Gareth Cauldwell talks to Derry City and Enniskillen Town legend Gary Beckett on his successful career

GC: SO Gary, where did it all start for you?

GB: I started out playing under Wee Paul (Keaveney) and Wee Scone (Gerard Connolly) at Enniskillen Town. I would have been there when the youth started and I remember back then that there was maybe only two teams playing, us and Ballinamallard, so you would have played them quite often before other teams stated to play as well.

It was not long before you made your way into the first team at Enniskillen Town?

I bid my time like everybody else and I just wanted to play football. I played with the C team and the B team before moving on to the first team when I was about 16 and I scored on my debut with all three teams. I played for about two and half seasons for the first team at Town before moving.

You made your mark with the first team with 101 goals in two and half seasons which led to a move to Omagh Town.

I went there after about a season and half in the Town first team and I actually scored on my debut there too against Glenavon and I played a few reserve games that season. I went back to Town though and scored a lot of goals in my second full season with the club and the next thing Paul Kee and the Omagh Town chairman were in my house when I came in from playing football down on the pitch. So, I signed for them for that next season and I played a full season with them.

Did you find goals harder to come by after taking the step up?

The goals dried up a bit because it is more difficult. Goalscoring is very important for a centre forward, especially in the Irish League, but I also could play with the ball; I could pick a pass, I could keep it, I could play with my back to goal, I could play in front of goal and I had to use that.

Was that something that you were conscious of, that you had to bring more aspects to your game?

When I was with Enniskillen Town I was in the top one or two quickest but when I went to Omagh I was in the bottom three. In my head I had to do something different and I always had an eye for a pass so it was just a matter of using my brain a bit more.

You were obviously doing something right as Coleraine moved to sign you for the following season.

Felix Healy came in for me and I was sold to Coleraine for something like £6000 or £7000. The rumour was that they were sent down to watch Barry Patton but the word back to Coleraine was to go for the other centre forward which was myself.

How did you enjoy your time at Coleraine?

It was a long trip up and down but I enjoyed my time under Felix. When it was going well it was a great place to play but Felix left to go to Derry and Kenny Shiels came in and he brought in his own players and I went down the list a wee bit. I think we finished third and I started off the next season again with Coleraine but I didn’t play as much and found myself playing a few games with the reserves. I was in and out of the team.

So how did the move to Derry City come along?

Coleraine drew Derry in the North West Cup; I had come on for Coleraine the week before and did really well so I was looking forward to playing Derry in the Brandywell but I never even got on the pitch and I wasn’t happy with it. In the second leg in Coleraine the lights went out when we were out warming up and Felix came up to me and said ‘your signing for me after the game’. That was it, I think it was for £16500 and I signed in the Coleraine manager’s office that night.

Did it surprise you that Derry City had come in for you?

I never really thought about it, I was just so happy to have joined them. I wasn’t playing as much as I liked and you never know what happens if you get into that rut of not playing. For me it was a new challenge in a new league.

I knew Derry were a big club but I didn’t realise just how big until I started playing for them. Felix was trying to build his own team and I came in at Christmas and debuted against Dundalk and I found out just how hard that league was. I took a bit of time to settle in; it was a physical thing and there was no more running the channels really any more, it was ball to feet and it was more technical. You had to be physically fitter and stronger.

Tell us about the 96/97 league winning season. How memorable was it both for you personally and for the club?

That was the dream season. It was my first full season at Derry and a lot of good thing happened that year, it was a fantastic time. Even if you did nothing after it, you were still going to be a hero at Derry as it meant that much to the fans to win the league. The crowds went from 1500 or 1600 to the Brandywell being full every week and the atmosphere was brilliant.

For me personally, the season went well. There was a couple of player of the months and I think I was third top scorer in the league and finished up with the Young Player of the Year award for the league, it was a special season. The only downside was that we lost the FAI Cup final to Shelbourne that year - we had a bad day at the office which was not something we had too much that season.

Just how good was that league winning team?

We won it by ten points, that how good we were. It was probably the best side that I played in because we actually won the league.

You obviously had the pleasure of playing with a lot of quality players at the Candystripes. Which players stick out for you?

Obviously, you had Paddy McCourt who was a magician, you had Mark Farren who passed away with a brain tumour three years ago and he added years on to my career because we had such a good connection. But the daddy of them all was Liam Coyle. He played with one knee but he was just brilliant to watch and brilliant to learn from. I see myself in him but nowhere near as good as him, Liam was just different gravy and I would never have met Liam Coyle if he didn’t have a bad knee.

Impartial Reporter: Gary Beckett with sons Nathan and Adam who are carrying the FAI Cup and League Cup at his testimonial in 2006.Gary Beckett with sons Nathan and Adam who are carrying the FAI Cup and League Cup at his testimonial in 2006.

How did you find the travelling in the League of Ireland because there is some very long trips?

I still wasn’t driving in those early days so I travelled a bit with fellow Fermanagh man Tom Mohan. Tom played a big part in that title winning side, he played on the right hand side and was an unbelievable athlete and could deliver and play as well and it was great to see two Fermanagh men winning the title.

The travelling was tough but I wasn’t working in Royal Mail at the time so I didn’t think as much about it and we were only up once or twice a week so it was really like part time football at that time. I suppose I had been used to a two hour journey to Coleraine before I went to Derry and I was very grateful to a man called John McDowell, a Coleraine fan who drove me everywhere for the Coleraine games and I ended up having a great friendship with him.

Stephen Kenny took over as manager in 2004 and it’s fair to say he made a big impression.

