Ian Gibson (1943-2016).


I’ve got this theory whereby if you were to ask somebody over the age of forty who had supported one team since they were a child to name the best player they’d seen at their club, the answer you would get would contain a heavy bias towards men who were in the team when the person was between the ages of, say, eight to eighteen.

For me, that ten years between when you first get into the game and when, for many, football starts to occupy a lower priority in your life, is the age when your strongest opinions are formed and, for nearly everyone who sticks with their club for life, most of the memories which sustain you come from that period.

For example, for forty five years my answer when asked who was the best player I’ve seen at Cardiff City was greeted with an answer which was akin to the sort of reflex action you cannot stop even if you wanted to – I’d say “Ian Gibson” almost before the question had been finished.

Gibson was not only the best player I’ve seen play for City, but he was also my favourite City player (often, the one doesn’t automatically lead to the other) and the news which broke yesterday of his passing away at the age of seventy three was another reminder that time waits for no man – not even the brilliant Ian Gibson.

Now, of course, there is my theory to consider here when throwing words like “brilliant” around. After all, I was fourteen when we signed Gibson from Coventry for £35,000 in the summer of 1970 and sixteen when he was sold to AFC Bournemouth, for a joint fee of £100,000 with Brian Clark, in the autumn of 1972.

So, in my case, Gibson’s stay at Cardiff coincided with that influential decade I talked about earlier and, more than that, it happened during that middle teen period when you think you know a lot more about the game than you actually do!

Therefore, is it possible that the “brilliant” Ian Gibson was someone who I would have rated completely differently if he was playing for us today in exactly the same way as he did getting on for fifty years ago?

Well, the first thing I’d say at this point is that, whereas your Don Murray’s and Phil Dwyer’s would have found it impossible to play in the same manner as they did in their pomp if they were around now, my recollection is that Gibson, most certainly, could have done.

After all, skilful, creative, playmakers with an eye for goal are always going to be in demand. It almost goes without saying that such players have to be brave mentally because they spurn the mundane and the safe options, but Gibbo was also brave physically. We are talking about a time when “hatchet men” were given a virtual free rein to cause mayhem and Gibson was always the City player they were most likely to target – far from backing away from the hard men, Gibson gave the impression he relished the challenge they posed and his response was  to fight fire with fire as he got straight back up and almost invited the “cloggers” to do their worst – that’s not to say he was averse to putting himself about a bit as well mind!

From what I can gather, Jimmy Scoular was the sort of player who would have been looking to kick Gibbo up in the air if he had faced him, but, although his Cardiff teams could be physical (to put it mildly!), his best sides also had a nucleus of technically proficient players (e.g. Peter King, Bobby Woodfruff, Brian Clark, Leighton Phillips, Brian Harris etc.) who gave City the chance to prevail in a footballing contest as well.

More than that though, the really good Scoular sides had a flair player in them who was capable of moments which marked them out as being First Division players in exile.

On 4 October 1969 City were beaten 3-2 at Blackpool, but, worse than that, Barrie Jones sustained the broken leg injury that would end his career. The stylish Jones was the man who had provided the guile in the previous season’s promotion bid as he prospered from a switch from the wing into the middle of the park and, looking back now, the failure to replace him probably had a lot to do with the way the 69/70 promotion challenge faded away badly in the second half of the campaign.

This is a picture of Ian Gibson after scoring his first goal for City. it put us on the way to a 2-0 win over Bolton at Burnden Park on 12 September 1970 - I can still remember my feeling of surprise and delight when I came across it the 4-4-2 of the early seventies - Goal.

This is a picture of Ian Gibson after scoring his first goal for City. it put us on the way to a 2-0 win over Bolton at Burnden Park on 12 September 1970. I can still remember my feeling of surprise and delight when I came across it in the 4-4-2 of the early seventies, Goal.

It took nearly a year, but Scoular got his replacement for Barrie Jones in the end and Ian Gibson played a leading role in a superb 1-0 win over eventual Champions Leicester at Filbert Street on the opening day of the 70/71 season.

The weeks which followed saw City not fully convincing in front of their own supporters, but this was down to individual errors at the back and in goal, Gibbo was more than doing his bit as his creativity brought chances aplenty and he was to maintain a high standard throughout the season.

