BY MARK GODFREY
The Football Pink brings you an interview with former Manchester United and Aston Villa full back, John Gidman. The 59-year-old Scouser was an integral part of the exciting Villa side of the late 70’s where he won a League Cup winners medal in 1977. He was also twice an FA Cup winner during his Old Trafford days under ‘Big’ Ron Atkinson in 1983 and 1985.
Gidman grew up in 60’s Liverpool as a fan of the Reds in an era when the city was the place to be both on and off the pitch and confesses his greatest influence was his father.
“I owe everything to my dad. Becoming a professional footballer and signing for Liverpool was unbelievable. In fact, I think I was living out his dream!”
Unfortunately for John and his father Liverpool, and their legendary boss, Bill Shankly, didn’t rate the long-haired teenage winger and being something of a non-conformist to the coaching methods at Melwood, he saw his contract torn up by the pragmatic Scot. But another member of the famous Anfield ‘Boot Room’, Ronnie Moran, thought Gidman was worth persevering with.
“I wasn’t a difficult kid, although I had a bit of a reputation for being hard to handle. I just wasn’t a ‘Yes’ man which I suppose didn’t help! And the Liverpool staff just thought I was shite!”
“Ronnie saw something in me and persuaded them to give me a chance. He was the one that converted me from a winger to a full back and had belief in me. Sadly, it wasn’t enough and I still got chucked out of Liverpool.”
Rather than letting the disappointment of his Anfield rejection deal his career a killer blow, Gidman’s next move ended up being the making of him both as a player and as a man. He moved to Britain’s second city, Birmingham, where he flourished with Aston Villa. Signed by Vic Crowe in 1971, it was under Ron Saunders that Gidman really began to stand out in a team famed for its exciting group of young players at the time.
“The move to Birmingham with Aston Villa really changed my life. I absolutely loved it down there and it certainly made me grow up fast! There were so many superb players there at the time who I made great friends with such as Brian Little, Andy Gray, Chris Nicholl and Gordon Cowans.”
That young Villa tasted success in 1977 when they defeated Everton in an epic League Cup final which took two replays to decide the winners. That group also provided the foundations for their League Championship victory of 1980-81, but by that time, Gidman had already moved on.
“I’ve got absolutely no regrets about leaving Villa, I had a great time there. And I won an England cap against Luxembourg in a World Cup qualifier as a Villa player. I was forced out by the manager but luckily, I still went on to play for some top clubs.”
Gidman’s next stop took him back to familiar surrounds, but this time he was pulling on the blue shirt of Everton, who, at the time, were firmly in the shadows of Liverpool as they dominated football at home and abroad.
“I had 16 months at Goodison between 1979 and 1981 and to be honest, on the field at least, it wasn’t a great time. We were always nearer the wrong end of the table and because Liverpool were winning everything in sight, we were always under pressure to keep up.”
Having been signed from Villa by Gordon Lee, a change of manager at Goodison spelt the end of his time on Merseyside for a second time.
“Howard Kendall came in as manager and for whatever reason, he just didn’t fancy me. I didn’t particularly take to him either!”
Salvation from that setback came in the guise of the newly appointed Manchester United manager, Ron Atkinson, who admired the attacking right back enough to make him his first Old Trafford signing in a deal that took chirpy Welshman, Mickey Thomas, in the opposite direction.
“Ron was a great guy and a great manager. He was a man’s man and certainly knew his football.”
In his five year spell with the Red Devils, Gidman and his team mates enjoyed success – winning the FA cup in 1983 against Brighton after a replay, and again in 1985 when they denied Everton the League and Cup double despite having Kevin Moran sent off.
“United is a great club with great fans and we had a really top bunch of lads. I enjoyed my time there immensely. We were a good cup side but we just couldn’t go the extra mile and win a league title. There are many stories about how that United side had a drinking culture. Put it this way, we trained hard, we played hard and we enjoyed our spare time!”
Despite his good form for United, Gidman failed to add to his solitary England cap, finding himself behind the likes of Phil Neal, Viv Anderson and Gary Stevens for the right back berth in the national team.
“I played with some fabulous players at Man United like Bryan Robson, Paul McGrath, Norman Whiteside and Gordon Strachan and so on, and I could go on even longer about the great players I played against. There were just so many, and some who were actually great friends of mine like Graeme Souness and John Wark who were also neighbours of mine.”
After breaking his leg, and losing any chance of being chosen to go to the World Cup in Mexico in 1986, John was sold across Manchester to United’s rivals City where he had a two year spell before seeing out his career with stints at Stoke City and Darlington. His time at City saw the club relegated to the Second Division.
” The City fans were great with me, as were the fans of all the clubs I played for and I always keep an eye out for the results of all the teams I played for”
How does Gidman think he would have fared in the modern game?
“Football is so much faster than it was back in my day. The pitches are incredible and allow the players to show their skills. I would love to see them try all their tricks on some of the old muddy pitches we had to deal with!”
These days Gidman lives in sunny Marbella and enjoys that typical ex-footballers past time, golf.
“I spend a lot of time catching up with my old buddies over a glass or two of red wine. People like Andy Gray, Steve Staunton, Gordon Cowans and Tony Morley and we get to spend a fair bit of time out on the golf course”