Gavin Peacock – In conversation with Gavin Peacock
By Colin Hopkins @chopstix158
Abridged version – The full audio version of this interview is available to listen to online here Click here to listen to the full audio version of the interview!
There’s an old saying that says ‘one should never meet their heroes’. For me however, that is a quote that I have to disagree with. In that anytime I have met any of my heroes, I have always found them to be genuinely nice people. This was certainly the case when I met up with Chelsea legend Gavin Peacock in Belfast one weekend in early February 2019.
Our discussion started with Gavin reminiscing over his playing days as a youth player, and his father Keith’s influence on his early career. A busy career which eventually led him to signing for Queens Park Rangers, Gillingham, Bournemouth, and eventually getting his big break as a professional player when he signed for Newcastle United in December 1990. Interestingly enough, Gavin confessed to owning a Newcastle United shirt as a boy but he quickly put that down to the influence of his Geordie based grandfather Tom, preferring instead to declare his boyhood loyalty of support to his dads club Charlton Athletic.
Gavin’s career at Newcastle flourished in the time he was there as he notched up some sixteen goals (and finishing as top scorer) in his first full season in 1991-92. He went on to add a further twelve the next season as they achieved promotion to the Premier League, under the guidance of Kevin Keegan. Gavin was quick to recall the joy of his grandfather when he signed for the men from the North east…
‘It made his life when I signed for Newcastle and I can well recall to this day him telling me “The fans will forgive you when you make mistakes as long as they see you sweat blood for the team because they would do that if they had the chance.”’
Continuing on his time at St.James Park, and relating to his final season when they gained promotion Gavin reckoned that “I was playing some of the best football I think I have ever played in that last season at Newcastle and that’s even including the great Chelsea teams I played for afterwards. It was very much a special time in my life where I enjoyed my best goal scoring moments.”
“Glenn Hoddle was a visionary manager and coming to Chelsea at the time I was proud to be part of what was deemed by many as the start of the Chelsea revolution”
After that it was really no surprise that a number of teams were chasing his signature but in the end it was Chelsea, under the genius of Glenn Hoddle, who won the race signing the midfielder for a sum of £1.5 million, a hefty sum back then considering Alan Shearer was valued at £2.7 million. I asked Gavin what his reaction had been when Glenn Hoddle had called him to discuss moving to the Stamford Bridge…
He laughed as he replied “Well let’s not forget I was playing for another footballing legend Kevin Keegan at the time! At the time we had just got promotion, my wife had just given birth to our first child Jake and it was a pretty traumatic time in that he was born without his right hand and my wife really wanted to go back down south at that point.
“I still had a contract at Newcastle so I spoke to Kevin (Keegan) and whereas he wanted me to stay it really came down to a family decision and he understood that. Kevin actually called me as I was on my way to London to sign for Chelsea and said to me ‘You will learn more from playing with Glenn Hoddle in training than anything, the guy’s a genius’ and he was certainly was. Glenn was a visionary manager and coming to Chelsea at the time I was proud to be part of what was deemed by many as the start of the Chelsea revolution.”
“Mozart in a world full of heavy rockers”
It was my turn now to recall those heady days at the Blues and I was quick to remind Gavin of how he scored the winning goal against Manchester United, not once but twice, in his debut Chelsea season.
He smiled as he recalled it; “There was pressure on me to do well because of the transfer fee so the goals against United were massive, the first 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge was only a few games into my Chelsea career, and whereas I scored the winning goal, it was Hoddle who was by far the best player on the pitch that day.
“Indeed when commenting on the game after the match (Eric) Cantona described him as ‘Mozart in a world full of heavy rockers’ which I thought was great, well until I worked out I was one of the heavy rockers!”
“Then we went up there, I think it was around March time of 1994, and Glenn said to us as we were in the changing room ‘We can do this, United might be the better team but we have a game plan and we might get one chance so let’s just make sure we put it away.’
“And of course that’s exactly what happened – the ball was headed down by Mark Stein and I ran on to it, Schmeichel was coming out and I lifted it over him and it was 1-0 again to Chelsea with myself getting the goal.”
Of course that particular season was one of an incredible FA Cup run as well with the Blues making it all to the way to the final, we recall that day shortly but first up we chatted about Gavin’s two goals in the semi-final which saw off plucky Luton Town.
“Yes I had scored in every round of the cup until the final and the two goals against Luton were such a thrill as they secured the club their first FA Cup final in 24 years. It was a really historic day for the club and the fans were waiting for us at the bridge after the game, which showed how much it meant to them. So many of my goals that first season were winners in important games, and the two against Luton were right up there”
It was now my turn to tell Gavin about my own personal experiences of the 1994 FA Cup final which, although a source of amusement now, certainly wasn’t at the time as I explained to him – “I can remember so well trying everywhere to get a ticket without success and then a week before the final I got a call from a friend within the Irish league to tell me he had managed to get me one. I was absolutely delighted at the time, went out bought a new shirt, new scarf, made the flight over from Belfast all dressed for the occasion only to find when I got there that I was in the Manchester United end! So I was probably the only Chelsea supporter in the ground who was half relieved to see your effort hit the cross bar and go to safety!”
