Jerry Gill

Jeremy Morley "Jerry" Gill (born 8 September 1970) is an English footballer, who plays as a defender. Despite his late entry into the professional game – he made his debut in the Football League at the age of 27 – and a career-threatening injury five years later, Gill has played more than 250 Football League matches, for Birmingham City, Northampton Town and Cheltenham Town, and was still playing in Football League One, the third tier of English football, three weeks after his 38th birthday. In October 2008 he joined Forest Green Rovers as player-coach, initially on loan from Cheltenham Town until the transfer window opens in January 2009, when the move is expected to be made permanent. He usually plays at right-back, but can play anywhere across the defence or in midfield. His strengths are his professional approach to the game and the enthusiasm and whole-hearted determination he shows on the field.

Club career

Early days

Gill was born in Clevedon, Somerset, and attended Backwell School. As a schoolboy he played football for Parkway Youth Club, alongside fellow future professional player Marcus Stewart, and for Backwell United, and was invited to join the Bristol Rovers youth team for a tournament in Germany. After losing in the final, the youngsters indulged in the local beer to the extent that they were arrested and kept in police cells overnight. At the age of 16 he joined Trowbridge Town, then playing in the regional divisions of the Southern League (level 7 of the English football league system) under the management of ex-Leyton Orient manager Ken Knighton. Knighton drew the attention of his former club to the young Gill, and after a one-game trial manager Frank Clark signed him on an 18-month contract in 1988. However, he found it difficult to settle in London, and returned to the West Country at the end of his contract without featuring for the Orient first team.

Bath City

In December 1990, after a brief stint with Weston-super-Mare, Gill joined Bath City, newly promoted to the Conference. In his first 18 months with the club he appeared only infrequently for the first team, but in the 1992–93 season he established himself as a first-team player and remained so for the duration of his Bath City career. In all he spent six seasons with the club on a semi-professional basis, playing part-time while working as a representative for a supplier of pitch care products, and made 218 appearances for the club in all competitions, scoring 14 goals. In the 1993–94 season, he helped the club reach the third round of the FA Cup, where they held First Division club Stoke City to a goalless draw at Stoke before losing the replay 4–1.

Since 1986, Bath City had drawn a significant amount of income from allowing Football League club Bristol Rovers to share their Twerton Park ground; Rovers' return to Bristol at the end of the 1995–96 season meant that savings needed to be made, including cuts in the playing budget. Together with team-mate Rob Cousins, Gill joined local rivals Yeovil Town for the 1996–97 season for a fee of £9,500.

Yeovil Town

Though Yeovil were at the time in the Isthmian League Premier Division, the level below the Conference, they were an ambitious club, and under player-manager Graham Roberts were playing good football and expected to challenge for promotion. Gill scored 16 goals in all competitions playing in central midfield, and was capped for the England National Game XI, England's representative team for semi-professional footballers, against an Ireland B team in Dublin. In 2002, the Football Association selected an "all-time" team of players capped at semi-professional level, "representing the very best of this level over the years". Gill occupied the right-back spot in this team, which included players such as Alan Smith and Steve Guppy who had gone on to represent England at full international level.

International selection attracted scouts from Football League clubs, and Gill was invited to Birmingham City to take part in trial matches. Halfway through the season, Roberts had brought striker Howard Forinton to Yeovil from Oxford City; his 23 goals in 21 games did much to secure the Isthmian League title and promotion to the Conference, and also caught the eye of Birmingham manager Trevor Francis. A deal was struck which saw Gill and Forinton join the First Division side in August 1997 for a combined fee of £100,000, with Gill valued at £30,000 plus an additional £10,000 payable when he played ten first-team matches.

Birmingham City

Gill struggled to get into the first team at St Andrew's. He finally made his Football League debut at the age of 27, on 18 April 1998 in a 3–0 defeat of Swindon Town. His second game for the club, away to Oxford United, was particularly eventful. With the score goalless, the referee first failed to award a penalty kick when Gill handled the ball in the penalty area, then disallowed the goal scored when the player deflected an opponent's cross into his own net; a few minutes later Gill was substituted, though he kept his place in the starting eleven for the next game. Then in the summer of 1998, Birmingham paid £1 million for Derby County's Gary Rowett. Installed as first-choice right back, in two seasons at the club Rowett missed only five league games. During this period Gill captained the reserve team to victories in the Birmingham Senior Cup in 1999 and 2000.

After Rowett made a £3 million move to Premier League club Leicester City, Gill faced competition from Nicky Eaden, newly arrived from Barnsley, Northern Ireland international winger Jon McCarthy, often used at right wing-back, and a variety of loan signings. Manager Francis said:

Jerry knows what the situation is. I think he's done very well for us, considering we plucked him out of non-league football at Yeovil. But he is aware that I have been looking for a right-back and I will continue looking for one. That doesn't mean I don't appreciate what Jerry has done for me since I signed him three-and-a-half years ago. There isn't a more reliable player at the club than Jerry Gill. He captains my reserve team, his fitness is of a very high standard and he has endless enthusiasm. When I put him in the first team, he never lets me down. I value Jerry's professionalism and for as long as I remain manager of Birmingham, there will always be a place for him here.
Gill signed a two-and-a-half-year contract in January 2001. Having taken part in most of the games in Birmingham's League Cup run, he was omitted from the first leg of the semi-final at Ipswich Town in favour of loan player Steve Jenkins. When Jenkins returned to his owning club, Gary Rowett said that Gill should be given a run of games in the Birmingham first team, suggesting that
"If anything, he's too nice. He doesn't complain a lot and it's easy for people not to take notice of you. Perhaps if he moaned a bit more he'd get a start!
Recalled for the second leg, he produced an excellent performance, making a goal-line clearance from a header which, had it gone in, would have left Birmingham two goals adrift. Yet when it came to the final, manager Francis was unable to find a place for Gill even among the substitutes, preferring Eaden and McCarthy, making only his second start after recovering from a broken leg, in the starting eleven and David Holdsworth, a defender unavailable since the previous November due to serious illness, on the bench. Gill was devastated by this decision, describing it as "the biggest disappointment of [his] whole life".

