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History Boys: Marcus Gayle

Hughton’s cigar and Holder’s hairdryer. Club Ambassador Marcus Gayle looks back on our 1991/92 Third Division title triumph

7 June 2022

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It was a loan spell in Finland that prepared Marcus Gayle for life as a First Team player at Brentford.

Handed his debut by Steve Perryman in October 1988, the Youth Team graduate would go on to make sporadic appearances throughout the remainder of that season and the next, before Kuopion Palloseura (KuPS) made their interest known.

As it turned out, he took to Nordic life like a duck to water. But getting him there in the first place took some convincing.

“When I was initially told, I didn't want to go out there at all,” Marcus tells the Club’s official programme. “In fact, I told the manager I wasn’t going.

“Then I had words with my mum, who talked to the manager as well, and they thought that would be the best thing for me, so that’s what I did – and I had the time of my life playing out there. I had my own apartment, which was brilliant, and I was only 19, so I loved every minute.

“I couldn't drive so I only had a push bike! That kept me fit and healthy and the lifestyle out there was pretty clean as well. There were a lot of life skills learnt. I couldn't speak the language; the best way of communicating was with my left foot and showing people what I could do with that.

“I couldn't speak the language; the best way of communicating was with my left foot”

“I played in the European Cup Winners’ Cup and came back as top scorer with 13 goals from 29 matches, which filled me with confidence that I could definitely do it back in England - and also make a deep impact. That's what happened when I got back: I was thrust straight into the Brentford First Team about a week or two later.”

It was during Phil Holder’s first season as Brentford Manager in 1990/91 that he became a regular fixture on the teamsheet, chalking up 44 appearances in all competitions as The Bees were, ultimately, beaten by Tranmere in the Third Division Play-Off Semi-Final.

Holder had been Perryman’s assistant before being appointed in his own right and although Marcus credits him with being the “architect of the start of my Brentford career”, he admits that the first occasion they met was eventful.

“I'll never forget it,” he says with a grin. “I was about 15 and we played an Under-15s match against Tottenham at Griffin Park. We were losing, it was miserable and I remember Phil came into the dressing room with this beige rain mac on with the collar up. Before he spoke to anybody, he kicked the metal physio bench and everyone jumped and paid attention. He went around the whole room, had a little nibble at everybody and I was the last one, so I thought I was going to get it.

“He came to me, pointed at me and said: ‘Are you a sprinter?’ and I said: ‘No!’ and he said: ‘Yes you are! Now get past him!’ I must have run for my life in the second half just to play with pride! That always stuck with me because he saw something different in players and he saw that with me.

“I felt he was the first manager who really put that full trust in my ability and he demonstrated that in training. Say we were practicing volleys at the ‘’keeper, he would use me as a demonstration because of my technique. He spent hours with the youngsters trying to develop them.

“Whether it was life skills or the pep talks or instilling that belief into me, I have a lot of time and admiration for Phil and we’re still in touch now.”

As such, Marcus continued to be a significant part of Holder’s plans in 1991/92 and had scored five league goals by Christmas, helping The Bees to the top of the Third Division standings. He was impressing on the left wing, particularly as he was just 21 at the time, but as he recalls his memories of that season, there is little room for self-praise.

He instead reserves his gratitude for his team-mates and the skills they helped him to develop throughout the campaign and beyond.

“I had to learn from the likes of Neil Smillie, Gary Blissett and Dean Holdsworth – that was the majority of the front four we had back then,” he continues. “There were great players all around the team who encouraged me. I didn't feel I was under pressure from those pros; I think they respected that I had ability and something about my game that was going to help the team progress and they supported me in that.

“I got on especially well with Deano, as we were of a similar age. We had been mates since we were 18 or 19 and here we are, still tight now in our 50s, so the bond is strong. He even told me that, out of all of his career, he has played in the same team with me the most, which I found touching.

