Interview: Gary Elkins

Gary Elkins played for Fulham in the mid to late eighties, a period which proved a very troublesome time for the club off the pitch. Daniel Smith caught up with Gary to get a players perspective during those dark times and to look back at his career with the club…

DS – First of all, how did you get into football?

GE – I played for Wokingham Town and the manager Rob French was a scout for Fulham. He took me to the training ground and it went from there. He also brought others through notably Neil Webb.

DS Did you start out as a fullback or did you play in other positions?

GE – I played a bit in midfield, then Bob put me at fullback.

DS Did you have any role models who were fullbacks when you were starting out?

GE – Role models? Hmmm, I’d have to go for Kenny Samson and Stuart Pearce.

DS How were apprentices treated during your time as one, you always hear stories of cleaning boots etc?

GE – I used to clean 30 pairs of boots under the Stevenage Road stand before training. The boot room doesn’t exist anymore. We used to paint the dressing room and weed the terraces. That wouldn’t happen now!! Lol! I remember cleaning Malcolm McDonald’s car every Friday, did a good job, I thought it might help!!!

DS Pub quiz question to test the memory Gary, 22nd Sept 84 v Middlesbrough in Div 2 (we won 2-1). What’s special about this game?

GE – My debut, never forget that!

DS – Do you remember how you felt on the day of your debut? Were you given any warning that you were playing?

GE – I can’t remember how much warning I was given, couldn’t wait to play absolute dream come true. Funny enough I nearly didn’t make my debut, my mate was driving me up in his mark 1 escort and smoke started pouring out the engine into the car driving down the M4, I had to hang out the window to breath.

DS – Fulham had just come off the back of a very bad experience at the hands of Derby. I know you were young at the time but were you involved with the first team the following summer and could you sense from the atmosphere that the club was suffering a hangover?

GE – I can’t really remember the Derby game… was that when the supporters came on the pitch and one of them kicked Willo?

DS Yes mate it was that game. Speaking of Robert Wilson, I did one of these with him recently and he spoke very highly of Ray Harford. What was he like as a manager?

GE – Ray Harford… best coach I ever played for. A lovely man who made me feel like I was the best fullback ever.

DS Then Ray Lewington takes over, was his style different to Harford’s and how did it feel having a teammate stepping into the role as gaffer?

GE – Ray Lew… I liked him as a player but not sure if he liked me as much as a player. He was really committed and got stuck in, led by example. Had lots of respect for him.

DS – It was a dark era for the club towards the late 80s. Did you think the club was going to join up with QPR, what was going through the players’ minds and were you worried about your own financial security?

GE – It was always a worry in the 80s for the clubs future, also my own. At the time I thought we would join up and players would be released or sold. It’s a relief to everybody when the clubs future gets sorted out. It’s a great club with so much history, great ground and supporters.

DS Did you ever meet Jimmy Hill or the Muddyman family? Obviously, they are heroes to all Fulham supporters for saving the club but from a player’s point of view did it secure your future too and was it a relief to have that cloud lifted off of the club?

GE – Yes I was there when both were. We were having a team talk at halftime and I went to the loo, as I went in the cubicle Jimmy tried to stand in the way of the door and started telling me what was needed.

DS Why did you leave Fulham?

GE – I left Fulham because I didn’t think I was in the manager’s plans. I was very close to joining Brentford, I met Steve Perryman and he wanted me to play for him. Terms couldn’t be agreed and Ray Harford came in to take me to Wimbledon. I jumped at the chance even only as a squad player, as I said before Ray was the best coach I ever played for. It was an opportunity to play in the 1st Division.

DS Are you aware of this weird stat about you. You started exactly 100 games for both Fulham and Wimbledon. Was it deliberate lol?

GE – I am aware but not sure how true about the 100 games for each. Very proud to have achieved it either way – playing for two different but great clubs.

DS How’s the memory, any chance you can describe your 2 goals, away v Cardiff 88-89 and away v Northampton 89-90?

GE – I can’t remember my goals…. my memory is absolutely rubbish!! They couldn’t have been that good thinking about it lol!

DS – Who were the best players that you played with at the club?

GE – Paul Parker, Tony Gale, Ray Houghton, Gordon Davies, Dean Coney, Robert Wilson, Ray Lewington, Jim Stannard and Gerry Peyton and Leroy Rosenoir. We had a great side, I could name more!

DS Who were your closest friends in the team and who did you room with in hotels?

GE – Gary Barnett, Jeff Hopkins & Paul Parker. I Roomed with Barny or Jeff.

DS – Do you still keep in touch with anyone?

GE – Keep in touch with Gary Barnett. I’ve spoken to Peter Scott, Jim Stannard, Justin Skinner also met up with quite a few of the players a while back at Derry Quigley’s funeral.

Ironically I spoke with Terry Mancini this week, the first time in 30 years. Great bloke…

DS Your two main clubs were Fulham and Wimbledon. How do you feel about what happened to Wimbledon and the fact the club you played so many games for doesn’t really exist anymore?

GE – I felt very sorry for the Wimbledon fans, the club had come such a long way in a short period of time into the premiership. It was completely wrong to take the club to Milton Keynes and expect the fans to follow. It’s another great story with the fans setting up AFC Wimbledon starting in the combined counties league, now into Div one. I have been up on a few occasions and met up again with some friends and supporters that I hadn’t seen for a while. Really pleased Neil Ardley and the rest of the coaching staff doing so well, also the guys that put the club together and continue to do an amazing job.

DS Can you name your best eleven of players that you played with throughout your career? I’m intrigued to see which Fulham players make the grade…

GE – MANAGER- Ray Harford

GK Neil Sullivan
RB Paul Parker
CB Tony Gale
CB John Scales
LB Ben Thatcher
RM Warren Barton
CM Robbie Earle
CM Leonardson
LM Ray Houghton
CF Leroy Rosenior/Dean Coney

CF Gordon Davies

This was a difficult question. I was fortunate to play with some other greats. Best coaches Don Howe. Dave Sexton. Georgie Armstrong. Terry Mancini. Terry Burton.

DS Which left-sided midfielder did you have the best partnership with?

GE – Best left-sided partner would have to be Clive Walker or Gary Barnett.

DS Which former clubs results do you look for first on match day and why?

GE – Always look for Fulham, started my career at 15 and had an absolutely amazing time. The tradition, the history, the fans. I used to take the bus, 2 hours to Hammersmith then run to the ground as an apprentice. Leave at 6 am, get home at 6 pm. I must come to a game soon be great to catch up.

DS – I see you managed Didcot Town FC for a season. How did you find management and is it something you would like to do again in the future?

GE – Management is not for me. Enjoyed the coaching at Didcot, the manager left and the club wanted me to look after them for that season. I work weekends so had to change shifts, beg favours and work every weekend that season. Enjoyed the match day as we all do but couldn’t sustain the role.

DS What have you been doing since leaving full-time football?

GE – I’m a PE Instructor in the prison service, nearly 18 years since leaving football.

DS Finally, pie or pasty – Which filling?

GE – Pie, Steak and kidney. I used to go to the chippy at Hammersmith after a game. Wouldn’t be allowed to do that now!

GE – Thank you for asking me it means a lot. Another story to finish it off… we had a gold membership at Hammersmith Palais, had some great nights out but too far to get home, so slept in the car outside the ground on a couple of occasions. Got up went to training… you’d get sacked now lol!