Brian Gardner: Cup hero’s heart is still in Waterford

Part Two

Last week Brian Gardner recalled how he scored the winning goal in the 1980 FAI Cup Final at Dalymount Park and also explained how he came to Waterford in the first place. We are celebrating the 36th anniversary of that triumph this week and Brian and all the other players on that team are being reminded of that great success.
Not for the first time since that victory, the club is going through a rather sticky patch both on and off the field at the moment, something that has become the norm for a considerable amount of years.
Putting that to one side, Brian looked back at his childhood and how he broke into football during his school days in England.
“I was born in Lytham St Annes which is a rather posh area of the Foyle Coast and I have no idea why I was born there to be honest. Maybe there was an overspill from some other place when my mother was expecting me and they shipped her down the road because the hospital was full or something like that! I was reared in Preston and I lived just 500 yards from Deepdale, the home ground of Preston North End Football Club.
“I went to local schools and I was an only child of a very hard working family. My parents had virtually nothing when I was a young boy and they never went away on holidays or anything like that.
“Everything was geared around a family unit of which I was the only child and I felt very privileged in many respects. They had very little but I never wanted for anything because I would play football out on the street until it got dark and then like all of the other lads who I played with I would have my supper and head to bed.”
He added: “It was only when I reached the age of 13 or 14 years old that I began to get selected for the various teams at school and it was funny because most of us ended up on the football team, the cricket team and the rugby team and we had a really good bunch of students that particular year who were pretty good at most sports.”
Just like all boys his age, Brian wanted to be a centre-forward and dreamt of scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup final at Wembley.

Forever friends: Brian Gardner, Peter Thomas and Johnny Matthews.

Forever friends: Brian Gardner, Peter Thomas and Johnny Matthews.

“I eventually got spotted playing for the school team and I was selected to play for Preston Schoolboy’s which was great. That was at Under-15 level and we would play against teams from Burnley, Blackbun and so on and it was while playing for that team I was asked to line out for the Lancashire team at Under-16 and as the years moved on, I went from being a striker to a midfield player to a defender which didn’t bother me as I was playing first team football and that’s all that mattered to me.”
Brian continued: “That Under-16 team was really good. I left school at 16 and I had signed schoolboy forms at Bolton Wanderers rather than Preston, which was unusual to say the least. It was while I was playing on the youth team at Bolton that we played Preston on one particular evening.
“One of the scouts from Preston liked what he saw, an approach was made to Bolton and lo and behold they offered me apprentice forms which was fantastic because my dad used to bring me to all of the home games at Deepdale when I was a young boy.
“The crowds at the games used to be huge and he would pass me down to all of the other young lads who used to sit in the front steps of the terraces because we were too small to watch the match from the middle or the back.
“Needless to say my dad was a proud man when I signed for his beloved Preston North End. I was an apprentice from the age of 16 to 18 and I then signed a one-year professional contract with them which was even better. The apprentice years were tough enough because you had to clean the first team players’ boots, sweep the terraces and clean the baths and so on but it was a super learning curve.
“Unfortunately the club got relegated when I was in my first year and that’s when they decided to leave some of the players go and as I’ve already mentioned, I was asked to go to Waterford on loan during that period.
“I didn’t want to leave but I knew they would take me back if things did not work out with the Blues. It was a strange time to be at Preston and I suppose looking back now, it was the best thing ever to happen to me. I could look back and try and guess what would have happened had I remained there but that would be pointless at this stage. I have no regrets whatsoever about how my life panned out.”
Brian left Waterford in 1983 to play with Galway and he spent four seasons with the Tribesmen before injury brought a halt to his career in Ireland.
He returned to his parents in Preston and he played with clubs such as Southport, Workington and Darwin FC until he was 39 years old which was extraordinary.
Why? Because when he suffered that horrendous injury playing for Galway against Athlone Town in St Mel’s Park the surgeon in Galway had told him `that the only game he would be playing from there on in would be snooker”.
Life is good right now for Brian as he explained. “I am with a lovely girl called Lyndsay who tells me she rescued me from the gutter (”she told me to say that” laughed Brian) and one of my daughters is still living in Waterford with her partner Darren and we have lovely grandchildren. My other daughter has two in England and their ages range from 10 years to four months.
My children are now in their 30s; the oldest is 36 and the youngest is 24 and that certainly brings you down to earth when you take into account that your babies are now having their own babies. It makes you wonder where the time has gone.
I have made wonderful friends through football here in Ireland. I love going to Limerick to meet up with Pat Nolan and Al Finucane and going to Galway to meet Mal Roche and of course coming to Waterford to catch up with Johnny Matthews, Vinny McCarthy, Timmy Ryan and many more.
“My heart will always be in Waterford. I felt at home here from the moment I arrived here and although I am a proud Lancashire lad by birth in many ways I am an adopted Deise lad and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” stated Brian with a broad smile.
Like a lot of other people Brian would love to see the current Waterford United team return to its former glory days once more.
“I know they are going through a bad patch at the moment on and off the pitch. The first thing I do every Friday night is to check their result and it saddens me to see them struggling so badly.
“I would love to see some new investors coming into the club and I really hope they can get back on track quickly and wouldn’t it be wonderful to see the FAI Cup coming across the bridge once again” concluded Brian. Many will echo his final comment.

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