In the run up to the FIFA 2018 World Cup later this month, Richard Siddle talks to World Cup ’98 Assistant Manager John Gorman about his life in football – both on the pitch and from the touchline.
If you’re an English football fan looking back on any World Cup campaign – other than 1966 – is a painful experience. We’ve suffered more than our fair share of pain, anguish and heartache over the years, as we have seen our hopes and dreams crash down to earth tournament after tournament.
If one World Cup could sum up all those emotions it has to be France 1998 and in particular the last 16 game against Argentina. It had everything other than an English win. Two penalties in the first 10 minutes, the wonder goal by Michael Owen, David Beckham’s moment of madness, Sol Campbell’s last minute disallowed goal, culminating in David Batty’s missed penalty and yet another shoot out defeat.
As the final whistle blew the players sunk to their knees. Devastated. There waiting to pick them up, physically and mentally, was their equally disappointed assistant manager. Nothing unusual about that, other than it was a fiercely proud Scotsman. John Gorman. Who, with his trademark moustache, was there ready to support, put his arm around the shoulders of players he had spent the previous two years, some even longer, mentoring.
Many of the pictures from that night show Gorman talking to the players, lifting their spirits, praising them for their efforts. For this was as much about people, friendship, loyalty, life, than it was a game of football. Yes, they might have lost, but it was now Gorman’s job to ensure they responded in the right way. Ready for future footballing and life battles ahead.
A footballer’s life
It very much sums up a man who spent his entire adult life playing with, coaching and managing some of the greatest names ever in football. A career that spanned some 44 years, stretching from his early days at Celtic, his boyhood team, to playing with the world’s biggest stars in the early 1980’s North American Soccer League, through to managing and coaching many of the brightest new stars of the next football generation.
Gorman, or “Gory” as he was widely known across football, is one of the rare breeds of footballer to make the transition from playing, cut short by injury, to enjoy a wide and varied successful management career that saw him serve a number of clubs over a nearly 20 year period.
What really stands out is not just the passion and pride he has for the clubs he played for and served, but for the managers and assistant managers he worked with, like Jim Magilton at both Ipswich Town and Queens Park Rangers.
It’s not the games, the stand out moments that fans might remember that Gorman is happiest talking about, but his team mates, his colleagues, their merits, their personalities, their friendships that clearly mean the most to him. “I’ve worked with so many people, so many players over the years. What’s really nice is when a player you’ve worked with before has great memories of the time we were together.”
Happiest as a player
It’s perhaps not surprising to hear Gorman was happiest as a player as an attacking left back. He was also able to fulfil his dream of joining Celtic, although he could not have been at the club at a more competitive time to get in the team.
So hard, in fact, that the Celtic reserve team, in which Gorman started his career at the end of the 1960’s, was nicknamed the Quality Street Gang by the Scottish press as it included the prestigious talents of Kenny Dalglish, Davie Hay, Lou Macari and Danny McGrain, who would all go on to become Celtic and Scotland legends. But just being at the club was a special time for Gorman and being alongside the famous Lisbon Lions who had won the European Cup in 1967.
He admits he was “gutted” to leave Celtic but realised he needed to move on if he was to get regular football. That came with his move to Carlisle United where he went on to make 261 appearances between 1970 and 1976.
His time at Carlisle included some high profile games, probably the biggest being a 1974 FA Cup tie with Liverpool at Anfield which Carlisle were able to draw 0-0 before losing the replay 2-0. Gorman says playing at Anfield was the best ground he had the chance to play at, particularly going up against the likes of John Toshack, Kevin Keegan and Bill Shankly as manager.
“Bill Shankly said to me afterwards that I was the best full back on the pitch, so I was happy with that. It was an amazing atmosphere playing there. Liverpool fans were also the best fans I played against. They were also a very knowledgeable crowd. They always gave the away goalkeeper a clap. I went there as manager of Swindon as well.”
After making his name at Carlisle, he was then picked up by Tottenham Hotspur, but was only able to make 30 appearances over three seasons as he was held back by bad injuries.
It was actually his career in America that Gorman looks back as being his most memorable and successful time. It was also a period in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when American football was at its peak, full of the world’s biggest stars from Franz Beckenbauer, to Johann Cruyff and George Best. All of whom Gorman played against during his time playing for first Tampa Bay Rowdies and then Phoenix Inferno and Phoenix Pride.
“I can remember playing the New York Cosmos in front of 77,000 people on a Monday night. Pele had just joined the league. There was Carlos Alberto, Rudi Krol. All big superstars. It was an amazing experience playing in that league at that time.”
