Gerry Gow said his side outbattled Vauxhall Conference side Barnet, and his opposite manager Barry Fry found it hard to disagree saying that Weymouth outplayed them on the day. The FA Trophy draw on Monday afternoon will have Terras fans of a certain age reminiscing about the late Gerry Gow’s finest afternoon as Weymouth’s manager.
Gow had a distinguished playing career before joining Weymouth, he had made over 350 league appearances for Bristol City and had spells at Manchester City and Rotherham United, as well as representing Scotland at Under 23 level. When the Glaswegian was tasked with replacing the departed Stuart Morgan in February 1989, he took on a team on the slide and one who he ultimately couldn’t save from relegation from the Vauxhall Conference come April. In fact, things had gotten so dire at Weymouth that Gow had to bring himself out of retirement for a league match against Maidstone United when he couldn’t name eleven fit players.
His first full season in charge didn’t start too much better, Weymouth had spent much of the first-half of the season languishing in the relegation zone of the Beazer Homes Premier Division. However, a victory at home to Saltash United saw Weymouth qualify for the first round of the FA Trophy. Contrastingly to Weymouth, Barnet were sitting second in the Vauxhall Conference when they drew Weymouth in the FA Trophy and were regarded as one of the finest footballing sides outside of the Football League, a title which was quickly becoming a distant memory for Weymouth fans.
Already struggling in the league, the Terras crumbled in front of 1,586 at the Wessex Stadium in the Ridgeway Derby on the Boxing Day of 1989. Despite a more promising performance for Gow, Dorchester Town’s goalkeeper Jeremy Judd and their back-four had the game of their lives and frustrated their Dorset rivals, mixed with Weymouth’s inability to convert their chances saw the Magpies run out as 2-1 victors.
After the game, Gow said, “Weymouth fans are obviously disappointed because we lost, but if they look at it objectively, they could also be pleased. We played well, showed a lot of promise and I feel we provided entertainment value.”
The signs were there that Gow’s side were capable of more than they had been showing that season but as Reporter Brian Copp wrote in the Dorset Echo at the time “Football success is all about goals – not territorial advantage and near misses. Nobody can be more aware of this fact than the disappointed Weymouth fans.”
The derby day defeat did, however, spark a reaction from the Weymouth squad, they had four games between Boxing Day and the FA Trophy 1st round match with Barnet on 13th January; remarkably, given how the season had been going, they won all four. The Terras saw off Moor Green, Waterlooville, Blandford United and VS Rugby, scoring 12 goals along the way.
After Weymouth’s victory over VS Rugby and their fourth win in a row, their hard-working midfielder Micky Tanner said in his post-match interview, “I reckon our luck is on the turn for the better at long last!”. A message that would have come as some relief to Gow, who had finally seen his side climb into the top-half of the league.
Despite the turn in fortune, Weymouth still went into the Barnet game as firm underdogs. Barry Fry had assembled a side at Barnet who were much fancied to win the Conference that season and found themselves locked in a battle for the title with Darlington, Macclesfield Town and Kettering Town; they were only three points off Macclesfield at the top going into the Trophy clash.
However, the game didn’t follow the script from as early as the second-minute, Kevin Smith looked to have given Weymouth an unlikely early lead when he brought the best out of Barnet goalkeeper Gary Phillips, who had to be at full-stretch to tip Smith’s effort over the bar.
Weymouth only had to wait until the 8th minute to take the lead, it was 18-year-old Sean Docherty who blasted in from 20-yards-out and left Phillips groping helplessly at thin-air. With the Weymouth fans up for the occasion, the second-highest attendance of the season at the Wessex Stadium that season with 1,235 eagerly watching on, Weymouth pushed for a second goal. They only had to wait another half-an-hour when Terras Captain Steve Pugh converted Smith’s cross from 25-yards-out and left Phillips rooted to the spot.
Barnet hit back, with Andy Clarke and Gary Bull in their attack; both had been attracting the attention of Football League clubs at the time. Clarke had been the subject of a £150,000 bid from Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United and had been courted by the USA national team as a potential member of their World Cup Italia 90 side. Clarke never did move to Manchester United nor play for the USA, but he did go on to sign for top-flight side Wimbledon and made over 200 appearances for the Dons. Gary Bull eventually went on to sign for Nottingham Forest in 1993.
Having learnt from the Dorchester Town performance a couple of weeks previous, it was Weymouth’s defence’s turn to have the game of their life. Mel Gwinnett in the Weymouth goal made a number of saves and was helped out by the experienced Paul Compton who made two goal-line clearances to frustrate the Bees. Alongside Compton was a young centre-back who looked composed despite making only his third senior appearance, Gavin Sandrey.
Compton joked after the game showing the inner-linings of his pockets, “Do you want to see Andy Clarke? I’ve got him in here! And if you want to know where you can find Gary Bull, I would look in Gavin Sandrey’s pocket!”
Desperate to break-down the Weymouth defence, Fry made both his substitutions at half-time and brought on Frank Murphy, a £20,000 signing from Kettering Town, to replace the frustrated Bull, and Derek Payne who had recently cost Barnet £12,000.
It was confirmed to be Weymouth’s day when Gwinnett, continuing to frustrate the Barnet front-line, made a fantastic stop from Cyril Regis’ brother David late on. They had completed the unlikely upset and there were few complaints from their opposition. Fry was complimentary of Weymouth after the defeat, although time has aged some of the Bee’s manager’s words, “We were outplayed. There was only one team in it – Weymouth. They deserved all they achieved. It was a case of boys and girls. We were the girls and we even forgot to bring our handbags!”
Gow was delighted to see his team’s potential coming to fruition, “I have said all along that we have good players and they have proved it again,” said the Terras boss. “They have carried on with what they have been doing over the past month. And what about those two goals? They were terrific.
“We outbattled Barnet and we certainly matched them for skill,” Gow continued. “The team’s belief in their own ability has come back to them. It was a good result for the club. It’s been a long time since we have had something to cheer about – but now we have certainly got that.”
Unfortunately, Weymouth went on to lose in the second-round to Dover Athletic and only won just two more league games that season. Gow did, however, manage to keep Weymouth from back-to-back relegations, but it wasn’t enough for him to keep his job and the board relieved him of his duties in April 1990. Barnet narrowly missed out on the title that season, losing out to Darlington by two points in a title-race which went down to the last game of the season.
The Gow connection will still be there at the club come December 14th, his grandson Brennan Camp is currently on loan at the Terras from AFC Bournemouth; like his grandfather, the 19-year-old centre-back boasts recognition at international youth level for Scotland.
Going into the FA Trophy clash with Barnet this season the gap of the first-tier of Non-League and second-tier remains, although it is Weymouth who are riding high in their table so far and Barnet who will be disappointed with their start to the season. If Weymouth can match the spirit of Gerry Gow’s side from the previous encounter and mix it with the attacking football of Mark Molesley’s side, the chance for Weymouth to cause the upset again is very much a possibility.