Friday 19th August 2022
JOHN GEMMELL walked off the field at Hampden with one chapter definitely closed.
Another looked as if it had shut too.
The definite was that his Clyde team had missed out on winning promotion. They had beaten Queen’s Park 1-0 on the day, but it was not enough to overturn a 3-1 first leg defeat in the League One playoff final.
The maybe was that it could have been his last match at senior level. And for more than six years, it was.
The vast majority of people at Dumbarton Football Stadium for Sons’ 4-0 victory over Annan Athletic knew who the trialist substitute was. They had seen him in a Dumbarton shirt before – 15 years ago.
He was popular then, and his popularity remained. Even more so when he set up Gregor Buchanan to score the fourth and final goal of the day.
After weeks of training, that was the final bit of convincing John needed to do. His unexpected team-mate, Stevie Farrell, was ready to give him the chance it looked like he may not get again.
At nearly 38, John is back at senior level again, back in a Dumbarton shirt again. And it is an opportunity he is ready to grab.
He and wife Nicola are expecting their second child next month too. But he doesn’t want that to be all he has to celebrate.
Speaking to dumbartonfootballclub.com, John said: “I’m absolutely delighted. I’ve been working hard over the last three months and I feel like I’m 20 again. I’m ready to give it another crack at senior level.
“It’s funny, because when I first came to Dumbarton I always though I was a bit older than I was. I was a young boy and I have gone on to have a reasonable career since then. I think I can do a job back here and I’m looking forward to it.
“I got invited to play in an over-35 league, in the same team that Stevie Farrell plays for. We got quite pally and I messaged him – I think it was the night Dumbarton played Raith Rovers – saying that I had watched a few games and that I could do a job.
“It was 50-50 a joke and serious, but he said ‘Why don’t you come in and let me have a look at you’.
“I joined a gym three months ago and I have lost almost two stone. However, I strained my hamstring in the last over-35 game I played, and I worked with the physio for the first three weeks I was training here.
“I have then been working with Matty Fenwick (sports scientist) for the last week, come on as a substitute on Saturday and I feel I am good to go.
“It was a very surreal moment for me on Saturday when I came on. I didn’t score 50-100 goals for Dumbarton or anything, but I had a great rapport with the fans and it was amazing coming on and hearing them shouting my name.
“It brought back so many great memories and getting an assist was just like a goal – just the same feeling. Then it was the same, they were shouting my name when we all came off the field at the end.
“I always knew I could step back up and I jumped at the chance as soon as I knew Stevie was interested. I have trained hard, put in the work and now I am looking forward to hopefully playing my part.
“The boys are winning games right now and I want to come in and help the younger lads, but I want to play as well – not just be a bit-part player. I want to take my chance when it comes along.”
With three wins out of three on the board, things are off to a great start at Dumbarton, and John hopes they can last.
He continued: “The squad is really good and we are off to a great start. With the way the league is, the club will be one of the favourites to be there or thereabouts.
“But the way Stevie will approach it is just to take it one game at a time. Once we get past the first quarter we will see how many points we have and how we have played against each team.
“Hopefully we can have a really good season, and you never know, I will maybe try to win another year’s contract and play until I am 40!”
John’s popularity at Dumbarton has several aspects to it. That game at Forfar in 2006, when he was the driving force behind a 3-2 win with nine men.
That game at Raith Rovers the same year, when he scored the goal that took Dumbarton to Celtic Park in that season’s Scottish Cup.
And the way he played with his heart on his sleeve, finding the net a total of eight times during his first spell with the club.
He said: “I recall those games fondly! I was upset at how it ended at Dumbarton, because I broke my foot in one of the early games and then came back in the Raith Rovers game. I missed a penalty and then scored the winning goal that day.
“But I also injured my foot again, and my next game was at Celtic Park.
“Now I am really looking forward to going back. People don’t think playing in cinch League One or Two is that great but to me it is everything.
“I am looking forward to going back to places where I have had a bit of stick and getting it all again. You used to get characters in the game, but some of the boys may not have played with somebody like me before.
“People see me as a wind-up merchant, but it is part of the game and a lot of people love it.”
When John last played for Dumbarton, many of his now team-mates were at school. Some weren’t even at that stage.
But he is out to show that despite being the senior member of the squad, he has a lot to offer.
And the chance that has come along is one he readily recognises.
He added: “I went back to Cambuslang to try and win the league last season, they did win it, and that was great.
“I said I would maybe retire if I got to 100 goals at that level, to go with over 100 goals at senior level, but I decided to keep playing.
“My wife has supported me with my football and I have a once in a lifetime chance now. Not many players leave the senior game at 32 and get another chance at it at nearly 38.
“Some people say Dumbarton shouldn’t sign a nearly 38-year-old, but I have a lot to give. There is not a lot of difference between League Two and the top end of the West of Scotland League.
“You have never seen me sprinting 100 yards. My game is holding the ball up, linking the play and scoring goals. If I get the service and the chances, I will do that.
“I am absolutely buzzing.”
Dumbarton Football Club