Friday 17th April 2020
THE 25th anniversary of Dumbarton’s promotion-clinching final fixture of season 1994/95, away to Stirling Albion, is approaching.
Charlie Gibson was one of the heroes of that day, and in this interview, he recalls his time at the club, including the successful day at Forthbank.
It was the second time the legendary striker won promotion with the club, the first of which was as Second Division champions in 1992.
Please note that this interview, although never previously published on www.dumbartonfootballclub.com, was first published elsewhere in April 2015. All age/date references have been updated but everything else remains as it was originally.
IT is a sunny afternoon in Helensburgh, and there is an appointment to be kept with a personnel officer.
One of us is armed with a list of questions. The other has a strong CV.
Naturally, there are nerves. Who wouldn’t be as the personnel officer, suited and booted, comes down the stairs to welcome you for an interview?
And when you are in the presence of a man who is so highly thought of throughout the local area?
Who 25 years ago this year, was part of an extraordinary event?
Charlie, now 58 and working in Helensburgh, admits that he’s taken “too many dunts to the head” to remember much else about the 1994/95 season.
However, the Sons legend, who was the team’s aerial presence upfront when he wore the number nine jersey, has never forgotten the big day at the end of it all.
Dumbarton were 2-0 winners at Stirling Albion in a winner-takes-all clash. He scored the second, Hugh Ward the first.
Even a draw wouldn’t have been enough at the home of a team which was on a huge winning run. But Sons pulled it out the bag.
Charlie said: “I didn’t play in the last couple of games before the Stirling match, but we were training on the Boghead pitch and Murdo MacLeod hinted I might play.
“I’d been a substitute at Cappielow the previous week, when we lost 2-0, and that was something I wasn’t used to being. Colin McKinnon had been starting upfront.
“So I didn’t expect to play at Forthbank, but I was selected. I don’t remember much about the game, but I’ve seen the goals on YouTube. My goal wasn’t even scored with my head, which was a rarity! Most of my game was played in the air.
“We went into the game knowing we couldn’t draw, as that would send Stirling up. However, we were quite confident and when Hugh Ward got the first goal it helped settle us.
“Myself and Hugh were interviewed for the radio after the game and I don’t know if they understood what we were saying! We were still on a real high.
“Having played for Stirling a few years before, it was strange for me, but Forthbank was a good place to go and play. It was a great feeling to win promotion, and to celebrate with the supporters, many of whom had travelled through. We then went to celebrate at Robert Dawson’s club afterwards.”
There was added incentive for Charlie to perform at Forthbank – as well as a starting jersey, he also had some doubt over whether he’d wear the black and gold jersey again.
However, his experience, along with that of other players, shone through.
He continued: “Murdo didn’t play me as often as previous managers did, so I thought that if I played this game, it could be my last for Dumbarton.
“Guys like myself, Jim Meechan and Ian MacFarlane had already won promotion in 1991/92 and that stood us in good stead. We knew what it took to win promotion for Dumbarton. You can’t do it just with young players – you need experience in the team as well.
“Murdo also brought a lot of experience from his playing days with Celtic and Borussia Dortmund, and everyone got a lift from that. His assistant Jim Fallon also had a wealth of experience with Clydebank – I knew him from my days playing there.
“He and Murdo complemented each other very well. Jim was always approachable and would always chat to players away from the game.”
Player/manager MacLeod was in his second season in charge, and Charlie still recalls what it was like to play under the former Celtic and Scotland midfielder.
He said: “There was more pressure for Murdo, as he was playing as well as managing, which it isn’t always easy to do. You have to guide matters on the pitch as well as off it. He would always encourage me to get in the box more often when we were on the pitch together.
“He maybe expected more out of the players, having come from playing for the likes of Celtic and Scotland. Sometimes he could come across frustrated but I didn’t have any qualms with that. He was just wanting us to win and do well.”
