Colin Gibson

Former Player Remembers: Colin Gibson

Club Historian & Archivist John Hutchinson recently took the opportunity to speak to former left-back and midfielder Colin Gibson about his 17-year career in football between 1978 and 1995.
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In addition to playing in 237 games for Aston Villa, he also starred in nearly 100 games for Manchester United as well as making 73 appearances for Leicester City. 

As a youngster, Colin was on schoolboy forms at Portsmouth where future Villa manager Tony Barton was on the coaching staff: “My scout was associated with Tony before he went to Villa (to become Ron Saunders’ assistant manager). Portsmouth released me so I went off to Villa, which was a break for me. I didn’t even know where Aston Villa was at that point! I went there as a 16-year-old. Villa got the best out of me. I have to say that Leicester came a very close second. They were both good family clubs.”

At Villa, Colin played in the 1978 FA Youth Cup Final, before going on to win the old First Division title and the Charity Shield in 1981, and the European Cup and the European Super Cup in 1982. While at Villa Park, Colin also won an England Under-21s cap against Norway and an England ‘B’ cap against New Zealand.

He added: “At Villa, there were some great players. I could name them all. There was Ken McNaught, Allan Evans, Gordon Cowans, Dennis Mortimer, Des Bremner, Gary Shaw, Peter Withe, Tony Morley, and goalkeepers Nigel Spink and Jimmy Rimmer. Nigel’s second game was the European Cup Final!”

Following this success, Colin was transferred to Ron Atkinson’s Manchester United for £275,000 in November 1985: “Doug [Ellis] took over for his second spell as chairman at Aston Villa. He had been ousted in 1979. This meant that he had missed Villa’s most successful time ever, when we had won the league, the European Cup and the Super Cup. He came in and wanted to get rid of the squad that had been so successful. I went to Old Trafford in November 1985. Initially, I turned Manchester United down in March 1985 because I had just signed a four-year contract at Villa but that’s how football works. I eventually went in November. It was Ron Atkinson who signed me for United.”

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Manchester United 1986/87
Manchester United 1986/87

Gibson and his Manchester United team-mates in 1986.

At United, Colin’s new team-mates included Bryan Robson, Paul McGrath, Gordon Strachan, Norman Whiteside, Mark Hughes and Frank Stapleton.

He continued: “I played very well when I first went there. Ron Atkinson lost his job in November 1986 and Alex Ferguson was appointed. In 1987/88, we were runners-up in the league to Liverpool but I ended up doing my knee. There was a positive in this though, because I ended up going to Leicester. I had an absolutely great four years at Filbert Street. I loved it.”

When Colin signed for Leicester in December 1989 for £100,000, the Foxes were in 23rd position in of the old Second Division. He was manager David Pleat’s last signing before his dismissal the following month.

Colin said: “David signed me. Leicester were struggling and we only stayed up on the last day of the season by the skin of our teeth. We beat Oxford 1-0 and other results went our way. At that point David had gone and Gordon Lee was in charge. We thought Gordon was going to get the job but then, of all people, in came Brian Little.

“Brian and I had been together at Villa and he was a very good friend of mine. As I used to call him Brian, I went into see him in the first week and I asked him how we were going to work this now that he was in charge, in case I called him Brian by mistake. He said: ‘Well you’ve got to call me ‘Boss’. If we get a couple of hiccups don’t worry about it. We will see how it goes’. I actually thought I might have to leave to be honest but he said he wanted to keep me. In the event it worked very well and I had a great time at Leicester. I also knew his coaches Allan Evans and John Gregory from Villa.”

Little’s impact was immediate. He transformed Leicester City from being a team at the bottom of the old Second Division into a team that won its way through to three successive Wembley play-off finals, culminating in promotion to the new Premier League in 1994.

Colin was impressed: “People like Alex Ferguson, Ron Saunders and Brian Little were good managers. They could see the humane side, the kind side of management. It didn’t come out very often but they would also do something that would wind you up and then you would see that they had worked you. They were good, good managers. Brian was the catalyst for the Martin O’Neill era. If Brian hadn’t done what he did at Leicester City, someone of the standing of O’Neill would never have come to Leicester. Martin then took it a step further. Under Brian, it was a great club to be associated with”.

Colin’s time at Leicester was affected by his knee injuries, but he has fond memories of his time at Filbert Street.

He remembered: “I had one or two injuries while at Leicester but I got to play at Wembley! I missed the first play-off final in 1992 against Kenny Dalglish’s Blackburn Rovers through injury. I was then sub for the following year’s final against Swindon Town, when we lost 4-3 after coming back from 3-0 down. The year after that, I played the whole of the game against Derby County. As we’d lost the other two, I told Brian: 'I rest my case. You played me in this one and we won!' I always have a laugh with Brian about that.

My last game for Leicester was at Wembley. I don’t think there are many people who can say that!

Colin Gibson

“Against Blackburn, we went to enjoy the day. I’m not saying we didn’t want to win but it was a great occasion. Then we had the Wembley final against Swindon. With them going 3-0 up and us pulling it back to 3-3 and then losing to a late penalty was an absolute sickener. The next year, we just knew we had to win. We were in the tunnel against Derby at Wembley and I was there with Derby’s Gordon Cowans (who had been a team-mate at Villa) and one or two of their other players who I knew. Gordon said: 'Hello Gibbo' and I just totally ignored the man. We were that focused. We didn’t play as well as Derby in many ways but there are different ways to win a football match and we scored more goals than they did. We had to win that game for ourselves, for the fans and for the Club. It was a brilliant day. It was one of my best days, even though I had had bigger days. For me, playing at Wembley, and winning and taking the Club up to the Premier League was great. I was disappointed a little bit later when I found out I wasn’t going to get another contract but that’s another story. My last game for Leicester was at Wembley. I don’t think there are many people who can say that!"

The next season, Colin became a key figure in Walsall’s promotion from the old Third Division: “During the close season, I kept myself fit and Walsall’s manager Kenny Hibbitt said to me: ‘Why don’t you come over and have a go with us?’ So I went there. I was sitting outside his office and he came storming out. I said: ‘What’s the matter, Kenny?’ and he said: ‘I’ve just been sacked!’ I sat there and I thought: ‘Oh my God, what do I do here?’ Chris Nicholl came in and he said that he would give me a month to see if I was fit enough. Then he gave me a year’s contract. We got promotion that season which was fantastic.

“I was part of the management committee at the PFA and after I finished playing, they offered me a job. You are not at home much when you are playing and the PFA job meant I was always away on Friday nights. Also, I was having to fly off here and there. There was a fair bit of travelling and I always had to stay over, which wasn’t really for me.”

Colin is now a matchday host at King Power Stadium, where he is a familiar and popular figure, thoroughly at home in the surroundings of the Club he enjoyed being a part of so much as a player.

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