Monday, October 10, 2016

ON THE EDGE OF DARKNESS

A crucial goal at Everton in the cup, 1981
When Gerry Gow announced his arrival at Maine Road with a well-executed sliding tackle on Norwich’s Justin Fashanu, a noise came down off the Kippax that had not been heard at all that season. 

Fashanu, a six foot three amateur boxer, crumbled in the centre circle like a column of sugar. Gow lifted himself off the floor and was away to chase the loose ball without even a second glance at the pole-axed striker. It was 1st November 1980, a wind-swept autumnal day, with yet another afternoon of discontent rumbling through the old stadium. 

Three weeks into John Bond’s tenure as City manager, after the ignominious sacking of Malcolm Allison, City were trying to lift their tired carcass from the foot of the old First Division.

When people think of this period and how Bond moulded a side that not only beat the drop comfortably that season, but went on to lose an extremely tightly fought League Cup semi final with the all-conquering Liverpool and the Centenary FA Cup Final with Tottenham, they think of Bobby McDonald and Tommy Hutchison, a desperate-duo of signings from Coventry that set everything in motion. In fact, it was Bond’s third signing, a week or so after the first two had swept in from Highfield Road, that made the most telling difference of all. 

While McDonald, a left back, weighed in with many crucial headed goals on the road to recovery and Hutchison crowned a fantastic renaissance with a goal at each end in the Wembley final, the whirling dervish that Bond had introduced to midfield really made the difference to that talented but frail side.

Gerry Gow, with stringy hair and knock knees, did not exactly provide a particularly powerful visual presence, unless you were moved by scarecrows, but he more than made up for it with a brand of midfield tackling that would make later perpetrators of the tigerish-schemer role like Joey Barton and Nigel de Jong, look like placid pussycats.

Gow was tough as teak, an old school bruiser, who feared no one and nothing. His ability to crunch into an early tackle like his life depended on it put many an opponent off for the rest of the game. Those that chose to battle on left the field in no doubt about the tussle they had just allowed themselves to be a part of. The Scot, bought from Bristol City for £175,000, liked to get his retribution in first, as the old saying goes.

In fact, had chairman Peter Swales not allowed himself to be swayed by Bond, Gow would never have made it to Maine Road at all, having not even been deemed worthy of taking a medical. In the end he took the medical and failed it, owing to an injury-ravaged knee. Bond persuaded Swales to take the plunge anyhow and Gow signed an elaborately worded contract  to cover for repercussions to his health.

He quickly established a foothold in a midfield that had up to then featured the gentle tip-toeing of record signing Steve Daley, pretty passing of youngster Steve Mackenzie and orthodox plodding of local lad Tony Henry. On many occasions – with the ragged-haired Scot added to the line-up - the midfield battle was already won as the teams walked out onto the pitch.

Gow, wearing his shirt outside his shorts and his hair falling lank and unkempt around his shoulders, was the universal key. A hitherto timid City side, pretty in possession but paper thin without the ball, became difficult, obtuse and stubborn. With Gow smacking anything that moved in the middle areas, the likes of Paul Power and young Dave Bennett flourished in the spaces. As opposition bodies crowded round to try and counter the flying limbs of City’s very own Hibernian threshing machine, so Dennis Tueart and Kevin Reeves got about the goals further forward and Tommy Hutchison roamed the wings unmolested.

Gow thundered in a goal against a cowed Southampton as City’s stride lengthened and confidence flooded back into the side. Scoring again, twice, at Selhurst Park, two weeks later, the granite tough Scot looked, somewhat surreally given his actual physical appearance, like the complete midfield general. At 28, with the legs of a 45 year old, he was the glue holding everything together as that 80-81 season took off towards the clouds.



It would be impossible to name his best game for City, because he marked every single performance with his presence and every single shin with his studs. Scoring in the titanic battle with Everton in a never-to-forgotten 6th round FA Cup battle at Goodison, he was in his element. In a mud-spattered, no-holds-barred midfield quagmire, Gow stood up for City against a fierce home onslaught with 56,000 baying for blood and helped serve City a draw that would turn to victory in the replay. He would say later that he loved to battle, as it was all he really knew and that the sight of the Kippax as he ran out of the tunnel would fire him up to do his very best. “I’d have died for that great club and those fans,” he later told City historian and author GaryJames.

In the final against a measurably more talented Tottenham side, Gow’s willing and dogged persecution of Osvaldo Ardiles delivered midfield supremacy in the first, drawn game, which represented City’s golden opportunity to carry off the cup. His performance that afternoon in completely subduing a man who had two years earlier been the hub of Argentina’s World Cup win on home soil, was something to behold. Ragged and disheveled, he did not let the talented play-maker have a second’s rest.

The sight of him, hair lank and dripping with sweat, running himself into the ground during an energy-sapping extra 30 minutes on that heavy Wembley pitch was quite something. But then Gerry Gow was quite something. A player, whose spirit far exceeded his talent, whose indefatigable soul kept him motoring well after his brain had told him his body was done.


That he succumbed to cancer at the age of 64 will be a surprise to many. To those of us, who thought Gerry Gow was totally indestructible, we have been delivered quite a shock today. He was, like the rest of us, only human after all. Rest in peace, Gerry, and may you still occasionally hear the noise – a mass hum of surprised appreciation – that rolled down off the Kippax that time, when you put in that first crunching tackle in the sky blue shirt of Manchester City.   

Gow in his Bristol City days, telling Rovers' Frankie Prince who's boss.

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