Colin Gibson

Former Player Remembers: Colin Gibson

In his most recent interview with Club Historian John Hutchinson in 2020, Colin Gibson spoke about his life before Leicester City when he played 238 matches for Aston Villa and turned out for Manchester United.
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Colin Gibson is a familiar figure to Leicester City fans. For the past few seasons, he has been a well known face on matchdays at King Power Stadium where he hosts the diners in the Walkers Hall.

At Villa Park, Colin won the league title in 1981, the European Cup in 1982, the European Super Cup in 1983 and played for England Under-21s and England B.   

Having made his name at Villa and Manchester United, the left full-back and midfielder arrived at Filbert Street in November 1990. He made 73 appearances for Leicester, culminating in the 1994 Play-Off Final victory at Wembley over Derby County.

Colin began by explaining how, having been born in Bridport in Dorset, he came to join Aston Villa as a youngster: “My parents moved to Midhurst in West Sussex when I was young, and I was lucky enough to play for Midhurst Seniors men’s team when I was 13. I was a left winger then and I got spotted by Portsmouth which was about 30 miles away.

“I signed schoolboy forms with them when I was 14 but I was told I wasn’t good enough to be an apprentice there. Ian St John (the ex-Liverpool star) was manager there and his assistant was Tony Barton who was later my manager at Villa when we won the European Cup. Tony put in a word about me to Villa’s manager Ron Saunders, and I was asked to go there for a trial for a couple of weeks.

My parents were a bit reluctant for me to live on my own in Birmingham as a 16-year-old, but I went and everything I didn’t know became an experience.

Colin Gibson

“Portsmouth were near the bottom of what is now the Championship and Villa were about fifth in the old First Division. I was desperate to go because I’d always wanted to be a footballer, and my parents decided I could go.

“I went for the trial in November. I was 16. I didn’t play badly but I wasn’t expecting to be recalled. I went back to school. Suddenly out of the blue I was called to the headmistress’ office. I wondered what I’d done, but she told me that Aston Villa had contacted my parents and that they’d like me to sign as an apprentice. 

“When I got home my parents were a bit reluctant for me to live on my own in Birmingham as a 16-year-old, but I went and everything I didn’t know became an experience. There were some good ones and bad ones. I just wanted to be a footballer and luckily I had the tools to be able to do the job.”

Colin flourished at Villa Park and in 1978 he played for Aston Villa in the FA Youth Cup Final against Crystal Palace.

Thinking back, Colin continued: “You know what happened? I got sent off! We lost 1-0. The game was at Highbury. We played Crystal Palace whose side contained the likes of Vince Hilaire and Kenny Sansom. I whacked someone in the first half and got booked and then got sent off for having a go at the ref.

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Colin Gibson

Gibson flourished in a highly successful Aston Villa side.

“It was my own fault. It wasn’t very nice sitting in the dressing room for 25 minutes waiting for your team-mates. They wouldn’t let me go up for my medal but they did allow me to have it later.”

Colin made his first team debut as an 18-year-old in November 1978 when he came on as a substitute in a top flight match against Bristol City.

“I came on as a sub for about three minutes,” Colin remembered, “and for that I got a win bonus of £250, which was a lot of money then. At the time I was on about £110 a week. I made my full debut three days after my 19th birthday later that season. It was against Derby County and I scored an own goal! I smashed it into the top corner of the net to equalise for Derby to make it a 3-3 draw.

“After the game, people came up to me and said, ‘well done Gibbo, you did well,’ but when I walked into the dressing room, I felt that the players were looking at me as if to say, ‘if you hadn’t have done that I’d have got my full bonus!’ - I think we got a £100 bonus for a draw, but to be fair it wasn’t that bad.”

The following season when Aston Villa finished seventh in the old First Division, Colin was a regular in the side and the season after that (1980/81) he was in the team which was crowned champions of England.

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Colin Gibson

The full-back would go on to make 59 league appearances for the Foxes in a four-year spell at Filbert Street later in his career.

“I was 20, going on 21 when we won the league,” Colin continued. “In those days we had four baths at the training ground and there would be about eight or nine of us sitting crossways in the bath. I remember about halfway through the season sitting in the bath and asking Peter Withe (who had won the title with Nottingham Forest three years earlier) ‘can we win this?’ because we were right up there with Bobby Robson’s Ipswich (who were the eventual runners-up) and playing really well.

“Gary Williams, Gary Shaw and one or two others were there and Peter just turned round and said, ‘look, you lads. Do you think Ipswich are better than us?’ I went, ‘no!’ and he said,’ ‘well if Ipswich aren’t better than us, then no one is, because they are our biggest rival’.

“In the end I think we lost something like five or six games out of 42 and won the title. The manager was Ron Saunders. If you got half a smile out of him, you’d played well. So long as he didn’t have a go at you as you walked past, you’d played alright. He used to tell me off, but then he'd tell me what a good player I was.