Most memorable for me at this time was the way Gibson would head towards the opposition corner flag in the dying minutes if we defending a one goal lead and just keep the ball for the rest of the game – once Gibbo had the ball in the corner and he parked that squat body of his in front of it, our opponents were just not going to get it back as free kick followed free kick for a series of hacks at the City man.

However, if you were to ask me what was Gibson’s best season with City, I wouldn’t name the one where we beat Real Madrid and missed out on the First Division by three points, I’d opt for the one which followed that.

1971/72 saw City plummet down the table. The near promotion side of a few months earlier were transformed into strugglers as a number of players who had been club stalwarts for years lost form dramatically.

Only one side in the Second Division won fewer matches that season than City and, in the end, they only avoided the drop by a single point. There was only one player who, week in, week out was able to perform at the levels shown in 1970/71 and that was Gibbo.

I can still recall him turning in a virtuoso performance against Sunderland on the mudheap that was City’s pitch that season as if it was yesterday. Gibbo was tremendous that day and his solo goal gave us a half time lead which, in typical fashion for that season, was turned into a 2-1 defeat by the sort of errors that were costing the team dear.

City managed to get their act together just in time to scramble clear of the drop that year, but I’ve always been convinced they wouldn’t have done so without Gibson’s contribution – there are “flair” players who are great when things are going their team’s way, but then disappear when life becomes a struggle, if anything, Gibbo upped his performance and work rate during the struggles of 71/72.

The early weeks of 1972/73 saw City in the toils again and, this time, their talismanic playmaker was struggling as much as the rest. After a dreadful 3-0 defeat at QPR in front of the Big Match cameras, Jimmy Scoular come to a decision to virtually break up the team and bring in the likes of Dwyer, Johnny Vincent and Andy McCulloch. Even so. it was still a shock to see Gibson leave for Bournemouth and, perhaps, there is a grain of truth in the story I’ve been told on more than one occasion that a player, who certainly liked a bet, needed a move to help pay off his gambling debts.

Whatever the truth, Gibson only managed twenty appearances for Bournemouth before injury ended his time at Dean Court and, although he made a comeback of sorts with Highland Park and Berea Park in apartheid ravaged South Africa, his career was effectively over.

So, was Ian Gibson really that good? On the face, a mere two Scottish Under 23 caps seems meagre recognition for someone who is supposed to be the best player I’ve seen at Cardiff City, but it’s true to say that, unlike today, Scotland was positively teeming with Gibson type players in the fifties, sixties and seventies and the notion of someone with his talent getting so little international recognition back then is not such a far fetched one.

Maybe he wasn’t as “brilliant” as I remember him, but does that really matter? Surely what’s important is that, against a lot of quality competition, he stood out as the best player in the Cardiff City team which made the biggest contribution in turning me into a lifelong fan of the club – I owe the likes of Ian Gibson, Brian Clark, Ronnie Bird and Brian Harris so much and it’s sobering that they aren’t around any more for me to thank them.

RIP to the best City player I’ve seen and condolences to his family and friends.

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Weekly review 22/5/2016.

CoymayWell, it was Paul Trollope then. When the news came on Wednesday that the former Bristol Rovers manager was to be the man charged with overseeing Cardiff City’s 2016/17 season, it was regarded as such an inevitability that the lack of “pomp and ceremony” which accompanied it seemed so appropriate.

Of course, there will be those who will say that the low key nature in which the news was broken, and then received by City fans, was wholly appropriate – after all, this was the club which made one of the most low key managerial appointments in ages only eighteen months ago offering up more of the same.

To a large extent, I said all I wanted to say about Paul Trollope as a new City “manager” in my piece last week and this one will be more about where do we go from here really. However, I do want to mention that my view is that low key doesn’t have to mean bad and, having got to know and hear a bit more about the man in the last seven days, I’m more optimistic than I was that Trollope can do a good job as the man in charge of the footballing side of things at Cardiff.

One thing which occurred to me for the first time on hearing news of his appointment was that I couldn’t remember Paul Trollope talking in public once since he arrived at Cardiff – I must have heard an interview with him when he was at Bristol Rovers at some time or another, but it didn’t make any impression on me.

Now, in the past, I would have said I would have said I couldn’t really care less how a City manager came over when speaking in public as long as he was doing a decent job for the club where it really counts, but that was in the days before Alan Cork.

