In the latest of our Coaches Corner series, we spoke to former Hastings and Eastbourne Borough manager, Garry Wilson.
“We won the league and out of 39 league games I think we only lost one. I jokingly said, ‘I’ll get you in the Conference in 10 years.’ But that was a long way away.”
It was a light-hearted statement from Garry Wilson all those years ago. But a statement that wasn’t far from reality. The Scottish-born manager had already achieved success at the formerly named, Hastings Town, but the mark he was about to leave on Eastbourne Borough was a very big one indeed.
Garry is well-known for his tenure at Eastbourne Borough, but it’s only when you sit down and talk to him that you realise, beyond that, he has quite the story to tell. Starting on the tough streets of Glasgow as a young boy.
“I was brought up on the streets of Glasgow, I lived in high-rise flats, council flats, and all that the kids had there was football. My dad was also taking me to see Celtic from a young age for the big European games.
“I played on the streets, I played at school and ended up school team captain. There were some good players there that went and played professionally; Mo Johnston was one who many will know as the Glasgow player that swapped Celtic for Rangers. He also won The FA Cup as a player with Watford.
“I swapped areas in high school, we lived in quite a rough council estate area, so my mum moved us out to a bit more of a posher area!”
Garry tells us he “never got on well with football” at his new high school, but that didn’t stop him from turning a few heads whilst playing for a men’s social side as a 16-year-old.
“I got offered a trial at Campsie Black Watch who, at the time, were probably the best under-21 team in our area.
“They were a team a lot of players progressed through and I thought I’d go for a trial; I was only 17 but I got on really well and I think that’s because I’d been playing men’s football for a year.
“They took a liking to me straight away and I signed. I was a regular in that team for a good number of years and loved my football there under a really good manager called Gerry Marley who sadly passed away.
“From there I got a lot of trials, I’d come down to England for a couple, I had a trial with Celtic. It’s going back a long way, but they had a player called Danny McGrain at right-back and they needed a player to take his place.
“I was very flattered because he was my hero growing up, but I flopped at the trial because I was just so nervous at such a big club like that.”
In the end, Garry signed for Queens Park who, at the time, played at Scotland’s national stadium, Hampden Park which they also owned.
He notes playing against Celtic as a big highlight in his playing career but talking to him about his Scottish playing days leaves one burning question. How on earth did he end up on the south coast of England?
“I had the opportunity to come and play in England completely out the blue. A guy called Roy Miller, a coach at Hastings Town, who was also Scottish, was looking for some players.
“He wanted me to come down and scouted one or two other boys from Stranraer, and a couple as well from Hamilton Accies, so the four of us came down to play for Hastings Town.
“It was a big move for me, 500 miles away from home, but I thought I’d give it a go. I wasn’t enjoying my job either at the time, so I came down and played for Hastings.
“I didn’t even know where Hastings was! I’d heard of the Battle of Hastings, but I had to look at a map to see where it was. I remember saying to my parents I was going to go to Hastings, and they said, ‘You can’t go there it’s miles away!’”
It was a move, however, that was about to go very wrong.
“I played for a guy there called Peter Sillet, really enjoyed my time, but I then broke my leg, a real bad leg break against Witney Town, broke it in two places.
“I must have been on crutches for 15 months, the operation went wrong, disastrous, and it was a hard time. The other three boys went back to Scotland as well which was difficult for me, but I met my girlfriend who’s now my wife so decided to stay!
“I got news from the surgeons that I couldn’t play football again and my career was over. They said I’d be lucky if I walked again, talks of amputating my leg, so not playing football was the least of my worries but they got me walking again.
“It still left me scarred and I still have pain in that leg now and have problems with it. When I recovered, I felt a bit lost I thought, well I came all this way to play football, so it was a bit of a loose end.”
It was hard for Garry to see a route in football and coaching was something he had never considered. Little did he know this is exactly where his management journey would begin.
“I was still going down to Hastings and watching but then the reserve team manager, a guy called Kevin Barry, Gareth Barry’s uncle, he’s sadly passed away as well, but he asked if I’d help him in the reserves.
“I thought it’d be ideal to be fair and suited me to go and do that but then after two weeks, Kevin decided to go and move to Tenerife! I was only 25 at the time and it really threw me in the deep end.
“I found that very daunting, walking in the changing rooms, talking to some guys that were older than me. I also hadn’t had much coaching experience, but I ended up putting a fantastic side together.
“We won the Sussex Intermediate Cup, we won the league, and a few other trophies locally. It was a really successful team I was managing for a couple of years.”
If he thought that was daunting, he was about to be really thrown in the deep end when an opportunity arose with the first-team.
“Eventually the first-team manager got released at Hastings and I was asked to become joint-manager with Dean White. I felt I was a bit young, so I accepted with Dean that he’d be manager and I’d be his assistant.
“It was a good experience for me because Dean was an experienced guy. It was good learning curve and then Dean decided to leave, and I took over as first-team manager.
“We did ok, I think it was the Doc Martins Premier League at the time, I think we won the Doc Martins League Cup, we won the Sussex Senior Cup In 1996, beating Crawley.”