“We had a lovely blend of experience and youth, with players like me, Gary Williams, Gary Shaw and Brendan Ormsby who were all 20 or 21. We had Gordon Cowans who was 22 and (future Leicester City player and coach) Allan Evans, who was 24. The experienced players were Ken McNaught, Kenny Swain, Peter Withe, Des Bremner, Tony Morley and Jimmy Rimmer in goal. The side had that lovely experience down the spine.

“Gordon Cowans was unbelievable. Think of Bryan Robson and Glenn Hoddle. I played with both of them and they were both brilliant players. Cowans was almost as good as Hoddle at passing and could hit a fly on a cow’s backside from 60 yards. He could also tackle and get stuck in like Bryan Robson. I remember when he broke his leg in 1983 in a pre-season friendly against an Argentinian side. Their player went over the top. It was horrendous. I was 20 yards behind him. We ended up in their dressing room having a massive fight. It was a horrible day.

We played two games behind the Iron Curtain - Dynamo Berlin in East Berlin. We stayed in West Berlin and crossed the Berlin Wall to play the game.

Colin Gibson

“After winning the title we had an open top bus procession into the city centre which was a sea of claret and blue. We went to the City Council House in the middle of Birmingham.”

Three months after winning the title, Colin played at Wembley in the Charity Shield match against FA Cup winners Tottenham Hotspur.

“We drew 2-2,” Colin recalled. “Mark Falco scored a goal which I probably should have stopped. All the magazines at the time had a picture of him hitting the ball into the top corner of the net with me sliding in half a second later. I should have got to him a bit earlier and tackled him. It was my first time of four times playing at Wembley and it was a fantastic experience.”

That season, Colin also became a European Cup winner: “We played two games behind the Iron Curtain - Dynamo Berlin in East Berlin. We stayed in West Berlin and crossed the Berlin Wall to play the game. There were 76,000 fans there and 75,000 of them had military coats on. There was a lot of poverty in East Berlin. It was horrendous.”

In the next round Colin played against Dynamo Kiev. Now the capital of Ukraine, Kiev (now Kyiv) was part of the USSR in those days.

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Aston Villa 1983

The team that had just become UEFA Super Cup winners in 1983. Gibson is pictured fourth from the right on the middle row.

“The Eastern Bloc was not a nice place to be," he continued. "These experiences mould your mind and the way you think. We’ve got the opportunity in Britain to vote and have a say. Back then, they didn’t have a choice. They just had to do whatever they were told.

“I missed out on the semi-final against Anderlecht because I was injured and I thought I was going to miss the final against Bayern Munich, who were a hell of a side, but I just got back fit enough to get on the bench.

“In that final, goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer was injured in the ninth minute and Nigel Spinks came on. It was his first game in Europe and he was phenomenal. Ken McNaught and Allan Evans were immense in defence and the midfield was brilliant. We scored our goal and won 1-0. Maybe we didn’t deserve to win, but we did. History is history!”

The following campaign, Colin picked up another medal when he was in the Aston Villa side which defeated Barcelona, the UEFA Cup holders, to win the European Super Cup.

The 62-year-old explained: “In the first leg we lost 1-0 at Camp Nou, which was rammed. Barcelona were a great side. In the second leg, we won 3-0. Gary Shaw scored ten minutes from time and we scored two more in extra time to win 3-1 on aggregate. Our mentality was really good. Our coaches kept telling the younger players, ’you deserve to be here, you’re good players. If you weren’t good enough you wouldn’t be playing’. It was good psychology. Mentally, it got us into a good place.”

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Colin Gibson

Gibson switched Villa Park for Old Trafford in 1985.

Whilst at Villa Park, Colin won an England Under-21s cap. “The Under-21s manager was Terry Venables," he recalled. "I played against Norway and was hoping to get picked again, but I never did and then I got called into the England B squad to play against New Zealand at the City Ground in Nottingham.

“Before the game we had a training session by the River Trent when a bloke walked by with his dog. We were playing a game of keep-ball and he said to me, ‘son, keep your eye on the ball. Concentrate. You’re playing for England’. I didn’t pick up on his accent to start with and said, ‘who do you think you are?’ He replied ‘I’m Brian Clough!’ I just started laughing. I have massive respect for managers like that. He was just offering help and to be fair he was completely right.”

Despite all of his success at Aston Villa, Colin signed for Manchester United in November 1985.

“I didn’t want to leave,” Colin explained. “But the new Chairman Doug Ellis resented the fact that we’d won the league and the European Cup without him being there and he got rid of a lot of us, like Tony Morley, Gordon Cowans, Ken McNaught, Des Bremner, Kenny Swain and Jimmy Rimmer.”

Colin’s subsequent experiences at Manchester United and later at Leicester City have been detailed in a previous interview in this series of Former Player Remembers. His last game for the Foxes was victory over Derby County in the 1994 Wembley Play-off Final, which secured a place in the Premier League.

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