Ian Gibson (1943-2016).

Coymay

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 footballers 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 of it, 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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8 Responses to Ian Gibson (1943-2016).

  1. Richard Holt says:

    A lovely tribute Paul and one that does justice to such a great player as Ian Gibson. It’s probably because I’m about 3 years older than you that Barrie Jones just pips Gibson as my personal no 1 but both were fine players. One particular performance of Gibson’s that I remember was against Leeds in the 1972 FA Cup tie. Gibson had an outstanding first half – running Leeds ragged but I seem to recall Hunter and Bremner (doubtless following Revie’s instructions) kicking him out of the game come the second half. I’m not sure Gibson was ever quite the same player after that game.
    Incidentally I was interested to see that your picture came from the ‘Goal’ magazine. I still have every single edition up in my loft !

  2. Dai Woosnam says:

    Paul,
    I was living away for a good chunk of his spell at Cardiff so only saw a few of his home games and probably more away games. But I echo your opinion/sentiment that he was a fine player.
    You make a good point re the fact we latch on to players in our formative years, and of course we lack the chance at 10 years to 14 years of age, to be able to look back and measure players against stars of yesteryear. Was Danny Malloy* as good a skipper as Fred Keenor? Did Steve Gammon have the engine of Billy Hardy?
    That said, I will stand by my 4 Greats in my lifetime: Danny Malloy, Graham Moore, Ivor Allchurch and King John.
    And I will tell you for why…
    Was it LP Hartley who said “the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”…?
    Well, let me borrow that opening sentence of The Go-Between, and put my gloss on it:
    Football 55 years ago was a different game: they played it differently then!

    That is to say that football back then was a LONGITUDINAL game: the best position to watch it was high up on the halfway line…as the ball flowed quickly from right to left and back again…a bit like today’s basketball games.

    But around about 1970, the game started its change into a LATITUDINAL game. The best position to see a game today is high up behind the goals …(provided you have a big screen at the other end to show you goalmouth incidents at the other end of the pitch).

    This way you can see Barca tiki-taka football properly, and fully get the best of watching the movement of players as they weave across the pitch. Kinda nice in a kaleidoscopic kind of way.

    But it is not what I call football.
    So I feel justified in claiming that my choice of my four heroes has nothing remotely to do with my youthful naivete …but just like Geronimo can be said to have led the last great uprising of Red Indians, so my 4 City stars presided over the sun setting on the Last Proper Football Empire.

    Today’s game is a travesty of what I knew as a boy.

    Will sign off now.

    Just a further word on siting of the main TV camera …
    Just as we would think it unconscionably daft to site cameras at Wimbledon high up level with the net, or at Lords high up at mid wicket, we bizarrely keep our football camera in the same position it was in for Stan Matthews and Stan Mortensen in 53.

    In soccer, we need to think outside the square…or rather, the line dividing the rectangle !!

    * You say “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”
    Malloy of course won two (at the most) caps for Scotland B.
    But then take heart: Vincent van Gogh only sold ONE painting in his lifetime !!
    DW.

  3. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thanks both for your replies. Dai, if I accept your argument about longitudinal and latitudinal football, then the question which occurs to me is why did it happen? For me, the answer is simple – after years when the number of attack minded players in a team outweighed the number of defensively minded ones, the onset of the 4-2-4 formation in the late fifties, together with systems like Catenaccio becoming more popular, meant that the gaps which would automatically appear as defences struggled to stop overloads by the attacking team or empty spaces forming near their goal in the past were simply not there any more.
    Therefore, moving the ball from side to side to try and find that space they were now being denied closer to goal became a better option than playing it forward to where there were often twice as many defenders as attackers.
    England’s triumph fifty years ago also set the cause for attacking football back a few steps in this country in my opinion. The trouble with any successful way of playing football is that it spawns less talented imitators who also lack the spontaneity that the best sides have and so, especially with only two points for a win, you got more and more teams whose version of 4-4-2 or a sweeper system consisted of them sticking eight, or more, men behind the ball and showing little inclination in indulging in the basketball style game you spoke about.
    Certainly in his first season with us, Ian Gibson had plenty of massed defences to play against at Ninian Park and I remember that 1-0 became a regular scoreline in home matches as we closed in on the end of that campaign. I maintain that Gibson was good enough to play a leading part in breaking down the sort of massed defences that your four players never had a great deal experience of facing while they were at Cardiff.
    While I think people who saw them play can make a valid comparison between, say, Danny Malloy and Don Murray because the position they played in did not change too much during the sixties, I’m not sure the same can be said of those playing further up the field.
    I never saw Malloy or Moore play for us and, although I was too young to really judge his form for City too accurately, I cannot remember seeing John Charles do much to justify the glowing tributes I’d hear from my father whenever he talked about the man you call King John. It was slightly different with Ivor Allchurch though, because I’d say he was the first player I saw who made me concentrate on the match rather than the sights, sounds and smells going on around it – I can remember Allchurch scoring a great goal in a game against Newcastle (think it was probably about a year after my first match in October 63, so I would have been eight) and, after that, I made a point of paying attention to what was happening whenever he had the ball.
    Richard, although Dai denies it, I think your championing of the Barrie Jones cause makes me wonder if my theory can be amended to say that most football fans pick their “best player I’ve seen at the club” in their early teenage years?
    As for that Leeds match, my main memory of it now is of that save by Bill Irwin – at no time, did I think we had it in us to inconvenience Leeds much even on that awful pitch which must have been something of a leveller.

