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Goalie with a Plan B

Submitted by on Saturday, 28 February 2009No Comment
Goalie with a Plan B

Gary Bailey talks about the lonely life of a Man United bachelor, why he rates Sir Alex, and how he prepared for life after soccer.

Your father was a goalkeeper; was that why you became one?

His job was manager of a football club and so it was part of my upbringing to go into the change rooms and meet the players who became my heroes; so the whole soccer environment was pretty strongly embedded in me at a young age. I suppose it was natural to want to play the position he had played.

But you never went into management?

I saw how badly he was treated and to this day think most managers in football are treated very shabbily. But football managers accept it now – they get paid a wage and know they could be fired at any moment. However, I wanted longevity and job satisfaction; so I went into the media. In1988when I retired, for the first time in England they began using experts on particular sports as TV commentators. For example you would hear the ex-Australian cricket captain talking about cricket. TV wasn’t like that here. So I pushed and eventually they bought into the idea. Now it is the norm.

Being an ex-Manchester United player, how difficult is it to avoid being biased?

I am biased – but against. Like any typical supporter, I am hypo critical of my team. The problem is that at the moment I think they are the best team the world has ever seen. So it is difficult to be critical. If they weren’t I would have a bit of a dip.

You played under Sir Alex Ferguson; what’s your opinion of him?

He is one of a kind. I do leadership talks around the world on him and Manchester United. Without a shadow of a doubt he is the greatest sport’s leader of all time.

Apparently he offered you a job when you retired?

Yes – that is an example of what a wonderful guy he is. Remembering as a goalkeeper, if I hadn’t been injured, I still had about ten years left; most managers would still have just given me a hug, wished me well and seen me out the door. Not Sir Alex. He was genuinely upset that I had to retire, as he also had to retire at a young age. Instead he said why don’t I stay and be the goalkeeper coach and remain involved with Manchester United.

But you didn’t stay?

No, I was homesick. I had had ten years away from home and I wanted to get back. I didn’t get home more than one week a year; also I had lived in that dire climate for too long…

Because of your injury you got a big insurance payout. Then when you came back and found your knee recovered, you played for Chiefs. Normally you would have had to repay the insurance money, but because we weren’t part of FIFA you didn’t. Tell me about that.

I hadn’t planned it that way. I had retired and come back to SA. I had put my money into housing in London just as the market went crash. One of those horrible moments where you think you are wealthy, but you aren’t. Anyway, I went down to Greenpoint Stadium to see what the footballers were doing. After awhile I started doing some stuff myself. What I found was that because I hadn’t been pushing my knee for a few months, it wasn’t too bad.

Could you have gone back to the English league?

If they didn’t push me in training every week, I think I could have done. In fact, a year later Ron Atkinson asked me if I would go and play for Atletico Madrid, but if I did Atletico would have had to pay back a lot of money to the insurance company.

How did you get on with Ron Atkinson?

I have got a lot of time for Ron. He had the right ideas and he had great players, but he needed better back up staff and then we might have won the league. He needed a tactician – someone like Don Howe from Arsenal. For about three years we should have won the league; we were so damn close.

Didn’t you once punch Ron?

Gordon McQueen was a six foot four centre half and I was this boy from Wits University. We had a couple of games where we were 2 – 0 up, but we lost 3 – 2. Anyway Gordon and I had words across the change room about his defence. So, in true university style I walked over to debate the issue with him. However his way of arguing was to punch me. As I let fly back, Ron Atkinson walked in between us and I caught Ron on the back of the head. Later the press wanted to know where I got the shiner. I told them it was from the game, but they had seen me walk off without one; so it created some excitement amongst them.

Tell me about penalties; what was your strategy against them?

Well it depended on when it occurred in the game. You knew the player taking it had a favourite side and under extreme pressure, like with one minute to go, would always shoot that way. But if it was in the first five minutes, I knew they would probably try to be clever and go the other way. It was a small percentage, but it definitely helped. I also delayed as much as possible and I would chirp the guy. ‘It’s going to be embarrassing if you miss this…’ Or I would say, ‘So your favourite side is right, hey?’ This confused them, because they didn’t know whose right I was talking about – so I had covered both sides, so to speak. If you could just get them questioning, you had a better chance of stopping it. I had a pretty good record of saving penalties.

