If you did a straw poll of 100 Brentford fans and ask them who they would classify as a club legend, Marcus Gayle’s name would come up more than any other. The former Jamaica striker turned centre half is held in such high regard that he was inducted into their Hall of Fame in 2015 and is now a club ambassador. But Gayle’s career is more than just his 230 appearances for the bees. He may have started off at Brentford and returned to the club in the latter half of his career but he also had successful spells at Wimbledon, Watford and FC Kups in Finland as well as brief spells at Glasgow Rangers and Aldershot during his 20 year career. We caught up with his recently to find out more about his career including his time at Brentford, why it didn’t work out in Scotland, what it was like working with Joe Kinnear and of course playing at the World Cup with “the Reggae Boyz” aka Jamaica.
Backofthenet: You were born and raised in Hammersmith and got your break into football only ten minutes away at Brentford. Apart from two seasons in Scotland and Finland, you spent your entire career in London. Was that intentional?
Marcus Gayle: For the most part I was fortunate enough to play in and around London apart from those spells in Scotland and Finland. It was nothing intentional on my part.
BOTN: When you signed for Brentford in 1988, they had an impressive mix of players including player manager Steve Perryman, Gary Blissett and Andy Sinton to name a few. How much did you learn as a youth player coming into that squad? How influential was Perryman on those early years of your career?
MG: Under Steve Perryman at Brentford it was a great education about the game but very tough going at times. Colin Lee who was my youth coach gave me the drive to excel, Phil Holder who became the 1st team manger after Steve gave me the opportunity to stay in the 1st team. They were all very influential.
BOTN: You had a loan spell at KUPS. That move to Finland in 1990 was a surprising one but one that you found crucial in your development as a player. How did that loan move come about and what did you take away from your experience there?
MG: The loan spell to FC Kups came about through a contact of Steve Perryman. I didn’t fancy getting out of my comfort zone (by going there) and said nah. I spoke to my mum later that day and she said it could be the making of me. 29 games and 13 goals proved her and my manager right!
BOTN: You returned to Brentford for the 1990-91 season and quickly established yourself under new manager Phil Holder. You were part of a trio of exciting strikers at the club – Dean Holdsworth and Gary Blissett being the other two that guided Brentford to the old Third Division title. That season was later voted by the fans as the best ever season in the club’s history and cemented your place as a legend at the club. What do you remember about that campaign and why did everything fall into place so perfectly?
MG: We had a great squad of players that when everyone was fit we knew more or less what the team was. Squad players and the managers trust in young players to step in helped keep the competition high. All the players got on so well.
BOTN: Eventually you earned a move to Wimbledon where again you played a pivotal role in that team over a seven-year period. That was of course towards the end of the Crazy Gang era. Was it an enjoyable atmosphere to work in?
MG: Moving to Wimbledon was great – the whole atmosphere was healthy but challenging; work rest and play mentality. We knew when it was time to be serious.
BOTN: Joe Kinnear was your manager for a majority of your time at Wimbledon. What is your opinion of him and the job that he did at Wimbledon during that time?
MG: Joe done an unbelievable job as manager, had a great eye for a player that fitted straight into the squad. You could have a great laugh with him!.
BOTN: Let’s chat a little about your move to Glasgow. You tended to play regularly for most of your career, but at Rangers were limited to just 4 appearances. Did you find the lack of game time frustrating? Given you signed a few months after Rangers broke their transfer record to sign Norwegian striker Tore Andre Flo, were you mis sold on that move and the amount of opportunities you would get?
MG: I loved my time at Rangers however just the 4 appearances left me embarrassed and very frustrated. I was put in the under 23 team, played 2 and a half games scored 6 goals but was still told that I was not a goal threat. That was the breaking point and i was not given a fair chance.
BOTN: After a disappointing spell in Scotland, you joined Watford for £1million, linking up with Gianluca Vialli in his only season at the club. What was it like to work under Vialli and are you surprised that he hasn’t managed since?
MG: Vialli was a workaholic just like in his playing days – He made a lot of signings, me being one of them and most didn’t work out well that season. I’m not too surprised that he hasn’t gone back into management, I think his time at Watford really frustrated him.
BOTN: When Vialli left, Ray Lewington was given the job and he helped you switch from being a striker to a centre back. That change came due to a shortage of defenders in training which resulted in you offering to play in defence. You ended that season as player of the year and as a clear starter in the heart of the Watford defence. Why do you think that switch was so successful?
MG: I felt like a youngster learning the game all over again playing at the back – Ray Lewington showed the confidence in me to give it a good go and that’s what I did. I had good team-mates that made my transition easier.
BOTN: You are not the only player to have made that switch – Chris Sutton, Dion Dublin and Ruud Gullit all successfully transitioned from frontmen to defenders during their careers. It seems to be that strikers convert better as centre backs than say central midfielders do. Is that due to your understanding of how strikers think in and around the box and being able to anticipate those moves in advance?
MG: We all understand what type of ball is coming into the front man and where he wants to take his first touch. Again we all could take a ball under pressure as a frontman so naturally that would be added now as a defender. For me the majority of my career was left wing so dribbling with the ball and picking out team mates out helped a lot.
