Legend On The Line: Brian Gardiner
by Tom Flynn
(first published in the September 2010 Derry City match programme)
At the age of 14 Brian first began playing for Preston and Lancashire Schoolboys, and at 16 he signed apprentice forms for Preston North End. Bobby Charlton was the manager there for a short time, followed by Harry Catterick (former Everton boss), and when he left Nobby Stiles took over the reins. Whilst at Preston he played with players of the calibre of Mark Lawrenson, who is still a good friend today, as they play golf together in the Former Players’ Golf Days, also at the club was Alan Kelly Jnr, the Republic of Ireland goalkeeping coach, but at the time he was playing up at centre-forward, scoring some goals. His hero at that young age was Colin Bell of Man City.
When Brian was 18, he had a meeting with Stiles and Shay Brennan in Preston with a view to coming over to Waterford, initially for one month, and if not happy to stay in Ireland then returning to North End to play on a week-to-week contract. He arrived in August 1978, but under manager at the time John McSeveney first team football did not look to be happening for him, so after the month, with no appearances made, he was making plans to return home. Then John left, and Colin Harper took over, persuaded Brian to stay and played him straightaway, and he became a regular that season, in which we reached the Cup semi only to lose to Shamrock Rovers. Brian recalls “they had some great players playing at that time… the great Johnny Giles, Eamon Dunphy, Ray Treacy, Pierce O’Leary, Paddy Mulligan to name a few.”
Noel Wallace’s mother Dolly was his landlady in Waterford, where he stayed with Syd Wallace and Vinny McCarthy, his two closest friends during his time at the Blues. Whilst playing for Waterford in the regular season, in the summer he played for Los Angeles Skyhawks, with Vinny McCarthy and Mick Madigan, whilst Syd played for Southern California Lazers. In 1979 a familiar face from Preston joined Waterford and the Skyhawks, his name was John Smith. He was part of the team in ‘79 that beat Rovers in the semi-final of the FAI Cup before losing to Dundalk in the final.
1980 will always hold special memories for Brian, for the other players and for those supporters that are old enough to remember April 20th. “We had a great team in 1980. I cannot describe those feelings we all had on that day. I was a small part of a wonderful team that won a football match, a very important football match. I certainly would never have thought at the time that it would be the club’s last major trophy for 30 years!”
“The biggest influence on my career with Waterford really was Tommy Jackson, who had the trust and belief in me to be a regular at 18-19 years of age,” he recalls. “Of course all the members of the back line were, starting with Peter Thomas, who was a fantastic talker and organiser as well as a brilliant keeper. And of course Al Finucane and Tony Dunphy, it was a pleasure and an honour to play alongside both of them, and between them they kept myself and a young Ger O’Mahoney in check.”
The European matches were very special, especially the trip to play Dynamo Tbilisi in 1981 in front of 75,000. Brian felt very lucky to play in five European ties with both Waterford and Galway.
In 1983 Brian moved to Galway United and played in a very good side there that included our own Peter Thomas and Johnny Matthews as well as Paul McGee and Eamon Deasy. Whist there he was part of the team that won the club’s first ever senior trophy, beating Dundalk in the League Cup final at Tolka Park in January 1986, and forming with Dennis Bonner (brother of Packie) probably the best central defensive partnership at the time. The season before they finished 2nd in the League to Shamrock Rovers, and lost out in the FAI Cup final, again to Rovers. In 1987 he damaged knee ligaments against Athlone at St Mel’s Park, and unfortunately that turned out to be his last ever League of Ireland match.
He moved back to England, to Preston North End, to receive treatment from the club physio, and did manage to play for another 12 years after the injury, for Chorley, Southport, Workington and Lancaster, before ending his playing days as player-manager of Darwen in 1990.
When Brian finally “hung up his boots” he became manager of his local area Royal Mail in Lancashire until 2005. He now works as school caretaker in Fleetwood. He is married to Kate, and they have two children, Samantha (18) and Frank (11). He lives in Lytham St Annes, two minutes away from Royal Lytham Golf Club. He is also an avid golfer, and plays at St Anne’s Old Links off a handicap of six.
Brian Gardiner (on the right) on a recent visit to Waterford, with John Ryan, Syd Wallace, Paul Kirk, Nicky Cummins, and Al Finucane