Gill played in almost every game after the League Cup Final until Francis left the club the following October, but lost his place soon afterwards through injury. Though he did then receive a League Cup runners-up medal; club secretary Alan Jones had kept a spare one back, which he presented to Gill after Francis left. Under new manager Steve Bruce he played only one game, a 3–0 FA Cup defeat at Liverpool for which Jeff Kenna was cup-tied, and when the team won promotion to the Premier League that season, it became clear that his future lay elsewhere.

Northampton Town

At the start of the 2002–03 season Gill joined Second Division club Northampton Town on a month's loan. Northampton's manager, the former Birmingham player Kevan Broadhurst, praised his qualities of leadership and determination:
Jerry will lead at the back by example. He does not pull out of anything and if there is a tackle to be won he will win it.
The loan was twice extended for a further month, and on 11 November 2002 Gill left Birmingham permanently, signing for Northampton until the end of the season. His season proceeded successfully – a new two-year contract had been discussed, and he finished as runner-up for the club's Player of the Year award – until with two games remaining he damaged his anterior cruciate ligament and was expected to be out for several months. Northampton were prepared to give him a six-month contract, albeit on reduced wages, to allow him time to recover and prove his fitness. Birmingham City allowed him to use their facilities for his rehabilitation, and he recovered sufficiently to play a couple of reserve games for Northampton, but by that time new manager Colin Calderwood had other players in Gill's position and he was not offered another contract.

Cheltenham Town

Following a trial at the club, Gill signed for Cheltenham Town on 25 February 2004 on a non-contract basis until the end of the season. He was given a one-year contract for the 2004–05 season, and at the age of 34 played in all 46 League games; he believed all the fitness work he did during rehabilitation from his knee injury had given him a new lease of life. For the following season, Gill was given another one-year contract, with an option for 2006–07 if he managed 20 games during the season. Not only did he start twice that number, his starting place and winners' medal in the League Two playoff final at the Millennium Stadium went some way to alleviate the disappointment of missing the 2001 League Cup final. In 2006–07 Cheltenham flirted for a time with relegation but finished in mid-table. Gill needed to play 25 games to trigger the offer of another year's contract; he achieved this before Christmas, and chose to take up the offer.

Forest Green Rovers

Gill joined Forest Green Rovers as player-coach on 1 October 2008, initially on loan, expecting to make the move permanent when the transfer window opens in January 2009.

On and off the field

Gill has been popular wherever he has played. At Birmingham he used to be greeted with a Jerry Springer-style chant of "Jerry! Jerry!", support which was much appreciated by the player, and at the end of the 2000–01 season he was chosen Clubman of the Year. Cheltenham manager John Ward told the Western Daily Press:
We played Birmingham City in pre-season and he got a lovely ovation from their supporters and it was the same at Yeovil last year. He got a lovely clap at Northampton a few weeks ago when he was taken off. I don't think that happened by coincidence. And I've got a feeling that if he leaves Cheltenham he will get a similar reception if he comes back with another club. Supporters recognise him and they see the whole-heartedness and the commitment and the ability that he has got.
Gill is a director of a company which helps sportspeople prepare themselves for life and work after their sporting career comes to an end. He is also director of the sports marketing and retail company, Protech Sport, which manages the club shop at Cheltenham Town F.C.

Career statistics

Club performance
Club Season Tier League FA Cup League Cup Other matches Total
Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
Bath City 1990–91 5 5 0 0 0 0 0 5 0
1991–92 5

1 1 0 23 2
1992–93 5 39 6 8 2 7 0 54 8
1993–94 5

2 0 1 52 3
1994–95 5

0 0 1 52 1
1995–96 5

0 0 0 32 0
Yeovil Town 1996–97 6 41 10 5 3 10 3 56 16
Birmingham City 1997–98 2 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 0
1998–99 2 3 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 4 0
1999–2000 2 11 0 1 0 2 0 1 0 15 0
2000–01 2 29 0 1 0 7 0 0 0 37 0
2001–02 2 14 0 1 0 2 0 0 0 17 0
2002–03 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Northampton Town 2002–03 3 41 0 2 0 1 0 2 0 46 0
2003–04 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Cheltenham Town 2003–04 4 7 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 7 0
2004–05 4 44 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 47 0
2005–06 4 42 0 6 0 2 0 7 0 57 0
2006–07 3 39 0 2 0 2 0 1 0 44 0
2007–08 3 42 0 2 0 1 0 1 0 46 0
2008–09 3 6 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 8 0
Forest Green Rovers 2008–09 5 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0

a. This refers to the level of each league within the English football league system.


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