In the end, Murdo did not stay much longer, becoming Partick Thistle manager early the following campaign. The 1995/96 season was also to be Charlie’s last full campaign with Sons, which ended in comprehensive relegation after just one year.
Charlie added: “The following season was always going to be difficult because we were up against what we knew would be better teams. Dundee United hammered us 8-0 at Tannadice – although I thought I played alright in that game!
“Then during the following midweek we went to Dundee and drew 1-1, but I didn’t play. Jim said I hadn’t played badly but he needed to change the team. It was a shame after how well we did getting promoted. Everyone had confidence in Jim and he started well, but it all fell away.”
Aside from that day in Stirling, there’s lots else to discuss with the man with whom I am sitting in a warm, one-windowed office.
Especially as, 30 years ago this season, Charlie Gibson became Dumbarton’s record signing. He still holds that title to this day, and probably will for many years to come.
Five years after his £50,000 transfer from Stirling Albion, he was part of the fixture against the Binos which still lives in the memory.
His was the name the fans sang all afternoon, such was the hero status he’d built up at Boghead.
He hasn’t been forgotten about – and in return, he hasn’t forgotten about his former club.
Charlie said: “The last time I was at the stadium was for a charity game in 2008. Stuart MacIver phoned me out of the blue and asked if I fancied coming down to play for a team of ex-Sons players against Dukla Pumpherston.
“Guys like Hugh Ward, Jim Meechan and John Bourke played in that game – Hugh scored a spectacular goal. He never did score simple tap-ins.
“I still keep an eye out for Dumbarton’s result every week. They’ll be in the Championship again next season and that’s a success for them.
“When I played you had to hope for a cup draw against Rangers, Hearts or Hibernian. I played for Dumbarton against Rangers three times in cup ties.
“They beat us 5-0 at Hampden on a night when we played with two sweepers. Then we lost 1-0 and 4-1 at Ibrox in the same season.
“I also played for Dumbarton against Manchester United in Alex Wright’s testimonial. There was one goal where Peter Schmeichel threw it to Mark Robins, who set up Mark Hughes to score. They had a goal with three touches of the ball, from one end to the other.
“I’ve got a lot of old programmes in my loft from my time at Dumbarton. My wife keeps telling me to get rid of them!”
As a legendary striker, Charlie had many high-profile partners upfront over his years at Boghead.
He was one of at least four players during ‘Forthbank season’ who could always be relied on for goals, alongside Hugh Ward, Martin Mooney and Colin McKinnon.
But even allowing for those, there are two others colleagues from his Dumbarton days who stand out.
He said: “Martin Mooney was a skilful player; a good finisher and quite strong on the ball. Hugh was always capable of cutting inside and hitting one from 25-30 yards.
“He could also put some good crosses in, which suited me as a striker, as my game was mostly played in the air.
But the best player I played with at Dumbarton was John McQuade. He was different class when the two of us were there.
“And when I first came to the club, it was me and Stuart MacIver upfront. I think we scored about 44 goals between us in one season.
“After that we were both out of contract and in negotiations with Billy Lamont, who was manager at the time.
“We ended up training just the two of us for a couple of weeks before we signed on the dotted line, but it was good times there. Dick Jackson was always around as the groundsman – he was great.
“When I first signed for Dumbarton, manager Jim George introduced me to the players and then said that I could meet the most important person. That was Dick.”
Charlie stayed at Dumbarton for one further year after ‘Forthbank day’ before the time came to say farewell.
He continued: “I spoke to Jim Fallon about my future in the early 1996/97 season. At the time, my son was four and my daughter was nearly one.
“I said that I’d already been around Scotland – at the time, I think I’d played on every ground that existed in the Scottish Football League. I wasn’t keen to keep travelling all over the country as I had a young family.
“Jim said that if I hung about I would maybe play more sparingly, but I still thought I could play regularly.