We had battled relegation in the 2003/04 season and then Stephen came in and he changed the whole place. The club went full time and he made the players relocate to Derry when he signed them. When we travelled to games I used to get picked up at Castleblayney and there would have been five, six, seven players tops on the bus but at the start of the 2005 season there was 24 on the bus, he changed everything. I was asked to go full time but I refused because at 30 where was I going to get another job when the football finished?

So, how did you work around that?

In fairness, Stephen held the training at 4pm to suit me and I started to have to go to Derry five times a week along with my job at Royal Mail. I was in Derry on Sunday morning at 10am for training, worked for Royal Mail Monday before going to Derry that evening. I worked on Tuesday and we had Tuesday off from Derry. Then I worked Wednesday morning before going to Derry for 4pm and the same on Thursday and then I was off from Royal Mail on a Friday as we had a game. Saturday was a rest day then Sunday we went again and it was like that for the last five or six years of my career.

Was it disappointing not to win another league medal?

Absolutely. We lost two of them on the last day of the season. In 2005, the last game of the season was in Cork and we were two points clear of them but I may as well have sat here on the phone to you as playing that match, I was really poor that day and that sticks in my gut. People say you remember more about losing than you do about winning at times and that is definitely one of those that the memory of has never went away. All we needed was a draw to win it but we lost.

Then in 2006 we missed out on goal difference and that was for the treble as we won the League Cup and the FAI Cup that year. That would have been the first treble in the League of Ireland since 1989 when Derry won it so it would have been some achievement. There is no doubt though that 2005 is the one that hurts most, that was our own fault.

2006 though was successful with the cup double and a memorable run in Europe that included a two legged tie against Paris St. Germain. In terms of wins though, to knock out Gothenburg was some achievement.

The PSG games are the ones with the big headlines but we beat Gothenburg 1-0 at home and 1-0 away. Gothenburg had Swedish internationals and they have won the UEFA Cup twice, they are a massive club but they didn’t take us seriously. We won 1-0 out there that sent shockwaves to everybody but them. When their manager came to the Brandywell they had booked a flight for him to go to the draw right after the game but we beat them 1-0 in that game as well. It was a massive result for us, back to back wins in European football for an Irish club, it’s not often that happens.

It was a side closer to home then when you faced Gretna.

They had got to the Scottish Cup final and they were being bankrolled with some serious money. We played them in Fir Park, Motherwell’s pitch and they were very cocky and that increased when they went 1-0 up but then we hit them for five. I think it was the biggest win by a League of Ireland side away in Europe and it ended up being the biggest aggregate win by a League of Ireland side as we went through 7-3.

And that set up the PSG clash. What was that like?

The first game was better because we had more of the ball and for us to draw 0-0 at the Brandywell against a club that size was a good achievement on its own and we went to the Parc De Prince with the tie very much alive. Going to a stadium like that is something you will always remember, especially as I was captain on the night, but we knew it was going to be difficult. We ended up losing to two sets pieces but in the second leg they were well ahead of us. Look, it was disappointing to lose the game but it was still a special occasion. One thing about that European run though was the following of the fans. I remember one of the boys saying they would swap places with a fan for it. That 2006 season was something special.

You rounded off that season with your testimonial at the Brandywell the day after the FAI Cup win and your two sons, Nathan and Adam, carried out the FAI Cup and League Cup. That must have been special.

That was nice, I was delighted that the two boys could bring the cups out and it was a proud moment for the family. It came at the end of a long season, I had played 55 games that season including the European run and that was on top of the training five days a week. It was a great to have that night though.

You finished up at the Brandywell after the 2007 season. How memorable was your time at Derry City?

Thirteen years is a long time - I now have a supporters club named after me and when you are successful there you are never forgotten.

To me there is no better place in Ireland to play. I remember Gary Neville saying that if there was ten days in his life that he could relive it would be when United clinched the treble.

For me, I would relive all those 13 years again, starting from the very first day with the club.

A spell at Finn Harps and at Dungannon Swifts followed but you always said that you wanted to finished up back at Enniskillen Town.

I remember Liam Coyle saying to me that when you leave Derry it is not the same and I found that out until I came home. Your coming to the end of your career, the appreciation of you as a player is not the same and at 35 or 36 playing for teams at the bottom of the table, it is hard.

It was then a return to where it all started for you and there was more success to follow.

I knew I was coming back to Town to see the days out and I also knew that I was a fit 37 year old. Rory (Judge) had warned me that it might take me a while to adjust to the surroundings again, which it did.

I came in during the 2008/09 season and we won the league with a 6-0 win at Kesh so to come back and win that straight away was fantastic and then to go on after that and do the double was brilliant. I was also back scoring goals again with Town and I think in my first full season back I may have got 36 or 37 goals. I had a great relationship with Frank Wallace which was what I needed as he was quick and could play. That team that did the double was the best Town team I played in. As I got older it got harder and harder and after losing a Mulhern final to Strathroy I thought that’s it.

Impartial Reporter: Gary Beckett lifts the Mulhern Cup.Gary Beckett lifts the Mulhern Cup.

You did have one last go at it though didn’t you?

Sixteen months after hanging them up Skino (Mark Connolly) called me. He was in charge of the reserves and my son Nathan was playing and Skino said he would love to get them to a Reihill Cup final and give them the experience of playing in Ferney Park. I was 41 at that stage but I went and gave it a go and we won the Reihill Cup beating Rangers in the final so it was nice to win the Reihill Cup with Nathan.

Any regrets about not getting a crack at football across the water?

No, I simply wasn’t good enough. I was in a brilliant ship window in the League of Ireland and scouts were always about and I just wasn’t good enough to go to Scotland or England.

Is management something that interests you?

No. There might have been a time when I would have been interested but not now, I can’t see it.