It’s also where he had the chance to play on a number of times against George Best during his time at Ford Lauderdale. He remembers one particular occasion when Best came in with a serious over the ball challenge. When he got up shouting “you nearly broke my leg,” he was soon put in his place with Best’s reply: “I’ve broken better players legs than you.”
Best was not the only the British flair player in the American league. His own Tampa Bay Rowdies had the legendary ex-Manchester City star, Rodney Marsh, playing up front and he had Frank Worthington as a room-mate.
The game, he says, was a lot tougher in those days and it was often the flair player who were the toughest in the team.
“They were also just as technically good as they say the players are now. Particularly considering the pitches we had to play on,” he adds. “Mike Sumerbee at Manchester City was a great winger, but he was also dirty with it.”
Squads were also a lot smaller and players were just expected to play through injuries.
“I can remember my brother coming down to see me play at Carlisle and he had to help me get out of the chair the night before the game and I needed a cortisone injection to play. But you did not want to lose your place in the team.”
There was also a lot more of a drinking culture in those days. He remembers one particular night travelling down to Leeds with Celtic. Although they did not play he and Kenny Dalglish were invited back to the Leeds captain’s Billy Bremner’s house after the game where he watched in awe as the big Leeds legends of the time, Jack Charlton, Peter Lorimer and Eddie Gray, sat around talking football into the early hours.
A manager’s future
It was during his time in the US when he first realised he could have a future as a coach and manager. For that, he says, he has a lot to thank the Tampa Bay Rowdies coach and former Charlton Athletic legend, Keith Peacock.
“Keith saw I had a talent and an ability to work with the younger players at Tampa and I went with him when he went to Gillingham for a spell as a youth coach,” he says.
His coaching and managerial career will always be associated with England legend and playmaker, Glen Hoddle, with whom he first worked with at Swindon Town in 1991.
Gorman’s friendship and relationship with Hoddle goes back to their time together at Tottenham Hotspur where despite their eight years age gap they became very close. “He was my best pal at Spurs,” says Gorman. “We always got on well and he would come over and see me when I was playing in America.”
When Hoddle got his first manager’s role with Swindon Town in 1991 he turned to Gorman, both for this friendship and his coaching experience, to come and join him as his assistant. A role Gorman was delighted to take up.
As he was five years later when the call came in May 1996 to join Hoddle as his assistant at England. “Glenn needed an experienced coach like me. You have to remember he was still a very young manager then.”
He says it was a great pleasure to work with such outstanding players within the England team at that time. In fact his fantasy team of the best players he has coached during his career includes the bulk of that side including David Seaman, Ledley King, Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Paul Gascoigne, David Beckham, Paul Ince, David Batty, Paul Scholes and Alan Shearer.
“Glenn liked me to do take a lot of the coaching and relied on me for new ideas to work with the players,” he says. “In those days there was just the two of us. Not like all the coaches you see with the team now. You’re away with the players for a long time, so you have to keep things fresh, new and fun for the players.”
He says the decision to leave Gascoigne out of the squad for the 1998 World Cup was actually an easier decision to make than the media and fans might have thought at the time. “I love Gazza, but he just was not in great shape leading up to that tournament.”
Prior to his England role Gorman enjoyed another high profile job without when he was appointed Swindon Town manager for their year in the Premiership in 1993/94.
After leaving England he went on to enjoy another 13 years in management in a number of roles, most notably as Hoddle’s assistant at Tottenham Hotspur, manager of Wycombe Wanderers between 2004-6, including a 21 undefeated run in the 2005-6 season and assistant manager at MK Dons from 2010 and up to his retirement in 2012.
It was at MK Dons where he first came across current England and Tottenham star, Dele Alli, and although he was only in the youth team he was the stand out player. “He was that good,” says Gorman.
Gorman also worked with Raheem Sterling as a youngster during his time at Queens Park Rangers in 2009. “What makes them stand out even at that age is that they are technically the best, even if they may not be the strongest. The other boys in the team look up to them. I’m just so pleased for them that they have been able to go as far as they have.”
Heading to Russia
Looking ahead to the Russia World Cup, Gorman believes England are in good hands with manager Gareth Southgate. “He’s had a good start. He’s won the press over. I coached Gareth and he’s a very respectful guy. A great professional. England have got some wonderful young players so I think they have got a chance to do well. They’re also in quite a good group.”
Let’s hope for England’s sake they are not in need of a Gorman pick-me-up until at least the semi-finals.