“He helped me so much in terms of how to deliver a ball into the box. In my younger days I would probably bounce it at the near post and just get it in there. I cared, but I didn’t really care until Deano said he wanted it all on the deck so he could volley it in; he didn’t want the bounce because that made things a million times harder. He showed me how to get that ball in there, how he wanted it. So that was my job; I needed to supply this guy because this guy can score goals. Gary was the same with how he wanted the ball; the timing, the body movements, when he wanted the ball.

On the opposite wing was Neil Smillie, who I had watched and studied in training and in matches, if I wasn’t playing. I just watched how he beat his opponent, the types of deliveries, dropping off the shoulder and the timing of runs. I had great role models in the team who were helping me, so I just put a little bit of everybody into my game, but still remained true to myself.”

The conversation then turns to the second half of the season and the lack of momentum that threatened to derail the promotion bid. Starting with the 2-1 defeat to Huddersfield on Boxing Day 1991, The Bees would lose ten of the next 18 games, drop from top spot and set up a fraught finale to the season.

“When you look back, we lost quite a few games that season. During that spell, if we didn't really believe and back ourselves to bounce back, we would never have made it. Good characters can drag you through, though.

“You have got people like Bob Booker who have been there, seen it and done it. Even though he may not have played every single match, I appreciated him in terms of the experience that he had, the messages that he was sharing, and I learned how to be a senior pro from the likes of Bob. He still had a vital role.

“The culture back then was a very tight community of players who would mingle and have a pint with the fans and definitely with each other. I wasn’t really privy to the pint drinking because I was so young and I’d probably throw up anyway, but those are the things that knitted groups together.

“There was nothing we couldn't sort out and we had a superb season because of the characters we had. We had very good bonds and a vocal manager; one that would have fun as well but when it was work time, it was work time. If you needed an arm round you, you would definitely get an arm from Phil. If it was a hair dryer you would definitely lose your hair strands because his hair dryer was quite hot! It was a measured balance of everything to be successful.”

“If you needed an arm round you, you would definitely get an arm from Phil. If it was a hairdryer you would definitely lose your hair strands!”

Success did come on the final day of the season, when Blissett’s goal was enough to see Brentford past Peterborough and help them pip Birmingham to the title by just a point.

“I remember us scoring and hanging on for dear life towards the end as we were under a bit of pressure,” Marcus adds.

“I think that’s the mark of a great team. You don’t have to play ten out of ten to win anything. We just found a formula for how to win. We dug in during games, had to hold on tight in some of them and then, in the odd game, we played football and just blew teams away. There were other games where it was backs to the wall but we managed to grind out 1-0 wins. We hung on and dug in and that's part of the ingredients for successful teams. You don't always have to play well to win and we did that perfectly well that season.

“I remember the final whistle and we knew we had put ourselves in a great position, and then the party began. On the bus back, we were listening to Kool and the Gang and I was sitting next to Chris Hughton. He pulled out a cigar and I was like: ‘Uncle Chris! What are you doing? You don’t smoke?!’ He just turned round, elbowed me and said: ‘Hey, it’s not every year or every day you win promotion. You’ve got to enjoy it!’ That’s what we did. It was just brilliant getting back to the stadium and then partying until the late hours with family and friends and the fans.”

So, overall, what was it like for Marcus to get a promotion on his CV at such an early point in his career?

“All I saw was progression up until that point, but the following year I found out the complete opposite of success and promotion because we had the relegation after just one season at Championship level. It shakes you, but I think it's good for you to have a taste of a negative because that's life. You don't always get what you want every single day, every year of your life. There's going to be some periods when you do lose.

“I got promoted when I was 21, was relegated by 22 and then I got a move to Wimbledon the following year at 23, so all of this was in my life plan that I didn't really know about at the time, but looking back it was part of what I needed to go through. I had a promotion, a relegation and I made the jump from League One into the Premier League and was totally fine with that that leap.”

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