Tony Gale On Winning The Premier League And Playing With Bobby Moore And George Best

Tony Gale On Winning The Premier League And Playing With Bobby Moore And George Best

An interview with Tony Gale, by Callum McFadden for WFi.

You started your professional career at Fulham and represented the club over 300 times. What are your memories of your time at Craven Cottage?

“In total, I made 330 appearances for Fulham and I am very proud of that after coming through at the club.

“The main highlight for me was winning promotion to the Second Division — now known as the Championship — then coming so close to winning another promotion to the First Division — now known as the Premier League — with Malcolm MacDonald’s team.

“Above all, having the opportunity to play with and learn from the likes of Bobby Moore, Rodney Marsh and George Best, who were all at the club at that time, was an honour.

“Working with players and characters of that calibre was a dream upbringing for me in many ways.”

What were each of them like as individuals?

“Each of them were unique in their own way.

“I would categorise them by saying that Bobby Moore was footballing royalty, Rodney Marsh was a footballing maverick and George Best was a footballing genius.

“As a defender, I learned so much from Bobby Moore and I took over the number six shirt from him after he retired.

“Watching him train every day taught me so much and when he spoke, you listened intently.

“He was a great man and you did not speak unless you were spoken to given his status of being the only Englishman to lift the World Cup as captain in 1966.

“Having those three at the club attracted massive crowds at our home games and our away games. They were superstars in their own right.

“Overall, being in their presence as a young man was an education on and off the pitch.”

You leave Fulham for West Ham United and experience playing in the First Division at the Hammers. What was that experience like for you?

“It was a good experience for me because West Ham is a family club just as Fulham are.

“I would say that West Ham are a bigger club too so it was a great move for me.

“I had the choice to join either Chelsea or West Ham but I wanted to play under John Lyall who was the manager of West Ham so that made my mind up.

“It was a wise decision as I went on to play nearly 400 games for the club over the course of a decade.”

John Lyall is considered to be one of the greatest managers in the history of West Han United. What was he like as a manager? 

“John was a wonderful coach, his attention to detail was meticulous and he was the best coach/manager that I ever had.

“His training sessions were always varied and forward-thinking. He wanted us to play out from the back and attack the opposition at every opportunity which made training sessions and games under him fun to be involved in.

“John was also a man’s man and he knew each player’s partner by name and their family by name too. He cared for you on and off the pitch and he was more than a manager.

“He was so impressive that Sir Alex Ferguson actually tried to take John to Manchester United with him after he left West Ham but John decided to stay in management and joined Ipswich instead.”

The club finished 3rd in the First Division during your time at the club and you developed a strong partnership in defence alongside Alvin Martin. How much did you enjoy that season and playing alongside Alvin?

“Alvin and I were like-minded in the sense that we both wanted to play out from the back. He was more aggressive than me and I would pick up the pieces around him.

“Our defensive partnership was the first line of attack while being solid defensively as shown by the number of records that we broke that season.

“We had the least goals conceded in the league and recorded the most home and away wins that West Ham have had in a single season.

“It was a joy to play in such a team with us at the back doing our thing and two top-class strikers in Frank McAvennie and Tony Cottee scoring goals for fun up front.”

Following a decade at West Ham, you left the club and were training at Barnet before you signed for Blackburn Rovers when Sir Kenny Dalglish was manager. How did that move come around?

“I was training with Barnet to stay fit after I had left West Ham. The club had promised me a two-year contract extension which they reneged on.

“That left me without a club for the first time in my career and I received offers to join clubs in the United States and Japan which I considered until Blackburn Rovers came in for me.

“I signed for the club two weeks before the start of the season and I played in one friendly match which was against Celtic at Hampden Park before making my official debut for the club in the community shield at Wembley against Manchester United.

“It was a whirlwind and a fairytale in many ways.

“They needed an experienced centre back and I was in the right place at the right time to join the club and be a part of the greatest season in their history.”

You won the Premier League at the age of 35 with Blackburn Rovers in 1995. Did winning such an honour so late in your career make it even sweeter?

“It did because it was amazing to win the Premier League and also stick one finger up to West Ham who had let me go.

“They probably thought that I was on the way down as a footballer but as it turned out, I was on the way up and achieved success that I had never had before.

“That being said, I have no real hard feelings for West Ham because I love the club and I loved my time there. It was just frustrating for me in the way that it ended.

“However, winning the title at Blackburn was incredible because the whole club had great leadership throughout it from Jack Walker at the top down to Kenny Dalglish, Ray Hartford and us as players.

“We played superb football on our way to the title with Stuart Ripley and Jason Wilcox on either wing feeding Chris Sutton and Alan Shearer up front.

“With players of that quality, we were hard to stop. Facing them in training helped defenders such as myself and Colin Hendry be prepared to face anyone on a Saturday because we faced two of the best strikes in the country to face every day.

“Added to that, we were an incredibly fit team who could play football or go direct depending on the type of game that we were in.”

Following your retirement from football, you joined Capital Gold then Sky Sports as a pundit and co-commentator. How does the media work compare to playing?

Tony Gale Pundit

PORTSMOUTH, UNITED KINGDOM – DECEMBER 26: Pundit Tony Gale sits in the commentary box during the Barclays Premiership match between Portsmouth and West Ham United at Fratton Park on December 26, 2005 in Portsmouth, England. (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

“Working in football on the media side is the next best thing to playing the game.

“I had the opportunity to manage at a lower level but to be able to work in the media and cover football at the highest level was too good to turn down.

“Added to that, I was offered double the money that I would have earned in management at a lower level to join Capital Gold so it was a no-brainer.

“I worked for Capital Gold for seven years before joining Sky Sports, who I am still working for today.

“I have commentated live on over 2,000 games alongside some great commentators such as Jonathan Pearce – who for me is the greatest radio commentator of all time, Martin Tyler, Bill Leslie, Gary Taphouse, Gary Weaver and many others.

“Working alongside people of that calibre who are at the top of their game in their field makes the job much easier and enjoyable too.”

Finally, Tony, you have just released your autobiography ‘That’s Entertainment’. What can football fans expect from the book?

“You will get a lot of football anecdotes and jokes from my time in the game.

“There are plenty of stories about Moore, Best and Marsh that I think people will enjoy as well as an honest reflection on my career as a footballer and as a pundit.

“I just hope people read it for the enjoyment and the laughter and not in order to get a good night’s sleep… (laughs).”