  4. Dai Woosnam says:

    I remember Barrie Jones when he played for Swansea. He was SOME player back then.
    But his transfer to Plymouth Argyle (which I seem to recall – without googling – was at circa £45K, a record fee for both Swansea and Plymouth) set him back a bit.
    And I would never quite fulfil that astonishing early promise at Swansea…and at national level too. He was a world beater back in the early to mid Sixties…I recall another astonishing Cup run in 1964-5 (after their semi-final defeat the year before) and one night time replay at the Vetch against Stoke, when he was amazing. I saw every home game in that Cup run.
    Re tiki-taka…gee, watching Australia tonight, was sooo frustrating…!!
    Rolling the ball out, and getting immediately under pressure.
    And trying intricate crossfield passes and one-twos, instead of …ATTACKING.

    As for Don Murray the boy from Duffus…I recall seeing his debut at 17, and thinking him very promising indeed.
    And he put in some fine performances over the years.
    But was not in the same footballing UNIVERSE as Danny Malloy.
    Indeed, I would claim Paul Went was – marginally – a better centre half than Murray…and far less likely to be sent off …!!
    DW

  5. russell says:

    Gibson was a superb midfielder one of my favorites,lucky to see him in such a golden era.
    Gutted when he left.

    RIP Gibbo the warrior.

  6. The other Bob Wilson says:

    I never thought of Gibbo as a warrior Russell, but the more I think about it, the more I see what you mean.
    Interesting words as usual from Dai – I think you’re right about the record fee for both clubs in the Barrie Jones transfer, in fact I believe it may have been a British record fee for a winger at the time.
    I’d guess that most supporters who saw them both play would place Danny Malloy above Don Murray, but my point was that I’d say you can make valid comparisons between them because the role they played in didn’t change much during the sixties, whereas I’d suggest it became harder for more creative players as the decade went on, because more of the eleven they were up against were, primarily, there to defend.
    I can remember Paul Went being thought of as an outstanding prospect when he first broke into the Charlton team and that Portsmouth paid an absolute fortune for him a few years later – thinking about it, I probably agree with you that Went was, just, better than Murray when both players were at their peak. However, I thought Went was some way from that when he came to Cardiff and, if anything, he impressed me more when he was moved up front and proved that he was a far better centre forward than Don Murray would ever have been!

  7. Dai Woosnam says:

    Thanks for that, Paul.
    I had forgotten that Paul Went was tried upfront.
    I forget all sorts these days.these days.
    I was only laughing at the telly a few days ago when someone was saying that it is unheard of for a massive club like Villa being out of the top flight.
    Tell me…am I dreaming Paul, or did I really see City demolish them in Div 2 in the mid 70s…?
    Was it not 3-0…and didn’t Derek Showers score a hat-trick?

    I later called on Derek Showers years later, when he ran in a pub in Merthyr. I never had the guts to tell him that I always reckoned he should have played full back, and Phil ‘Joe’ Dwyer should have played centre forward.

    As you know Paul, I have long believed that players and managers invariably have blinkered thinking…that is to say, that the position a boy plays at 12, will almost always be the position he plays the rest of his life…and if he makes the grade, his CAREER.
    This just cannot make sense.

    A twelve year old runner, does not decide whether he will be a 200, 400, 800, 1500, 5,000, 10,000 metre runner the rest of his running life…let alone an exponent of the marathon.

    I just wish PT will experiment in pre-season training with switching players’ positions…!!
    Put Sean Morrison up front…I promise you, it will be a move that will get results.
    DW.

  8. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Pretty sure you’re thinking of Cardiff 3 Villa 1 on a very windy and wet Saturday afternoon over Christmas 1974 Dai – we got relegated that season and they got promoted, but we were 3-0 up at half time and coasted to our win. Your memory is playing tricks on you regarding Derek Showers though – he got one that day, think Jack Whitham scored as well. In fact, the only game I can ever remember Showers scoring more than once for us was when he got both goals in a 2-0 win at Charlton in our first match back in Division Two in August 1976.
    I agree with you completely about players getting experience of different positions at a young age – if it’s good enough for Ajax, then it should be good enough for us.
    Of the players you mention, Phil Dwyer was considered good enough to play centre forward for Wales against England (he scored as well) – I think he could have made a decent go of that position. Similarly, as Sean Morrison is far and away the best of our centrebacks when it comes to attacking free kicks and corners, I’d like to see how he could do over 90 minutes as a striker. Apart from Zohore, we didn’t have a target man for the second half of the season and, certainly while Connolly and Manga were both fit and available, it might have been worth utilising him there in an Under 21 game to see how he went (I saw him play in one in March when he was on his way back from injury and, as the main object of the exercise was to get him some match fitness, I don’t see it would have made too much difference as to where he played).
    Not sure about Danny Showers as a full back though – wouldn’t he have been too slow to play there? Interestingly, I’m pretty sure he turned out for Hereford at centreback for a while right at the end of his career – Danny was a bit of an enigma because I thought he was pretty good at so many of the jobs a centre forward has to do, except for the most important one unfortunately!

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