn’t last 25 years at United if that was all you were about. There is so much more to him than the facade the public get to see. His man-management is great. He’ll rip into you if you deserve it, but publicly he’ll protect his players.”
“I recall once at Anfield, when I was having a shocker and he took me off at half-time, but when I read the papers, I discovered I had an injury. He’d told the press that was why he’d substituted me.”
“But one incident that really stands out for me happened after about a season at the club. I’d joined in 1989 from Middlesbrough, for a British club record of £2.3m and it is no secret that the first few months were difficult for me.”
“In that first year it always seemed to be me, Lee Sharpe and Steve Bruce who copped for the hairdryer. But in one match he really laid into me at half-time in the dressing room. I thought he had over-stepped the mark with what he came out with and I’d had enough. He pushed me too far and I responded.”
“I had an almighty bust-up with him. I thought my United career was going to be over as a result of that. A couple of days later I was called to his office. I went there expecting to get my P45 and be told I was on my way. I entered his room and I was still full of anger and adamant I had been right. I was readying myself for another argument and to be told I was being put on the transfer list.”
“But he really took the wind out of my sails. He deflated my balloon by apologising. He said he had crossed the mark and was wrong for what he had said. I was so taken aback, I forgot to say sorry myself.”
“It was a pivotal moment in my United career, because my respect for the manager grew enormously. He was man enough to admit he was wrong. More than ever before I knew from that day on that this was a manager I could work for.”
“He has dealt with so many different personalities and nationalities and has managed to adapt from pre-Premier League days when the job was so different, to the modern-day game and how the power of the player has changed. He was an old-school style boss, but has managed to adjust. He embraced everything and took new styles on board.”
It seems unfair to point to Pally’s lack of goals, when his main job was keeping out the opposition at the other end. The two headers at Liverpool to virtually clinch the 1996/97 title for Manchester United were truly special but there was something magical about his free-kick in the final home game of the 1992/93 campaign against Blackburn, when Old Trafford celebrated ending the 26-year wait for the championship. Everybody was willing him to get off the mark for the season and his perfectly-placed set-piece proved he was no ordinary centre-half and that he had skill in abundance.
By the time of his departure from Old Trafford after nine years, he was the only player to have collected winner’s medals in all of the club’s successes under Alex Ferguson’s management, and second only to Brian McClair (who left United at the same time) he was the club’s longest serving player.
Pally came back to the Boro for £2.5million, signed by Bryan Robson who had played alongside him until 1994. The fee was actually more than the money Manchester United had paid for him nine years earlier in July 1998. He scored once against Southampton in 55 League appearances, as well as appearing in two FA Cup matches and four League Cup matches.
His final playing season, in which we finished 14th in the table, was season 2000–01. He retired from playing due to a succession of injuries on 4 July 2001, at the age of 36. This was just three weeks after the appointment of Steve McClaren as our new manager. I was always grateful that I saw him play and he talks to us now.
2. The Interview – a quick chat
OFB: What year did you join Boro as a professional footballer?
GP: I joined the boro in 1984.
OFB: Where did you stay? Did you rent, or did you live in digs?
GP: I was living with my parents in Norton, so I didn’t have to live in digs.
OFB: Who was your favourite Boro player and others that you have played with?
GP: The best Boro players I played with were Alan Boksic and Gazza.
OFB: Who were the best and worst trainers in the team?
GP: The best trainers in the Boro team were Curtis Fleming and Gary Hamilton.
OFB: When did the team travel for away games, how did they get there, by bus or by train?
GP: It was usually the day before and nearly always by bus.
OFB: How many players usually travelled and did the Directors travel with you?
GP: In my first spell it would be a squad of 15 then about 18 in my 2nd spell, no Directors came with us.
OFB: Did you have nice hotels or was it just bed and breakfast?
GP: It was always a decent hotel that we stayed in.
OFB: Who did you room with for away matches?
GP: During my first spell with the club it was Bernie Slaven, then Colin Cooper in my 2nd spell.
OFB: Who was the joker in the team?
GP: First it was probably Slav, then it was Gazza.
OFB: Can you tell us any amusing anecdotes or pranks that were played?
GP: None that I could tell publicly!
OFB: Whose boots did you clean as an apprentice and who cleaned yours?
GP: I was never an apprentice, so I never had to clean any boots.
OFB: Did you try and emulate your style of play, on any individual player who played in your position?
GP: Alan Hansen
OFB: What was your most memorable game, your own individual performance and best experience with the fans?
GP: The Chelsea play-off game in 1988 at Stamford Bridge
OFB: What was your worst game or experience and why?
GP: I suppose it has to be the Leicester game, the last game of the season in 1988 when we failed to win the game and get automatic promotion.
OFB: Is there a game that you wished you had played in, either for Boro or another team?
GP: The 1999 European cup final for United.
OFB: Who was in your opinion the best manager that Boro have ever had?
GP: Jack Charlton.
OFB: Who was the manager that had the greatest influence on your career and why?
GP: Willie Madren, he took me under his wing and pushed me to be a success.
OFB: Which opposing team and which player did you fear playing against?
GP: I used to hate playing at Plough Lane, home of Wimbledon and never really feared playing against anyone.
OFB: Which opposing team and which player did you like playing against?
GP: I liked playing at Anfield, it was always the biggest test for me.
OFB: Who is your favourite Boro player of all time and why?
GP: Willie Maddren, because he believed in me.
OFB: Who is your current favourite Boro player and why?
GP: Ben Gibson, I like the way he’s developing as a leader of the team.
OFB: How do you think the match day has changed from the time that you played professional football to the present day?
GP: I Think the pitches have changed dramatically, it’s so much better to play good football on now.
OFB: If you could be a fly on the wall, is there any dressing room you would wish to eavesdrop on?
GP: Pep Guardiola at Man City.
OFB: Do you have any regrets in your career, or missed opportunities?
GP: It’s hard to have any regrets, when I was so fortunate to have the career that I did have.
OFB: Do you still follow the Boro and their results
GP: Yeh, I go to most of the home games.
OFB: Whereabouts in the Country do you live these days and what do you do?
GP: I still live on Teesside in Yarm (He is also a TV Pundit – OFB)
OFB: Whom have you made a lifelong friend through football?
GP: Slav, Mogga, Brucey.
OFB: Finally, if you hadn’t had a professional career as a footballer, what do you think you would have done as a career?
GP: Ha Ha, not got a clue, probably something involving sport.
OFB: A huge thank you Gary, for taking the time to talk to Diasboro and our readers.