You played in three FA cup finals. How disappointing was the first one, which you lost?

It was disappointing, but probably a good thing – if I’d won the FA Cup at 20 yrs of age – the youngest keeper ever, it would have been very difficult to keep my feet on the ground.

Were you blamed for it?

Not directly. It was a cross that I started to go for, then realised I was never going to get there. I didn’t actually drop it.

While you were at Manchester United you did a degree in Physics – why was that?

I had to get a degree. I was already halfway through my engineering degree, when I stopped it. I thought if I don’t get one, I’ll just be a footballer with no brains. Anyway the only course I could do part-time was Physics. I had absolutely no interest in the subject, but I wanted to do it so I could do a post grad degree later. I wrote my finals while on tour in Hong Kong, which was a serious grind; studying late at night; in-between games… But I’m pleased I did it – because later I did an MBA, which got me respect in the business world.

I’ll come to that. But when you arrived at what arguably is the greatest club in the world, populated with rough footballers, (‘Football is a game for gentleman, played by hooligans…’) and you were a reasonably well bred, varsity boy; how did you adapt?

It was very difficult. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. A lot of my time in Manchester wasn’t actually happy. I enjoyed the football; I thought it was absolutely world class. But today if you were unsettled, they would get you a sport’s psychologist. Not then. Also today they make sure you have plenty of trips home; Tevez regularly goes back to Argentina. That didn’t happen in my day.

Did you have a partner with you at the time?

No. I was on my own. In fact the only bit of advice I got at Manchester United was when the one coach called me aside and said, ‘Son, you are never going to make it in this game, unless you do one thing…’ and I was waiting for a pearl of wisdom about how one caught crosses or something. Instead he said, ‘…get yourself married.’ I thought it was stupid advice, but later realised there was more than a grain of truth in what he said; because over the years I had no-one to turn to.

For the whole time you were there?

No, I had a few girl friends. The first was Miss UK, runner up in Miss World, which caused all sorts of excitement in the press. Then I met Sir Laurence Olivier’s niece. In England there are three distinct social classes. There are the landed gentry; the middle class, who are the university graduates and the lower class, who are your footballers. So I was a footballer, with a degree going out with the landed gentry. I transcended all three classes; no-one knew where to plug me in. All those things are fine if you have a family and friends that support you. But I was on my own and it was tough.

Returning to your MBA; apparently you were involved in a game lodge which went under. What happened there?

The game lodge was Mabula. I bought into it and a year later it went under. I’d innocently agreed to be a director; only to find out I could be legally liable if things went wrong. Also I was a concurrent creditor. I then found out that if they didn’t have enough money when they liquidated, they could come to me as a concurrent creditor to put money in. I couldn’t’ believe that in three years, I had gone from an extremely wealthy young man, to really battling. I decided then I was going to do an MBA, so that never again would people be able to bullshit me in business.

Turning to your time with Chiefs: what was the difference between playing a Chiefs/ Pirates derby and a Manchester United/ City derby?

Once we actually had a crowd of 100,000 at Ellis Park, which obviously we never got in Manchester. When United played City, it was broadcast around the world, but when Chiefs played Pirates it was only important in South Africa. So I think it was as passionate, as important to the fans; maybe only the level of football wasn’t as high. But what is interesting to me is I was more revered as a Chief’s player than I ever was as a Man U player.

Tell me about GOAL?

I started a little company called GOAL, which took footballers into factories to motivate the workers and increase productivity. We did so well the unions got upset. It was at a time when the unions were trying to de-stabilise the economy. So I packed it in and followed my real passion by getting into media. I couldn’t get straight into television without training my voice, so I joined 702 – John Robbie got me a job as a sports editor. For a number of years I got up at four in the morning.

You certainly did the hard yards.

I was scared to become like my dad; he could only be a football manager. He could have been so much more; he was a highly intelligent man. He said to me, ‘Get a degree – you never want to be in a situation wondering how you are going to get your next penny.’

You are doing talks on 2010. What are they about?

I am doing talks helping businesses to prepare for 2010. It’s motivational, about the changes that are going to happen and about the opportunities that will arise.

For you, who was the greatest goal keeper?

Peter Schmeical – he was unbelievable – the greatest goal keeper ever; without a shadow of a doubt.

At one stage you were his hero?

Yes, but he was only 14 at the time (laughs).

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