BOTN: They say you should never go back but you returned to Brentford in March of 2005 as a free agent. You joined a squad that manager Martin Allen had self-proclaimed to be a “two bob team” due to the nature in which it had been put together under a very tight budget. Yet that team was highly successful under Allen managing to reach consecutive promotional playoffs. What was key to the success of that team? And what role did Allen play in that success?
MG: Re-joining Brentford under Martin Allen was great. I probably learned the most from him than other managers in terms of man management and coaching players. He was a workaholic on the training pitch and empowered especially the young players to become great players.
BOTN: After Brentford, you joined Aldershot in the Conference League under Terry Brown and started well scoring a few goals before hitting a hat-trick in under ten minutes against Kidderminster, the first of your professional career. The shortly after Christmas you damaged your ACL knee ligaments and cartilage effectively ending your season. How would you categorize that season looking back now and when the injury happened, did you consider that it may be the end of your playing career?
MG: Yes, it took me to the age of 36 to score my first and last hat-trick lol. The injury was a blip in my season but thanks to Suzanne Bowen (club physiotherapist) who got me back playing within 3 months.
BOTN: You are one of a few players who have played for Wimbledon early on in their careers and then returned again towards the end of it. Warren Barton and Dean Holdsworth are two players who did similarly. What is it about that club that makes players return? Did it feel like the same club you had left all those years ago?
MG: The feeling was mutual between the fans and myself returning to Wimbledon. I’ve always had a strong connection with fans over many many years and play for them again was special. The fans make the club!
BOTN: Let’s talk about Jamaica. You had previously represented England at under 18 level but switched to Jamaica after being called up by René Simões due to your Jamaican parentage. You were called up alongside Frank Sinclair, Leon Burton and Robbie Earle as Simoes looked to build a squad capable of qualifying for the World Cup. Was the ambition of Simoes to make it to France with Jamaica a driving force behind that decision?
MG: The driving force for my decision was to represent the country of my father’s birth – the impact it would have. Oh and the chance of playing in a World Cup. That really was a brilliant time for all involved. Rene Simoes has a dream to take Jamaica to the finals and he certainly did just that.
BOTN: Playing at the World Cup must be one of the highlights of your career. It started well with a good performance against Croatia, but the result didn’t go your way. In the second game however you were blown away by a rampant Argentina losing 5-0. Going into that third and final game, how was the squad feeling? Were you all desperate to make amends and restore some pride to Jamaica?
MG: There was a last minute decision to change our team shape from 3-5-2 to 4-4-2. It didn’t feel or flow well in those first 2 matches. I wasn’t happy not playing those 2 matches but started the last one and very happy to come away with World Cup win.
BOTN: After your playing career finished, you made the move into management, first with a role at Wimbledon as reserve team manager then later with Staines. As a player you spend 90% of the time focused on your own development and then when you switch to be a manager, that focus shifts to 90% of the time focused on your players development. How difficult is that transition and did you find your spells in management enjoyable?
MG: I loved the transition from playing to management – development of players and giving them the opportunity was important to me.
BOTN: Now retired, you have been a vocal part of the Kick it Out movement which is helping tackle racism in football. The events of the last month in the USA and the brutal murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer has brought racial injustices to the forefront and ignited the need for change on a global level. We have seen this before, but the recent protest feels different in a sense that it may drive much needed change. How hopeful are you that changes in behaviours and perceptions towards black people come as a result of these protests and taking it back to football, how much work still has to be done on that front?
MG: The events of the last month have forced more conversations to take place; people and organizations have taken notice. I love my role with Kick it Out as it’s an important one educating players with support. I learn from the players as much as they learn from what we do at Kick it Out. What we need to see now is action instead of words of support and slogans, slogans highlight but ultimately action is the positive change that is needed.
BOTN: You have mentioned before that you grew up listening to Reggae music and artists like Bob Marley and Gregory Issacs and that music played a key role in creating a positive atmosphere in various dressing rooms that you have been in. Was there any questionable music played in those dressing rooms and who were the main culprits?
MG: Reggae music lifts my spirits when I’m down – we wouldn’t be playing reggae in the changing room of my time. Music is important and you got to cater for everyone without going to personal with your choices.
BOTN: Finally, some fan questions. You broke your leg playing for England U18’S on your debut. Were you worried that it would end your career before it started?
MG: I wasn’t worried, I was 17 so if it was going to happen then that was the time for it to happen.
BOTN: Who is the toughest defender you played against as a striker and the toughest striker you played against as a defender?
MG: Toughest defenders would be Martin Keown, Tony Adams and Marcel Desailly. As a defender, I would say Jason Roberts when he was a West Brom.
BOTN: Thoughts about Brentford’s new stadium? Did you have a pint in all four pubs around Griffin Park?
MG: The new Brentford Community Stadium looks fantastic and puts the club in a great position on and off the field. It may be a surprise, but I’ve only drank in one of the four pubs around Griffin Park!
Marcus is a club Ambassador for Brentford FC. Follow Marcus on his official Instagram account.