Apparently, Cork was one of those players who is portrayed as being good for team morale because he is one of the dressing room jokers. At Wimbledon, he was considered one of the primary reasons for the “Crazy gang” tag which became a virtual trademark of theirs while they were tweaking the noses of the elite for more than a decade during the eighties or nineties.

Cork was a funny man it seems, but it was never a talent which manifested itself in his media appearances during his time as Cardiff manager. Not to put too fine a point on it, Alan Cork was very poor at media relations – at times, he came over as being virtually monosyllabic.

City were the league’s leading scorers in winning promotion from what is now called League Two in 2001 under Cork’s management and the man deserved credit for turning around the fortunes of a talented squad which had been under performing before his appointment.

Should how a manager performs in front of the media be a contributory factor towards sacking him? Alan Cork's struggles in that department as City boss fifteen years ago, make me, reluctantly, believe that they should in this day and age.

Should how a manager performs in front of the media be a contributory factor towards sacking him? Alan Cork’s struggles in that department as City boss fifteen years ago make me, reluctantly, believe that they should in this day and age.

However, there was a feeling abroad at the time that virtually anyone could have got us promoted that season given the amount of money we were spending compared to others in that division and, when the spending increased dramatically in the third tier, there was a notion that nothing but promotion would do for Alan Cork.

I was among very many City fans who was not convinced by Cork at League One level and welcomed his dismissal when it came, but, in a funny way, I didn’t like myself much for wanting the man sacked because I had to admit that one of the reasons for this was that he was so poor in front of the cameras and microphone.

So, going back to Paul Trollope, I was a little concerned that I’d not heard anything from him in public because I figured that one of the last things someone who needed to be able to convince sceptical City fans that he was the right man for the job wanted was a weak media presence.

A bit of research on a Bristol Rovers messageboard reassured me to the extent that, generally speaking, the reviews of him as a manager of their club tended to be pretty positive. There were critical opinions of him, but I’d say there was something like a 2:1 ratio in the “did a decent/good job” camp to the “was an awful manager” one.

Among the criticisms of him though was that the football his team played was generally effective, but dull and I saw the word “mogadon” being applied to the style of football played under him and, on one occasion, to how he came across when interviewed.

Having now heard Paul Trollope speak as City’s new (and old!) Head Coach, I can, to a degree, understand that mogadon comment. Trollope certainly didn’t come over as poorly as Alan Cork did, but, whereas one of his predecessors, Malky Mackay, was able to get the media eating from his hand after his first press conference as City manager and generally said all of the right things to get fans onside, it was hard to imagine him convincing those sceptics I mentioned earlier with the power of his oratory.

Adequate, but no more than that, was how I would describe Paul Trollope’s performance in his first meet the media appearance as Cardiff boss – I’d put him around mid table when it came to City managers as public speakers.

One of the men I’d have above Trollope in that table would be Lennie Lawrence, who always came across as being completely at home in front of the media. It was interesting, as well as fairly predictable, therefore to see the man who was in charge here for three years from 2002 being linked with a return to Cardiff in the kind of father figure/advisory role he had with Trollope at Bristol Rovers.

Lawrence held similar positions when working with Dougie Freedman at Palace, Bolton and Forest and it’s worth remembering that he was hired initially at Cardiff fourteen years ago as a “consultant” who would work with Alan Cork.

In many ways, bringing in a senior and respected figure like Lennie Lawrence would be a good move by City in my opinion, but you would have to wonder where it would leave former manager Russell Slade?

Mention of our “Head of Football” brings me on to the oft repeated line which goes “nothing has really changed at Cardiff except that Trollope and Slade have swapped jobs”. This viewpoint (which, incidentally, is not strictly true – Slade has a new job title, while Trollope’s is the same as it’s always been!) has it that it will be business as usual at City with little or no real change to what we’ve seen in the past eighteen months or so.

People who feel that way claim the news that, apparently, his employers at City are willing to allow Trollope to continue with his work with the Welsh squad supports their position – Slade will still, effectively, be calling the shots on the playing side when it comes to the first team and it will be business as usual during international breaks when Trollope is absent.

