The Possible Dream: A Frank McGarvey Story

Image for The Possible Dream: A Frank McGarvey Story

By Christopher Mcquade


image (8)The summer’s sun couldn’t have been any colder on the back of the young, skinny kid running home in despair of the day’s events. The sound of the ice-cream vans chimes and the other children playing were drowned out as the resounding sound of his manager’s voice was still ringing loud and clear in his ears

“Ok we’ve only got ten players today, we’ll just need to go with that.”

and demoralised at the harshness of his manager’s verdict, he struggled and choked through his tears to get home to the safety of his house in Balornock. Deflated and defeated, this skinny kid went to bed disheartened that night but woke up even more determined to prove the manager, and anyone else who doubted him wrong.

Prove them wrong, he did, winning every major league title in Scottish football, League Cups, and the defining moment of his career when he dived to head in what can only be described as a swerving header to win the for his boyhood hero’s Celtic in 1985. In addition to this he would also go down in history as being the first player to net 100 goals in the Premier League in Scotland.

Frank McGarvey’s determination in proving his doubter’s wrong resulted in him sharing the field with a “who’s who”, of world football. Cruyff, Beckenbour, and his favourite are just a few of the names McGarvey went on to line up against in his football career, not bad for a boy who was deemed “too skinny.”

“St. Roch’s trained every night at Hogganfield loch, to prove how eager I was I ran up and made sure I was the first guy in training, even though I hadn’t yet signed for them. I was scoring goals, trying my very best to impress these guys some of whom were ex-professional players. I had been doing this for four or five weeks and the manager at that time was Willie O’Neil – an ex-Celtic player- and only ten of the first-team players had turned up. I thought at last I was going to get my by default.” Remembered McGarvey.

What unfolded inside that dressing room has never left McGarvey.

“I was sticking my neck forward, trying to catch the manager’s attention, just get him to notice me, O’Neil declared ‘right listen up ok we’ve only got ten players today, we’ll just need to go with that’.

I was seventeen and after that crushing blow I thought to myself, that’s me finished with football, I don’t want to play again. I was so embarrassed I couldn’t even tell my parents about what happened, I was ashamed that I couldn’t even get a game when the team were short of players.”

The determination which powered McGarvey’s career shone through, with a little help.

“A guy called Ian French believed in me, he advised me that I should move up to junior football to further my development and he kept telling me, ‘Frank you will be a professional footballer’ his words were an inspiration. He kept getting me trials, he got me a trial for junior side Rob Roy, another trial for Clyde who were playing at Shawfield at the time. We travelled down to Ayr for a game which I tried really hard in and this guy me really hard, so hard that after the game I had to go to hospital for stitches, even so I got up after the tackle and played on to try my hardest to impress.”

Although he was taking knocks on the pitch it was the constant knocks off the pitch that were becoming so demoralising to a young McGarvey. Through these constant setbacks, he was also learning some valuable lessons in life.

“After that game at Clyde the manager said to me ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you,’ and I thought I was finally going to get my chance. I told my mother to make sure she didn’t miss the call and to take the message from the Clyde manager, so it was my mother who delivered another crushing blow as she explained what that saying meant. I wasn’t wanted in football circles, especially at junior level.”

It was almost the end of the line for McGarvey, who had just about had enough. Had enough of the setbacks, the knockbacks and the fobbing off, he got time after time, from manager after manager. He trained as hard as he could, but it was to no avail. With his hope fading fast his old mentor, Ian French, stepped in once again.

“We will just have to go again till somebody can see what I see in you,” French’s words were uplifting.

“I got a trial at Dunapace for Kilsyth Rangers. Seeing how withdrawn I was about the whole situation, my mother offered to come along for some moral support. I told her not to, she had never been to see me before and I didn’t want to embarrass her, but she came anyway along with my brother. I was playing on the wing next to the touchline and the full back as usual was having a go at me kicking me at any opportunity but I was used to it and could handle that. He gave me a cracker which floored me and as I looked up, my mother was chasing the guy with her handbag trying to hit him with it! So that was another blow my mother had dealt me, I was so embarrassed that the ref couldn’t blow the whistle fast enough. I just wanted to get off the pitch and get out of there and way from the game altogether. This was the end, I was finished with football.”

Having resigned himself to being finished with the game he loved McGarvey, like a wounded animal, more demoralised and to escape the embarrassment of the body-blow he left in a hurry. In his panic he had failed to notice the manager of Kilsyth Rangers chasing after him trying to get his signature.

image (9)“I couldn’t believe it, they wanted to sign me even after tonight’s events,” McGarvey smiled as he recalled.

“The president of Kilsyth Rangers, Mr Harrison, took a shine to me. He kept shaking my hand right to the tip, which I thought was his way of showing a kind affection. It transpired to be a little bit more and their chief scout at the time, Willie Thornton had been looking at signing me for Glasgow Rangers. Mr Harrison asked me what school I went to and when I told him it was St. Leonards in Easterhouse the interest stopped, due to politics at the time.”

This small setback didn’t have the same demoralising effect as the knock-backs of before had on the young McGarvey, as a little bit of history in the Scottish game was about to unfold. His luck was about to change

“Willie Thornton had been coming to the Kilsyth every week and was so impressed he told another ex-Rangers player to sign me. He had just started out at St. Mirren and he went on to become the most successful Scottish manager of all time- Alex Ferguson.” This McGarvey insists is where his luck changed.

“It’s ironic really that Mr Harrison was a mason and Willie Thonrton an ex-Rangers player persuaded another ex-Rangers player to sign me and I went on to have such a successful career with Celtic!” McGarvey is also quick to point out that, through his sheer hard graft, he made his own luck.

“It’s like Gary Player said when someone asked him why he was so lucky and kept winning tournaments he said,” the harder I work on my game, the luckier I become”, this is also true in football. Alex Ferguson also got Billy Stark from Rangers on a free transfer and me not a bad bit of business for a young manager. So from being knocked back at all these clubs six months later I was being signed by Alex Ferguson for St. Mirren. That was all down to hard work and perseverance.”

Sir Alex Ferguson, Bob Paisley, Billy McNeil and the legendary Jock Stein- whom McGarvey played under for the national side – are an impressive list of managers as you are likely to be lucky enough to play under and McGarvey did. He achieved his footballing dreams by working hard and never giving up.

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