Footballers' Lives with Gerry Flynn: The end of my managerial spell at Newry City was regrettable and it's great to see the club back in the Premiership
In the latest edition of our popular series, ex-Irish League ace Gerry Flynn discusses heartbreaking loss, the regrettable end to his Newry tenure and his business ventures in Spain.
Q. How did your career start?
A. The first organised football was probably Glen Colts in Glengormley but we also played school football at St Bernard's. Alan Brown was there, he was an incredible player. I went on to Newington, then Bangor. We won the Youth Cup and I was on the brink of the first team when I went on trial at Hull City. I signed on a two-year professional deal. When I came back, Jim Platt, who helped take the YTP football training scheme, brought me to Ballyclare and we are good friends. I got £25 a week and used to work with Jim and his wife at the Markets selling tights. We still laugh about that! We made good money back then in the early 1990s.
Q. What was Hull City like?
A. I was there for two years. Stan Tiernan, who signed me, got the sack at Christmas. Terry Dolan came in and the playing style was never going to suit me. I was told I could get £200 a week at Ards so I went to see manager Roy Coyle and he offered me £15 a week. The scout who told me about the wage said that's his first offer but I said he wasn't going to jump to £200! I played for Ards Reserves before joining Ballyclare and then Cliftonville.
Q. Were you disappointed returning from England?
A. At school all I wanted was to be a professional footballer. I was dedicated and looked after my body. When I look at it now it was probably a confidence thing. It wasn't until I was in my 30s that I started to believe in myself. I played hundreds of games in the Irish League and only then did I feel confident as an established player. Ability-wise, I wasn't the quickest and had no right peg, but maybe I could have stayed there longer with a bit more knowledge and experience. But I've no regrets. I loved the Irish League and played over 500 games for some great clubs.
Q. What was your best moment in football?
A. Probably winning the league with Cliftonville in 1998. I had supported them as a kid. The Irish Cup final win with Coleraine in 2003 was also special. We played Linfield in four league games at Windsor and in those days the Blues and Glentoran had the best players. My worst moment was being relegated with Ballymena United. Nigel Best signed me and that was tough. Kenny Shiels came in and I didn't want to play in the First Division. Quinner (Marty Quinn) phoned me and I went to Coleraine. All my success was with him.
Q. Who has been a positive influence on your career?
A. My father Gerry, who passed away last year, wasn't into football that much but my mum Mary is an Irish League fanatic who keeps me up to date. Joe Gormley is a distant cousin of mine. I've no brothers or sisters so my parents were worried when I went to England. At Ballymena my parents were really looked after, they loved going there. My dad enjoyed a whiskey after the game and a few directors fondly remember them.
Q. What happened with your father?
A. We didn't know but he had bad lungs and wasn't supposed to fly to Spain. He came out and his lungs packed in. Last New Year's Eve was his last night out and we found him on New Year's Day in 2018, my mum's birthday. He survived two weeks in hospital but he shouldn't have travelled and he ended up passing away at the age of 69 on my mother-in-law's birthday. We knew he was ill but he loved the idea of me having a bar out there. My wife's dad, Bobby Radcliffe, a Distillery fanatic, loved the banter out there. My mum, who still lives in Glengormley, has a place out there and comes out quite a bit. The hardest thing was watching my dad for the 14 days knowing we weren't going to get him home. I used to think I was invincible and I could face anything but for about six months after that I lost that air of invincibility. My parents were always there for me.
Q. How have you found the grieving process?
A. My mum's house is a shrine and it's still hard for me to stay there. There isn't a day goes by when I don't think about him. He was old school and a good laugh. He always believed in treating people right and I never met a man who loved their wife as much as he loved my mum. I've tried to be that way with my wife Debbie, we've been married 10 years. It's what we call in Northern Ireland a mixed marriage and my dad was always first to speak up against any bigotry or racism. My dad was born in Ballymurphy and we lived in the New Lodge. His morals were impeccable, he was the nicest man I've known. Debbie has also been a huge support and I've a daughter, Felicity, who is 12. We get on the best.
