Belfast Telegraph

Gary Hamilton: Blues' jeans boy

By Steven Beacom

When Gary Hamilton walked out as manager of Glenavon for the first time ahead of a match at Windsor Park with Linfield, little did he know that his attire would cause so much debate.

When Gary Hamilton walked out as manager of Glenavon for the first time ahead of a match at Windsor Park with Linfield, little did he know that his attire would cause so much debate.

Gary was wearing jeans. To the more traditional Irish League fan, it caused alarm and debate on Twitter and internet forums.

Tracksuit or shirt, tie and trousers is the more conventional dress for a boss.

But when has Gary Hamilton ever been conventional? Isn't that, combined with his undoubted talent, why so many football followers here are fascinated by the 31-year-old?

Hamilton enjoys a drink. And a smoke. Face it, he knows how to party.

He also knows how to play.

He's been one of the best footballers in the local game over the past 20 years and has a cavalier spirit that makes him exciting as well as unpredictable.

One of the finest goals I ever witnessed anywhere in the world came from Hamilton when he netted at the Oval for Portadown against Glentoran, running from inside his own half, leaving frustrated defenders in his wake before slotting home. It was pure genius.

Along with the talent though, there has been trouble with Ports boss Ronnie McFall and former Glens manager Scott Young both falling out with the international striker.

Now, and some people still find this hard to believe, Gary is a gaffer himself at his beloved Glenavon, where he played on loan from Glentoran last season, helping the Lurgan Blues avoid relegation.

One year on he is trying to do the same as the boss, following his December appointment.

Hamilton is still a player, though injury is keeping him out of action at the moment, meaning he can focus entirely on the management side of things.

“It is something I've always wanted to get into and even though it has come sooner rather than later I'm loving it,” he says, with all the glee of a kid talking about playing with his favourite toy.

“I've played for Northern Ireland, won league titles and cups with different clubs but getting the manager's job at Glenavon was probably the best feeling I've ever had in my career.

“The club is in my heart. People find it strange that I don't support a club in England. I never have. It's always been Glenavon for me.

“When I pulled on the shirt last season and helped them away from relegation trouble it was a great feeling.

“The opportunity to manage the club eclipses that. Glenavon’s always been very special to my family. My grandparents followed the club, my dad used to take me to see them and my uncles (Robbie and Davy Dennison) played for the team.”

Hamilton acknowledges that he could be high maintenance for his previous bosses, though ironically that now helps him with his players.

He says: “In terms of dealing with players, that is something I'm good at. As a player myself I was always in the manager's office. Now the tide has turned and I like to think I handle that side of things pretty well. If there is a problem with players I tend to have experienced it myself in the past which stands me in good stead.

“People say as a manager you have to be distant with players. Maybe it is slightly different for me being a player-manager but I don't feel you have to keep your distance.

“The way I live my life is based around respect and that is the way I will do this job. I won't try to be different or to look down on people just because I'm a manager. What I want to do is build respect amongst the players because ultimately that will benefit all of us and the club.”

Hamilton, relishing Saturday’s Irish Cup tie with Crusaders, says he was touched to receive calls from Linfield boss David Jeffrey and his old manager McFall when he was appointed at Mourneview.

He also makes a point of thanking ex-Oval boss Young for not standing in his way when the opportunity arose.

He says: “When you become a manager you appreciate how hard the job is and have more respect for people who do it. It can be a lonely occupation.

“My situation is that I have a two and a half year contract as player-manager. If I'm not doing the job as boss I'll not hold Glenavon back and will step away from that role, but I'll stay on as a player because I love the club and would still do everything possible to help them win games.”

Winning games. It’s what Hamilton has lived for most of his life though since the arrival of his two sons (Callum 4 and Corey 1) he says his perspective has changed.

Opening his heart, he states: “I used to take defeats personally and was very blunt to the people close to me, though since my kids were born I’ve changed.

“My life used to always be totally about football. It took over everything but my two boys are the biggest aspect of my life now. It's great spending time with them and certainly when we lose or don't do as well as I hoped I don't take it out on them.

“I want to enjoy my time with them and be a good influence. Getting older I have started to realise there is more to life than football.

“Of course I'll always have a huge passion for football, love what I do with Glenavon and will always give 100% but Callum and Corey are what matters most to me now.”

Finally back to his dress sense as boss. You can probably guess the fashion critics don’t bother him one bit.

He insists: “I will do things my way. I took a bit of stick for wearing jeans in my first match as manager and still do but as far as I'm aware there is no rulebook stating you must wear certain gear when you are a manager.

“I'm not going to change my personality and start wearing suits because that's what people expect. I want to feel comfortable in myself and if that means wearing jeans on the touchline so be it.”

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