We welcome guest writer Gil Prescott who I met at a League 2 game at the Globe Arena, Morecambe in 2014 where I listened to his football experiences over a cup of coffee prior to the game. A fascinating man with a wealth of knowledge about the game that he so obviously loves. His early life playing on the streets is one that we, of a certain age, can all empathise with.
I was born in 1946, basically a football child of the 1950s, as a group of children we were perhaps lucky as all we wanted was a football and our local council were kind enough to provide a big patch of grass surrounded by houses. They say young players play too much these days but we played in the morning, all morning, came out in the afternoon and played all afternoon, then in the evening under the streetlights on the patch of grass we would have close our eyes and look up and imagine the street lights were floodlights. I had a huge left foot and was nicknamed Puskas by the local parents after the great Hungarian who started with Honved in Budapest and famously joined Real Madrid and I vaguely remember his wonderful Hungary side murdering England 6-3 at Wembley in 1952. When Puskas joined Real Madrid in 1958 people thought he was past his best, he only scored thirty-five goals in thirty-nine games in the European cup for Real Madrid. Ferenc Puskas also scored a mere eighty-four goals in eighty-five appearances for Hungary. He also managed to win the European cup three times with Real Madrid. Sadly the resemblance between Puskas and myself finished with the left foot, I was perhaps a decent young player playing at what today would be conference level at Witton Albion at the age of seventeen, moved to Manchester City, playing in their youth team at Blackburn Rovers in December 1964.
My main problems were generally discipline, I have an aversion to all the governing bodies and referees in general, the standards of refereeing are generally poor and get nowhere close to the officialdom in rugby union. The Muppets that run the governing bodies, F.I.F.A. UEFA and our own inimitable FA have a lot to answer for, they for me are the weakest link in the football chain, from grassroots level to the very top. From Manchester City I played for several good semi-professional sides for twelve years, and while doing so started my first scouting work for Blackpool, they were my club, as most of my relatives lived in St Anne’s, despite me and my family living in rural Cheshire. At Blackpool, I worked for Alan Brown, Stan Turner, Bob Stokoe, Alan Ball and Sam Ellis. Next stop was Aston Villa where I was recruited to do the non-league for them by Graham Taylor who was their manager, along with John Ward who was assistant manager at the club. Did bits and bobs with Mick Jones, when he was at Peterborough, always liked Mick, he was straightforward and knowledgeable. I was offered a job in Saudi Arabia, as the national coach for the Armed Forces, but did not have any qualifications, so I contacted Alex Gibson one of the top coaches at Manchester City and did an enjoyable coaching course with him. Went out to Saudi Arabia and was fortunate enough to remain undefeated in my period there, was offered a five-year contract but even though the money was good I wanted another challenge so came back to England. Worked as chief scout at Plymouth Argyle, obviously working from home as it’s a bit of a commute from Cheshire down to Plymouth, Bobby Williamson was the manager, a good lad to work with.
Dave Thomas was another good friend who was the secretary at Northwich Victoria, a team I had played for as well as Witton Albion and Winsford United, they were the Trinity in local football, I count myself fortunate that I am one of the very few who played for all three at professional level. Dave asked me if I would consider speaking to Sammy McIlroy about becoming his assistant at Northwich, utilising my knowledge of the non-league scene and all the players within. To put it mildly I am not the greatest fan of Manchester United, but Sammy was different gravy, we got on really well and produced a decent team on a limited budget. Sammy was eventually sacked, I was asked to take charge when he left, I told the chairman if I didn’t agree with what Sammy had done I would have left anyway, so walked out the door with Sammy. After a short spell at Ashton United, Sammy and I moved to Macclesfield Town at the start of the 1993/94 season. They had survived relegation the year before by goal difference and few of the players remained so we had our work cut out. Sammy and I had the most successful period either of us will ever have at Macclesfield and we won the conference in 1995 but were denied promotion due to the ground being considered substandard, strangely enough, Chester had played there a year before while in the football league. We went on to win the FA Trophy in 1996 at Wembley and would you believe it, I met and shook hands with Ferenc Puskas on the sacred turf the day before the match. I asked if he fancied a game and he smiled and said “perhaps I’m too old to do you justice”. We won the conference again in 1997 and were promoted into the football league where we had a great bunch of lads who really believed in themselves and unbelievably on the smallest budget in the league we were promoted again to what would be today League 1 at the end of our first season in league football. Playing teams the following season like Blackpool, Manchester City, Fulham, Cardiff City, who would believe it, little Macclesfield mixing with such giants. When Sammy left to manage Northern Ireland I eventually proudly became a football league manager at Macclesfield and I am reliably told that I am the only league manager ever to come from Northwich, my birthplace. Then I went to work with Iain Dowie and Tony Philliskirk at Oldham Athletic and really enjoyed my time there where I oversaw the running of the Academy and was Senior Scout, good little club. Moved back with Sammy at Stockport County but sadly the emphasis there was far more channeled towards rugby union than football. Sammy was eventually sacked and again I left with him. Went to Sheffield United as European scout which actually entailed travelling all around the world, South America, Africa, Asia and throughout Europe on a weekly basis. Sheffield United were an excellent club to work with and I enjoyed my time with chief executive Trevor Birch and Carl Shieber was also a major factor in my time there. All good things come to an end and I left Sheffield United with a change of management and went to work with Scout 7, an excellent database company that provides information for most of the top clubs worldwide. Also worked as a consultant for Rangers, with Neil Murray their chief scout. Lee Jamison the chairman at Scout7 was very supportive and we provided consultancy on following players for his client clubs. While at Sheffield United, I had met Craig Short who not only was a good player but is a great guy, he asked me if I’d be interested in going to Blackburn Rovers and working within their scouting system. Met with Terry McPhillips the assistant manager, Gary Bowyer the manager and really enjoyed their forward thinking. I now work for Blackburn, working mainly in England but have a wonderful system provided by Scout 7 called “Xeatre”, which enables me to watch full games from anywhere in the world from the comfort of my own computer. Can’t say I miss airports too much but some of the places we went to were truly amazing, and I feel very privileged to have worked for so many good managers and clubs. Now when I open my eyes and see the lights I begin to realise how fortunate I have been, for youngsters who love football today, if you believe enough in your ability and work hard, then perhaps you will also attain your dreams.