Q. Who has been the best player you have played with and toughest opponent?
A. Minto (Peter Murray) because he had everything. I used to watch him as a fan, and when Cliftonville played Portadown, Ronnie McFall put Minto on Tim McCann and marked him out of the game. Opponent would be Glenn Ferguson or Ivan Sproule for his pace. He knocked it past me 20 yards and was a real whippet. Glen Little was a handful as well for Glentoran.
Q. At what point in your career did you think about giving management a go?
A. Myself and Tiernan Lynch used to have a coaching company, FL Soccer, when we went into the schools and to America as well. While at Newry I did my badges but I had a disagreement with Roy Coyle and left. I ended up playing for Donegal Celtic for a few games but then returned to Newry in a player-manager role. Minto came in as my No.2. I loved my time at Newry and set up a youth academy.
Q. In 2012, Newry were ordered to pay £25k in damages after you claimed unfair dismissal and breach of contract after you were relieved of your duties the year before. When no payment was forthcoming you issued winding-up proceedings against Newry City FC Ltd, the company that owned the club. The matter wasn't resolved and the petition was granted, leading to the liquidation of the company, and the club's IFA membership was terminated. How do you reflect on that?
A. It was a frustrating and stressful time. No one gave more time, effort and commitment to the club than me. I had disagreements and ended up resigning. It was the wrong decision to go back. The debt was deeper than anyone imagined but it's great to see where Newry are now and Darren Mullen has done an incredible job. There are good people at the club and they deserve to be where they are.
Q. Was that a hard period of your life?
A. It was incredibly hard and the whole episode was regrettable. I wanted to change the club from the grassroots but it was a sad time.
Q. Is there anything you would have done differently?
A. I'm a great believer in contracts being honoured. That wasn't the case. I was willing to give money back to the club but the debts had really mounted.
Q. In terms of your managerial career, was it hard to come back from that experience?
A. I put my heart and soul into the job, and no-one can question that, but of course it had an impact on my life. It ended up being a double-whammy for me because my property portfolio went pear-shaped at the time of the financial crisis and I lost everything. I was a walking heart attack and something had to give so I looked at moving to Spain. I took defeats very badly. Would I have gone back into management again? If I lived here it may have been possible. The Cliftonville job would interest me but whether I'd get it is another story. Right now, I don't feel I'd move back to Northern Ireland.
Q. How do you occupy your time now?
A. Myself and another guy opened a mortgage business for a few years and I was involved with a Ticketmaster outlet. After the Newry episode I went to Spain and operated a mini-bus to the airport and a car-hire company. I bought a bar, the Celt, in Murcia and later opened another, the Shamrock Lounge, a bar and restaurant. I opened a George Best bar - my hero as a big Manchester United fan - but sold it. It's been a tough eight years but we are doing bigger development work with the estate agents. I sold the car-hire business 10 months ago. My main focus is with Dream Spanish Homes, selling property.
Q. Give us a bizarre story from your career.
A. Most of them would involve Quinner (Marty Quinn). One time we were playing Stuttgart at Solitude and were doing set-pieces in one part of the pitch. Two Stuttgart fans came onto the pitch, one of them in a wheelchair and the other about 6ft 6in. The guy was taking penalties against the fan in the wheelchair who was in the net. There were wheelchair tracks on the pitch and while the three Uefa officials were checking the nets, Marty asked the supporters to leave the pitch. Five minutes later, the supporters came back on and Quinner went over again. He was obviously annoyed and felt under threat because he threw a punch and the big fella fell to the ground. The fan in the wheelchair then chased after Marty to try and attack him. Meanwhile, the Uefa officials were quietly taking notes - crazy scenes! Another time in a hotel in Coleraine we were in the jacuzzi and the boys were slagging Quinner. There was an empty kids' pool behind him which he didn't see and he fell head over heels onto his back. What a guy!
Date of birth: March 28, 1972
Place of birth: Belfast
Previous clubs: Hull City, Ballyclare Comrades, Newington, Bangor, Newry City, Ballymena United, Cliftonville, Coleraine, Donegal Celtic.