“When I lived in Old Kilpatrick I would jump on the team bus at the boulevard and go to places like Berwick or Cowdenbeath, or wherever Dumbarton were playing. I no longer wanted to do that every second Saturday.
“The result was that I left the club. Looking back on it now, I sometimes wonder if I did the right thing.”
But even though he was 35 at the time of his departure from Boghead, his days in football weren’t over altogether.
A career in the juniors was to enable him to see out a few more years of a career which, along with spells at Dumbarton and Stirling, also took in East Stirlingshire and Clydebank.
Charlie said: “I played at junior level for a further four seasons. Jim George, who brought me to Dumbarton, was managing Petershill when I left Boghead and took me there.
“I had actually thought about giving up altogether when that came about, but sometimes you go with your gut and I ended up playing until I was nearly 40.
“There was one game against Rutherglen Glencairn, in the middle of December, where I was standing thinking to myself ‘What am I doing here?’. But overall I enjoyed it.
“After I hung up my boots I spent some time helping the Petershill management as part of the coaching staff.
“They also wanted me to go and scout future opponents, but I was more about being around the dressing room on a matchday. I just called it quits from there.”
And as it turned out, Charlie wasn’t finished being a part of Sons’ history either.
On the last day at Boghead in May 2000, he received arguably the loudest cheer of the day as part of a parade of former players.
Perhaps it was even louder than the ones which greeted goals by Toby King and Joe Robertson which gave Sons a 2-1 win over East Fife.
Charlie recalled of the old place: “The last day at Boghead was the end of an era. There was a whole crowd of us down that day.
“It was never the greatest park, but it was home to Dumbarton. When I first joined the club we were top of the league – and then the pitch had problems which meant we didn’t have a home game for months.
“Had it not been for the resulting fixture pile-up we might have won promotion, or even the title, that year.”
So with the playing boots hung up, did moving into management appeal?
It did for a time, but after a spell working with a youth football team, Charlie discovered that sometimes, being in charge isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
He said: “I did think about a career in coaching or management and I did my qualifications, but that was more for youth football.
“I enjoyed working with my youth team, but when players get to under-17 level or thereabouts other things take over in life.
“I was doing it all voluntarily and the team was quite successful, but my son stopped playing and I decided that was it for me as well.
“To be a manager these days, you need qualifications, but not necessarily the ones you get at Inverclyde.
“I remember Neil Watt, who I played alongside at East Stirlingshire, getting the Stranraer job without any qualifications and doing really well.
“Sometimes these qualifications complicate football. It’s about getting the ball through the goal as often as you can.
“My team-mates would say about me that I wasn’t the most skilful player, but I could hold the ball up or flick it on for my strike partner.
“I watched Rangers beat Hibs recently and they did it through sheer hard work. There’s a lot more science involved in the game now and it’s totally different.”
Charlie is now personnel officer with Argyll and Bute Community Health Partnership (please note this is now known as Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership), at whose Helensburgh headquarters we are meeting.
But he’s still involved in sport in West Dunbartonshire, as an independent director with the area’s leisure trust.
He added: “My job is to provide direction to the leisure trust on how to move forward. Former referee Kenny Clark was previously a director but stood down.
“Someone mentioned the post to me when they saw it advertised. I chatted with general manager John Anderson and applied successfully. It’s a voluntary role but it’s really interesting to help out and see how the local facilities are delivered.
“Having played for Dumbarton and Clydebank, I had an affinity with the area.”
And 25 years on from ‘Forthbank day’, there are many Sons fans who still have an affinity with their team’s former number nine.
Charlie Gibson file
Archive photos copyright club photographer Donald Fullarton (email@example.com).
Charlie receives the Allied Distillers player of the month award from production director Jim Lawrie
The 1990-91 side sponsored by the Dumbarton Reporter. Charlie Gibson is standing behind manager Billy Lamont
Captain Jim Dempsey leads the 1991-92 division two title celebrations. Charlie is 4th from right standing