Friday 12th May 2017
“I KNOW it will be hard going as I make the step up to senior football, but I think I can make it and will see how it goes.”
Five years on from making that comment, Garry Fleming leaves Dumbarton having made it alright.
He arrived at Sons from Irvine Meadow in July 2012, not long turned 25, largely unknown by many locals, unless you were a personal friend or part of a local amateur team he coached at the time. He turns…a significant age starting with three on Wednesday as one of four players released by the club on Thursday evening. More importantly, he’s gone from unknown to very well known. Not just as a footballer, but somebody keen for an opportunity, and to repay those who gave him it. And as a people person, somebody who had time for those who gave him their time.
Prior to the delivery of Thursday’s news by manager Stevie Aitken, Garry was the last outfield player left at the club who played under Alan Adamson’s charge. Only goalkeeper Jamie Ewings is left, subject to himself staying with the club. Even then, that was only for the first quarter of the league season, and as a sitting midfielder – a position Chris Turner took from him upon his arrival in September 2012.
Despite Adamson’s departure as manager to be replaced by Ian Murray, Garry retained a regular place in the side in a more attacking role. He had been brought to the club as a regular goalscorer with Irvine Meadow but was still to break his duck with Sons. Even allowing for that, and his substitution at half time in Murray’s first game in charge (a 3-1 defeat to Hamilton Accies), he was consistently on the teamsheet as the new manager saw the same attributes his predecessor did.
The first goal finally came in a 3-0 win over Morton at Cappielow, early in the run which saw Dumbarton, from an ominous position, pull themselves back into contention to survive in the second tier. Wins were followed by more wins, resulting in Sons eventually getting clear of the bottom two. In mid-April, they headed to Falkirk in midweek with the possibility that victory (at a ground where they had already won that season) would put them six points clear of second bottom place with three games to go. It was, arguably, the game where Garry arrived. After Mark Gilhaney opened the scoring, he found the net twice either side of a Lyle Taylor goal for Falkirk for a 3-1 win. It may have been the evening where the boy became a man and of course, Sons finished the job of survival from there.
Goals came a bit more easily early in the 2013/14 season, although not always in victory. His first goal at Dumbarton’s own stadium was a mere consolation in a 4-1 defeat to Dundee, but he scored in 2-1 wins away to Queen of the South and Falkirk, the former a late winning goal, putting away Bryan Prunty’s low ball from the goal line. Another goal opened the scoring in a 2-1 win at home to Hamilton Accies which set things up for the hugely positive second half of the season which saw Dumbarton reach the Scottish Cup quarter finals and fall just short of a promotion play-off place. Garry only scored another twice, in resounding home wins against Cowdenbeath (5-1, March) and Alloa (4-1, April), but had done his bit in a remarkable season.
The next season, with the club in a huge spotlight against the likes of Hearts, Hibernian and Rangers, Garry was again among the goals. He found the net against both of the Edinburgh clubs, although those efforts were only consolations in hefty defeats, 5-1 to Hearts at Tynecastle and 6-3 to Hibs at home. He also scored in both games at Livingston, which were won 2-1 and were vital to the successful battle for survival. Free kicks and penalties were also added to his list of attributes, starting with a ferocious 20-yard set piece to seal a 3-1 win at Cowdenbeath. Then on his first shot at taking a penalty, he scored the only goal of another victory, 1-0 at home to Alloa.
Penalties remained Garry’s responsibility for much of season 2015/16, which saw him have to prove himself to another Dumbarton manager, with Stevie Aitken replacing the St Mirren-bound Murray. There was no end product to speculation that Murray would take him with him to Paisley, but Garry would still have a direct influence on his former manager’s fortunes, starting when the sides met on matchday two. With the score 1-1 in the late minutes of the game, Kevin Cawley was fouled in the area, and Garry put away the winner from the spot. Then, midway through December, he scored the only goal of the game against the Buddies to hand them a defeat that brought about Murray’s resignation afterwards. His tenure in Paisley was over after four months of football, courtesy of a player he used to manage.
