Name: Jerry Gill
Born: Clevedon, September 8, 1970
Blues appearances: 77
Blues goals: 0
Signed: August 1997
Departed: November 2002
Playing career: Bath City, Yeovil Town, Birmingham City, Northampton Town, Cheltenham Town, Forest Green Rovers.
Honours: Yeovil Town: Isthmian League Premier Division champions 1997; Blues: League Cup runner-up 2001, First Division play-off winners 2002; Cheltenham Town: League Two play-off winners 2006
With the January transfer window in full swing, managers across the land will be trying to sign players on their wish-list by any means possible.
Whilst some bosses will go through agents and clubs, others will try to sound out the interest of a player in person before making their next move. This was the case when former Blues defender Jerry Gill was playing for Bath City in a game against Yeovil Town – a club he would be representing the following campaign following an interesting on-pitch discussion.
“Graham Roberts was player-manager at Yeovil and we played them in an FA Trophy game,” Gill recalls. “It had gone to extra-time and at a corner he came over to mark me and said: ‘Do you fancy a move to Yeovil next year?’ I thought long and hard about it and decided it could be a good stepping stone for me. That summer they paid £9,500 for me!”
It was a fee that was worth every penny, with Gill going on to score 16 times in one season for the Glovers and playing for the England non-league side, attracting the interest of Blues. But the right-back’s switch to St. Andrew’s was not the beginning of his professional career. In 1988, Gill spent two years at Leyton Orient after being spotted as a youngster in his home county of Wiltshire.
“It was a huge culture shock for me,” he admits. “I came from a leafy village in the West Country and was thrown into the east end of London. I was picking up papers and reading about murders and stabbings, my car got broken in to in my second week there – it took me a long time to settle and I didn’t play my best football there. In a perverse way, it was probably the best thing that happened to me as I went back to Conference football and made over 200 appearances there. It was a good grounding for me.”
Nine years later, with the experience of living in a big city behind him, Gill joined the professional ranks once again. Having played part-time for the majority of his career, he relished the opportunity to dedicate himself fully to the game.
“I joined Birmingham at 26. I was ready for it then,” he admits. “I’d lived my life a bit. Having worked in ‘the real world’, it does make you appreciate it more. You look forward to matches more; you know that every minute you get is precious because, at that age, you don’t know how long you will last.
“I was proud to play until I was 39 in the Football League, so in a roundabout way, I had as long a career in the professional game as many other players do, even though I was a late developer. The thing I enjoyed most was coming off the training ground knowing you were in the best shape possible. I really appreciated my time in the professional game.”
A firm fans’ favourite, many remember Gill for a game that he didn’t play in as opposed to any in which he did. Having featured in the side throughout Blues’ run to the final of the Worthington Cup, Francis dropped the right-back from the whole squad for the Millennium Stadium showdown with Liverpool, preferring to start with Nicky Eaden.
“I’ve got no grudges with Trevor about that, I see him a lot, it was just one of those things,” insists the defender. “I played against Crystal Palace the following game. I felt like I won Trevor over by the end. He said that there would always be a contract available for me at Blues and I felt whenever I played in the team I never let anybody down. I want to be remembered for those times I had the long runs of games.
“The semi-final against Ipswich at home is the game I’ll always remember. The whole place was rocking that night; we were in the tunnel and could feel it shaking. I’ll never forget that night, to be part of that and the history is unforgettable. The best time of my whole career was at Blues, it was an amazing time for me.”
After the departure of Francis, Steve Bruce came in and memorably took Blues into the Premier League via the play-offs. Having made just one appearance under his stewardship, Gill felt that the time to move on was drawing closer and he soon left to join Northampton Town.
“I was 32 at the time and I think it was just time for me to play first-team football,” he says. “I remember picking my boots up when I was leaving and was really down because I never wanted to leave the club. I look back now and think that I maybe should have held on for a little longer, but that’s football. David Gold gave me a handwritten letter to thank me for my time at the club.”
Such gestures show that, as the truest of professionals, Gill was respected at every club represented – something he is trying to teach the youngsters at Norwich City, where he is a coach of the U18 side which last season won the FA Youth Cup.
“I relay that to the lads I coach now,” he adds. “First and foremost, you have to be professional. I valued every minute on the field and if there was a tackle there to be won, I’d be in for it. If I had to make a 40-yard run afterwards to cover, then I would. I gave everything I possibly had. If you show any supporter that you’re fully committed to the club then I don’t think they have anything to say to you. That shone more than anywhere at Blues, which is why I had such a good rapport with the fans.”
Such was Gill’s popularity amongst the St. Andrew’s faithful, a clever imitation of a chant heard on the popular US chat show Jerry Springer began echoing around the stadium in support of Gill. “The fans are the best fans in the country,” he insists. “It’s a bit of a cliché, but they really are. I had some great times at St. Andrew’s and Trevor played me in a lot of the big games. To hear that ‘Jerry, Jerry’ chant going around the stadium was brilliant. I never had the chance to return as a player, but when I have been on the pitch at half-time they still chant it. Some fans even sang it to me when I was walking around Solihull!”