GARRY GIBSON, the former chairman of Hartlepool United, was kind enough to come to our Sport Memories meeting a few weeks ago and give us a talk about his experiences in football, life and business.

He was born in Wheatley Hill in east Durham, left school at 16 and became a successful property developer – so successful that at the age of 34 in 1989, he was able to become the chairman of Hartlepool United. He was the second youngest chairman in the Football League, and it was the start of an amazing five year rollercoaster ride.

The Northern Echo: Garry Gibson addresses the Sporting Memories group. Picture: Peter JacksonGarry Gibson addresses the Sporting Memories group at Bishop Auckland's Heritage Park. Picture: Peter Jackson

"We were in Nice on a family holiday and not really happy so we came back to Blackpool,” he said, explaining how he got a place on the Pools board. “On the BBC Look North programme it was reported that Hartlepool were looking for directors.

“When I enquired, I was told that to be a director you had to put £30,000 into the club's coffers.

"I was doing all right with property development so I threw my hat into the ring, and joined the board in September 1989.

“Six weeks later I was chairman.

“When I took over, I spoke to all the staff and wrote to all the club chairmen in the Football League asking for advice.

“Twenty or so wrote back. Bob Lord at Burnley had advice about toilet rolls, another said: 'Don't trust the manager.'

“None from the North East replied.

“We were bottom of the old Division Four. Finances at the club were so tight that manager Bob Moncur often slept in his car when he went on scouting missions.”

The Northern Echo:

In December 1989, he replaced Moncur with Cyril Knowles (above), who had played for Middlesbrough and Spurs and had managed rivals Darlington from 1983 to 1987. Knowles had transformed the Quakers’ fortunes by taking them from bottom of Division 4 up into Division 3 for two heady seasons until relegation once more intervened. Knowles was appointed to do a similar job at Pools.

“Then a stroke of luck,” Garry told us. “Hartlepool council owned a big building next to the ground. I got the lease and developed it with dressing rooms, a gym, hospitality lounges.

“On my first game as chairman I took my dad, who had done some painting for me, to the turnstile, and said to the turnstile operator ‘let my dad come in for free’.

“The gentleman on the turnstile said 'who are you?'.

“I said I was the new chairman, but dad still had to pay.”

He remembered Knowles’s unique style as a manger.

"Cyril had a funny way with the players,” he said. “He shouted at them a lot – nothing wrong with that, but shouting soon wears off. On the bus to away games he hardly spoke to them while I joined them for cards – and won.

"We got some momentum going in the club, avoided relegation and then the following season, 1990-91, we won promotion.”

The Northern Echo: Backtrack - Pictured right - Garry GibsonGarry Gibson in March 1993 at Hartlepool

The early part of the turnaround had something to do with an 18-year-old from Gateshead who Knowles was bringing on.

“Don Hutchinson had joined us – Jack Watson brought him from Darlington where he had displayed some disciplinary problems.

“Then in the League Cup, we drew Tottenham Hotspur. We lost the first leg at their place 5-0, Paul Gascoigne scored four and Gary Lineker one.

“Our home leg drew a crowd of 9,000, but we lost 2-1. However, Don Hutchinson was given the man of the match accolade.

“I decided to promote Don by sending a video of the game to all the top clubs. Ron Yeats (the chief scout) from Liverpool came back to me and then Liverpool chairman John Moore got in touch on the Sunday evening.

“The following week, myself, our chief executive Alan Murray, with Hutch and his dad went down to Liverpool. Hutch's dad was looking for a wage of £300 per week.

“Peter Robinson, their secretary, said: 'We don't negotiate wages, Don is 19 so he will start on £500 per week.’

“And we got a cheque for £300,000 – not bad business.

"When I got back home I asked my wife if there had been any calls for me. 'Yes,' she said, 'a person called Ferguson rang and another called Clough.'

“Hutch played for Liverpool Reserves that very evening with Jan Molby and Peter Beardsley, and went on to earn £25,000 a week at West Ham.” He also played for Sunderland and Everton, won 26 caps for Scotland, and can now be heard working as a TV and radio pundit.

In February 1991, Knowles was diagnosed with a brain tumour and, sadly, he died that August, aged only 47.

" I decided to make our CEO, Alan Murray, the manager, mainly because I liked the way he spoke to people and the players,” said Garry. "Unfortunately we couldn't keep our momentum going, couldn't get loans because of an overspend, and in 1993-94, the year after the Premier League was formed, we were relegated.

“It wasn't a happy time.

“I do remember taking up my seat in the directors’ box before one game and a section of the crowd shouted: 'You fat bastard.' I looked around and there was only myself in the directors’ box, so I decided it was time to move on because the problems that Hartlepool faced had made me take my eye off my own business and that had started to suffer as well.”

The Northern Echo: Garry Gibson addressing the sporting Memories group. Picture: Peter Jackson

By 1997, he was declared bankrupt. He spent four years on the dole and his marriage broke up.

Irrepressible, though, he bounced back – but not into football.

"What I did notice and appreciate at Hartlepool is that not all clubs want to be in a relatively safe mid-table position. Your fans are only really interested if you are either in the top six, chasing promotion, or in the bottom six, fighting relegation.

“Secondly, not all good footballers want to play professional football. Keith Nobbs (who played 280 times for Pools and is father of the England women’s international, Jordan) stopped playing to be a bricklayer.”

During his time in football, he was regarded as super-confident to the point of arrogance. He has spoken previously of how his fall changed his temperament and so, to finish, he left us with an innocent memory from his time as a football club chairman.

“One of my happiest days,” he said, “was watching my youngest son as a ball boy one day against Scarborough. He helped a policeman wash the ball in the referee’s room – the first time he had met a policeman.”

  • Thanks to Peter Jackson for his photography work.