In between the two St Mirren games there were two other notable penalty conversions, one against Rangers (albeit a consolation in a 2-1 defeat), and against Raith Rovers which completed a comeback from 3-0 down to take a point in the final 10 minutes. He also contributed three goals towards the club’s run to the Scottish Cup last 16, including a double in a 2-1 win against Queen of the South. His next league goal, though, was not until March. With Dumbarton trailing 1-0 to Falkirk in injury time to a hotly disputed penalty, they were awarded a spot kick themselves. Only one man was going to step up and earn a point.
After Queen of the South again suffered at Garry’s feet, from another penalty in a 4-2 win for Sons, the best was saved for last. His stunning turn and volley in the last home game of the season secured survival – against St Mirren. Sons had beaten the newly relegated side three times and Garry had scored the winner in each one. This and other exploits during the season led to him being named Sonstrust player of the year, as voted by the fans.
Garry also completed one other feat that season which is rare for any Sons player of recent times – he has scored in victory against Morton at Cappielow twice. As well as the 3-0 win in January 2013, he was also on target in a 3-2 win in the Challenge Cup in July 2015. These are the club’s only two wins in Greenock since August 1995.
This season did have its moments for Garry, with two that stood out. St Mirren will definitely be glad to see the back of him in a Dumbarton shirt, with him scoring yet another winner against them in November, albeit this one was slightly easier than his other three. Then, a month later, he got the winner in a 2-1 victory over Falkirk in the club’s first home game since…a certain cup tie. What proved to be his last goal for the club came in a 4-0 victory at home to Raith Rovers. Although it merely added to the margin of victory on the day, it did prove significant. Had Sons won that game by less goals, the gap in goal difference between them and the Kirkcaldy side would have been narrower going into the last day and who knows what would have happened?
Garry’s competitive style of play meant that he picked up the odd yellow card, and this was to contribute to one of his final acts in a Dumbarton jersey, dismissed at Ayr in a 2-1 defeat in March only seven minutes after coming on as a substitute. It was his second sending off with the club, the first being in a 2-2 draw against Livingston in February 2014. His dismissal early in the second half that night, for two bookings, was one of the last deeds of referee Stevie O’Reilly before he too was away down the tunnel, injured.
Garry Fleming, though, will not be remembered for those. He will be remembered as a player who made his way up the ranks to his local senior team and established himself for five years in a part-time team surviving in the Championship. One of those survivals was sealed as a result of a phenomenal goal by him, but his contribution to all five was worthy of recognition. He will also be remembered as a player who reciprocated the high regard he was held in by the fans. He is every bit what you would call a people person, as fans and team-mates at his next club will discover.
He, of course, is not the only player released by Dumbarton this week. The club has also bid farewell to a player who scored two winning goals against Dundee United. Just as St Mirren are relieved at Sons’ freed list this week, the Terrors, if they are in opposition again next season, will be pleased not to see Mark Docherty there. Dumbarton, though, will notice he isn’t around. Another player with a huge competitive side to his game, Mark endeared himself to the fans with his all-out effort to keep himself a first pick.
Ironically, he is not local, but came to the club well-known, having played against Dumbarton for four different clubs, most recently Alloa, over the years. His first goal for Sons was against the Wasps and showed he certainly knows how to make use of the wind advantage when taking a corner, scoring directly from the set piece. In case anybody missed it, he did it again a month later, at home to Livingston for the only goal of the game. It proved to be a vital one as Sons held off Livi’s challenge for survival.
For most of the first half of this season, Mark was actually Sons’ top league goalscorer, with two late penalties at Dunfermline followed by another spot kick for the first of those victories against Dundee United. His second against the Terrors was his only other goal of the season, but the combative side of his game never wavered whenever he was selected for duty.
Donald McCallum took only 19 seconds to leave his best impression in a Dumbarton jersey, scoring that length of time into a Scottish Cup tie against Alloa which Sons won 5-0. Tom Lang, meanwhile, was also part of a big victory for Sons on his only start for the club, shutting out Raith Rovers in a 4-0 win in March.
All four players released this week are wished well for the future, but it’s the same every year – while the crew changes regularly, the ship is always there. It remains to be seen who replaces them, but they can look forward to the same range of fortunes as the players they are replacing.