Gavin laughed and then talked to me about his memories of that occasion “Rainy day, amazing build up, electric atmosphere and I was confident walking on to the pitch we could win it. We started well and were playing some good football, and then of course the ball dropped to me, and at that moment twenty five yards out, I flicked it from my right foot to the left, and it just flew.
“It was like slow motion as I saw Schmeichel backpedalling, and I thought this is it, it’s going in. But then of course it smacked the crossbar and came out. It was all square at halftime, but then of course we conceded an early penalty kick in the second half as Eddie Newton brought down Dennis Irwin, and Cantona put it away. Still to this day I think the second penalty was debatable and not a penalty, but after that we were chasing the game and they hit us on the break. The score line didn’t reflect the game for me”
“Now I can see the picture of the team I want, of the type of football I want to see coming to the Bridge”
It was then time to move on a further season to 1994-5, a season which saw the arrival of Mark Hughes and Ruud Gullit to the club. I asked Gavin what were his feelings when he saw the club bringing in players of such a calibre?
“Yes, it took us to another level, not only does the team play better but it also attracts other top players to want to join. That was the season where I scored Chelsea’s first hat-trick in the premier league. Ruud created at least one of the goals, and I can remember Glenn (Hoddle) saying afterwards ‘Now I can see the picture of the team I want, of the type of football I want to see coming to the Bridge’.
“I really felt we were now going to go on and win silverware, but of course things changed and Glenn moved at the end of that season to take on the England job, and the following season I left the club.”
That final season (1995-96) of Gavin’s at the Bridge saw Ruud Gullit take over as manager, and it was one that started with great optimism with the arrivals of Gianluca Vialli, Roberto Di Matteo and Gianfranco Zola amongst others.
However for Gavin it was the start of the end of his time at Chelsea as he went on to tell me..
“I think I realised when Ruud took over that I wasn’t necessarily going to be playing every week as I had been. I was disappointed in the way Ruud handled it if I’m honest, in that he would just leave players out, ignore them, and not speak to them”
“I was very much a Chelsea man and would have been more than happy to adapt to a squad system and play maybe twenty games a season with the club winning things, which would have been fine for me. I would have been more than happy to fight for a place but Ruud sidelined me, gave me the cold shoulder, and I knew when Queens Park Rangers came in for me that the time was right for a change.”
“He (Matthew) was the fan who got to be on the management and live the dream if you like.”
Of course that final season also brought tragedy to the clubs doorstep with the passing of director Matthew Harding in a helicopter crash, as he left an away game at Bolton Wanderers.
Gavin recalls the heartache “It was a very, very sad time. I remember hearing the news when my wife told me on the morning after the accident as I preparing to go into training”
“The thing with Matthew was that he was just a fan who everyone loved at the club; he would chat with you after a game and was a genuinely nice guy. He was the fan who got to be on the management and live the dream if you like. The legacy remains with the current stand, but there’s no doubt he played a massive part in Chelsea’s history and their return to being a top flight team.”
In closing our discussion on his time at the Bridge we briefly looked at the 1997 FA Cup final win. A game which saw Gavin at Wembley as a media pundit for the BBC, a career into which he moved into after retiring from football in 2001.
Gavin’s major memory from that particular day was, of course, the strike by Di Matteo…
“I remember well reliving the same moment from three years earlier when I hit a more or less identical shot against Manchester United, and I’m thinking inches can so often be the difference between success and failure. Di Matteo hits the exact same crossbar an inch lower and it bounces into the net, and Chelsea go on to win. For me it was an inch higher and a defeat.
“But I was delighted for the team of course. I wish it had have been my story from a few years earlier but so many of that team like Dennis Wise, Frank Sinclair, Eddie Newton and Scott Minto were all teammates of mine so I was delighted for them.”
“If I played well I was high, if I played badly I was down in the dumps.”
As our conversation drew to a close I opted to discuss another aspect of Gavin’s life which is a shared bond between us, that of the Christian faith. I know for many this can often be seen a taboo subject to chat about, but for Gavin it is what has driven his life both during and indeed since retiring from the professional game.
“For me my faith plays a huge part in my life, I became a Christian in my teenage years. At that time football was my God, if I played well I was high, if I played badly I was down in the dumps.
“Around that time my mum started going along the local church and I went along with her, and from there I was introduced to a youth group. I went along to one of their house meetings in my nice Escort XR3i car and my fancy clothes, but when I arrived I found six or so other young people who didn’t have what I had but they had a real joy and a reality about them and I knew that was what I wanted.
“After I became a Christian I was pretty open with the lads in the dressing room about it, got a little bit of stick as you would expect, but then they grew to accept it. Since those early days I have always followed my faith and now I find myself as a full time pastor based in Calvary Grace Church in Calgary, Canada. I made the decision to move away as I felt anonymity would be better for me, but I still get invitations from all around the world to go to speak at various events which is nice.”
And so our chat was over but before he headed off to his next engagement, Gavin admitted to me that he keeps a close eye on events at the Bridge and there’s no doubting his high regard and ongoing support for the club we all love so well.
In closing those who like their symbolism might be interested to know that ‘the Peacock’ is noted for its integrity, nobility and vision. I certainly found those qualities and more in our own Gavin Peacock.
Interview by Colin Hopkins