When Town topped the Third Division table following a 4-1 win over Rovers at Eastville in October 1981, all appeared rosy. But Rovers’ Brian Williams must have been having second thoughts as to whether he had made the right career move three months earlier.
In July, Brian had left the County Ground in a deal that brought Gary Emmanuel to Wiltshire. Town had lost a head down no-nonsense winger, but gained a midfield grafter and playmaker.
Gary’s talent as a youngster had taken him straight from school in his home town of Swansea to an apprenticeship at Birmingham in June 1970. He turned professional 13 months later and by January 1975 was in the first team, in the old First Division, scoring on his home debut at St Andrews. Another teenager, two months younger than Gary, was already making the headlines there - Trevor Francis.
Gary made 67 full appearances for City before changing to the blue of Rovers a few days before Christmas in 1978. He joined on a month’s loan before signing at the end of January and spent two and a half years at Eastville.
Town’s early season optimism in 1981/82 soon evaporated when, after that 4-1 derby win, John Trollope’s charges won only three of their next 27 League games. Gary scored twice in a pleasing 3-0 victory at Ashton Gate, but on the final day of the season, needing a win to stay up, Town lost by an 81st minute penalty at Newport – Gary’s next employers.
“We had a lot of youngsters in the side because of the financial situation at the club”, said Gary. “There was just no money to bring in the one or two experienced players that we needed”.
In the Fourth Division for the first time, Town again started in promising fashion, going five games without conceding a goal and then winning seven out of eight. But after Christmas results fell away again, although Gary was then playing through the pain barrier. “I was suffering for weeks with a pelvic injury”, he explained. “In the end, I had to miss the last dozen or so games”.
Gary’s third and final season at the County Ground was served under Ken Beamish. But a similar lack of investment in the playing budget saw Town’s home gates plummet to less than two thousand and a final League placing of 85th out of 92 clubs. In June 1984, Gary signed a one-year contract at Somerton Park, where former Town boss Bobby Smith was now Colin Addison’s assistant. But injury prevented Gary from playing an active part until the last twelve games of the season.
Faced with being without a club for 1985/86, Gary went to Lincoln for a trial pre-season. “My old mate Bob Latchford from Birmingham was there then”, said Gary. “I travelled up with him, but they wanted me to move up there, which I didn’t want to do. Then I got a call from Terry Cooper at Bristol City”.
But City lost the three games that Gary played in and after talking over the situation with the manager, he left Ashton Gate after just two weeks. “Fortunately, the next day Terry Yorath rang me and asked me if I fancied joining him at Swansea”.
And so Gary was back home, where he spent the last three years of his career as a professional. In July 1988 he joined Merthyr, but was only there for three months. Further spells with Welsh League Ton Pentre, Llanelli and Haverfordwest County ended in 1992 when, at 38, Gary suffered a broken leg and decided to call it a day.
Having given up the full-time game, Gary needed another income and went into the insurance business before returning to the outdoor life. For the past 17 years, he has been a postman and currently works in the Mumbles area of Swansea.
DID YOU KNOW ?
Gary comes from a footballing family, with both his father and uncle having played at Football League level – and the latter actually turned out for Town as a ‘guest’ player during the 1939/40 season, when former Swansea Town manager Neil Harris took over at the County Ground. Gary’s father Len, now 91, joined the Swans in 1937 and, like Gary, also played for Newport and Bristol Rovers – although he didn’t make any first team appearances for the Pirates. His uncle Tom also started at The Vetch before moving to Southampton in 1938 and played a dozen games for Town. Both were full-backs.