Maybe they are right, but I don’t believe that they are – my guess is that briefings being given by the club about Slade playing no further part in first team matters are the truth. Indeed, whether they are true or not, I feel the recent stories linking Russell Slade with the vacant manager’s job at Blackburn offer the clue that our former manager’s lifespan at Cardiff is likely to be a fairly limited one.

If Paul Trollope is going to be allowed to continue in his Wales role, then I’m sure it will be a subject that is raised if or when we make a stuttering start to the new season and the first international break comes along.

I am tempted at this point to say that, in my youth, Dave Bowen was able to take Northampton Town from Division Four to Division One while also managing Wales, but I suppose those who say that it’s a completely different world now compared to fifty years ago do have a point.

Therefore, the identity of the new appointments, which Paul Trollope said were imminent, among his support staff becomes very important. For me, someone like Lennie Lawrence would be a safe pair of hands who could oversee a lot of the Head Coach job demands while Trollope is away and one or two quality additions to the coaching staff could ensure that things would be able to tick over well enough during those periods in the season when the first team aren’t playing.

Whether it be regular season or international break time, one person who will not be involved with the first team any more is Scott Young – he’s another one who will still be employed at the club, but as to how he’ll be involved, your guess is as good as mine,

Not surprisingly, things are pretty quiet on the transfer rumour front right now – I mentioned our reported interest in Norwich’s Alexander Tettey last week and the only player I’ve seen linked with us in the past week is also at that club.

A serious contender for the award of best loan player I've seen at Cardiff. Gary O'Neill was superb in his two month loan spell at City in 04/05 and was well on the way to turning around our season when his form prompted Portsmouth to recall him and install him in their Premier League team - I doubt he could prove as influential for us now as he was back then,*

A serious contender for the award of best loan player I’ve seen at Cardiff. Gary O’Neill was superb in his two month spell at City in 04/05 and was well on the way to turning around our season when his form prompted Portsmouth to recall him and install him in their Premier League team – I doubt he could prove as influential for us now as he was back then,*

I would have loved us to have signed Gary O’Neill permanently after he had played so well for us during his loan spell here back in 2004 – in fact I would have immediately installed him as club captain and started to build a side for the next five years around him if it had been my choice to make.

Having just turned thirty three, I wouldn’t be as enthusiastic about O’Neill coming here now, but I suppose that, if one of our targets for the new season is a leader in the middle of the park, we could look to him as a short term fix.

If the local press are to be believed, Paul Trollope has three main targets for the new season – that leader type in  central midfield, a winger who will add pace to the squad and, hardly surprisingly, a goal scorer. Chairman Mehmet Dalman has said that there will be funds available to Trollope when it comes to recruiting new players, but I can’t help thinking that the transfer kitty is going to have to be boosted significantly by wage bill savings as a result of player departures if we are going to have a reasonable chance of succeeding in finding someone who scores at the sort of rate that will help us make the transition from Play Off hopefuls to serious contenders.

Whether those wage bill savings can be achieved is certainly debatable. This week, Tom Adeyemi joined Adam LeFondre as someone who will not be signing for the club they have spent the season on loan at.

On the face of it, I find it very hard to come up with many players who would be likely to return to the clubs they’ve been loaned to if the opportunity arose. I’m pretty sure Justin Edinburgh would have Deji Oshilaja back at Gillingham if he could and the same could probably be said about Semi Ajayi at Crewe, Declan John at Chestefield and, maybe, Tommy O’Sullivan at Newport.

The thing is though that the departure of such players would send out completely the wrong signals at a club which is, supposedly, looking towards youth again after a period where including a twenty five year old in the first team was seen as a move fraught with danger amid fears that they weren’t quite ready yet!

Not only that, the wage savings to be made from such moves would be pretty small. No, the departures have to be from that pretty large rump of senior players who are costing the club a lot and, in most cases, doing little to justify all of the expense.

Maybe, Reading’s reported interest in LeFondre will come to something, I suppose Preston could be interested in getting Eoin Doyle back on a permanent basis and there may be some Italian team desperate enough to take Federico Macheda off our hands, However, I can’t help thinking that we’re going to have to be looking at letting regular members of last season’s first team squad like David Marshall and Bruno Manga go to help finance the sort of signings which stand a chance of bringing lost fans back and convincing those who are not enthused by Paul Trollope’s appointment.

  • picture courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/


Posted in Down in the dugout, Out on the pitch | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments