Articles

Vic Gill - I Could Have Been a Contender - part 1

August 7th 1943, a wet and windy evening in Liverpool, at approximately 7pm I arrived in this world in the delivery room of the Liverpool Royal Infirmary. I am the second son of Henry and Ada Gill and my name is Victor. I have an elder brother Derek Henry Gill who was born on the 24th April 1939 and I had a younger brother Michael who died not long after being born in 1949. The Second World War was in full swing when I was born and for the first four years of my life we lived with my mother’s parents at 110 Scarisbrick Drive in the Norris Green district of Liverpool. During the winter I remember coming home in the dark and sitting on the living room floor without any lights on in front of a coal fire and just staring at the flames, it was very peaceful.

I suppose in those days people had to earn money anyway they could (there wasn’t any welfare state at that time) but the street singer used to frighten the life out of me. We would be out playing in the street with our friends, you could hear him before you could see him and I would run and hide. I don’t know why but he scared me, all he was doing I suppose was trying to get some money for his family. He would walk down the middle of the street singing with his cap held out in front of him. Some of the people would come out of their houses and put a penny or a halfpenny in the cap. The rag and bone man with his horse and cart was another familiar site. We would rush indoors, get a bucket and spade and follow him waiting for the horse to do a poo. We would shovel it into the bucket and grandy would give us a penny for it. He would put it on his roses and rhubarb in the garden. I don’t ever remember going without food though, we kids always came first and my mum was a great cook, but every day we had to line up in the kitchen and take a table spoon of cod liver oil, yuk!!



The "Rag and bone man" survived on the proceeds of unwanted items he collected each day.
Parents would scare their children by saying he would take them away if they were misbehaving.

Originally the Gill family arrived in Liverpool from Cork in Southern Ireland and settled in a council house in Elstead Road on the “Sparrow Hall Estate” in Norris Green, about half a mile from where my mum’s family lived. My father was one of thirteen children. He was christened Henry Gerard Gill and Sonny was his nickname. I never met my grandfather, he was a Major in the army and earned his commission on the battlefields of the First World War, but I have been told since that he was a cruel man. He left his family and went to America where he joined “the Al Capone gang” and worked in the bootlegging business for him. He was caught and deported for “Mafia Connections”, apparently he returned to America when prohibition was ended.



Vic's grandfather was part of Al Capone's gang

In 1947 we moved into our own council house on a newly built estate called “Cantril Farm” in the West Derby district of Liverpool. It was a great place, right on the edge of Lord Sefton’s Estate “Croxteth Hall” a massive place with woods and fields with the river Alt running through it. A new house meant a new school. I started at Colwell Road Infants but soon moved to a newly built school just five minutes from our house, “Cantril Farm County Primary School” in Mab Lane. It was here that my love of football was born and nourished. Like most kids I had played football in the street and the playground at school but I had never played really competitive football before. I was now old enough to be considered for the school football team. After a few games Mr. Masheter made me captain. I scored lots of goals, I can’t remember how many (but it was a lot) and we won the league.



Croxteth Hall

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t playing football in the street or on the fields off Mab Lane, this is where the big lads played, so when me and my mate finished playing Robin Hood in the woods we would ask the lads if we could join in their game. I was playing football with my mates in the street one evening and two women walked passed and one said to the other: “Look at the legs on that lad, they’re like tree trunks”. I even made a goal in our back garden and my mum sewed a load of onion bags together to make a net, it was a sound I loved to hear, the ball hitting the net. We had a brick built outside toilet as well as one indoors (posh, eh?) and my dad would get me to kick the ball against the wall using right foot, left foot continuous for what seemed an age and it paid off because I was one of the very few two footed players in all of the teams I played for. He watched a lot of the games I played and sometimes would embarrass the life out of me, making sure that anyone in earshot would know that I was his son.



Vic with shovel in hand

I was just eleven years old when I started the second phase of my education in September 1954 at Old Swan Secondary Technical School. I think my dad chose this school because he wanted me to follow in his footsteps and become an engineer. All the teachers wore the mortarboard and gown, it was a bit overpowering at first and the discipline was quite strict, the cane was used for any misbehavior and I received my fare share over the years. The most pleasing thing for me was the football, the school had a good reputation for providing “The Liverpool Schoolboys” football team with some fine players and the whole of Tuesday afternoon was set aside for football. The sports master split all the first year boys into “Houses”; Whitworth, Faraday, Telford and Newton and we played against each other. I was put in Whitworth House and fortunately the sports master had put some good players in with me. The school team was then selected from these games but to my surprise he picked me to play centre half and even more surprising I enjoyed it. In those days tactics were not really employed, the rule of thumb was, if you were tubby you were a full back, if you were nippy and small then you were a winger, inside forward or half back, big and strong either centre half or centre forward, not exactly rocket science but it seemed to work.


Cantril Farm primary school League Champions 1952-53. Vic is in the centre with the ball

I was placed in class 1A, I suppose because of the high marks I got in the eleven plus exam but alas this would not continue, while I was building a reputation on the football field, academically I was not so hot, not that I was stupid, but I spent a lot of time thinking about football, day dreaming if you like. I would think about playing at Anfield, the home of my favourite football club, Liverpool FC. On one occasion our English teacher, Mr. Jones asked us to write an essay on what we wanted to be when we left school, while all the other boys wrote about being engineers, scientists, draughtsmen and architects, I wrote about being a professional footballer, playing in front of thousands of people every week, scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup final, playing for England and earning £20 per week. My favourite subjects were History and Geography, most of the other subjects I was ok with, except Maths. I was very good at Arithmetic and Mental arithmetic, but Algebra was a foreign language to me, I remember one day Mr. Thompson, our maths teacher almost having a nervous breakdown after I asked why, a+b=c, he screamed at me: “Gill, don’t question why, boy, just accept it!”

Me and my mates had this wonderful place Croxteth Hall (Lord Sefton’s Estate) as an enormous playground and we used all of it even the places marked private, there was one time when the gamekeeper caught us bird nesting (collecting eggs from birds nests) he frogmarched us up to this sign that said PRIVATE and said to me: “What does that say?”, I replied “PRIVETS” so he let us go, calling us ignorant little bastards. There was a program on television at the time called “Robin Hood” and we kids had the perfect setting to play it in, we would all take turns in playing Robin Hood except for one boy who always played Maid Marion. I don’t suppose we understood at the time why he always wanted to play the girl but his sister wasn’t pleased because he pinched her dresses and make up. I met Rodney many years later on in life and he was really gay.

I was now captain of the school team and we won the Echo cup, a trophy donated by the Liverpool Echo Newspaper and played for by all the schools in Liverpool. I had reached the age were I qualified to play for the Liverpool Schoolboys football team and it was during a maths lesson that the school secretary entered the class and said that the headmaster wanted to see me in his office right away. I was a bit worried because as I left the class I looked back and Mr. Thompson had a wicked gleam in his eyes. I knocked on the headmaster‘s door and heard “Come”, I went in and he told me that the Liverpool Schools Football Committee had enquired about my availability to represent the City in the football team. Well, you can imagine how I felt, absolutely thrilled, he continued saying that he had rejected the request because he felt that my academics were suffering through my silly notion about being a footballer. He said that I had to devote more of my grey matter to my studies and to get rid of my ridiculous dreams of wanting to play professional football. I was shattered, to represent your city at whatever sport you excel at is a great honour, the next step would have been Lancashire Schoolboys and then England Schoolboys. Well, I spent the rest of the day in a haze and spent even less time thinking of my studies, if that were possible.

  

The Cantril Farm estate where Vic grew up

At the age of twelve I joined “The Boys Brigade”. I had heard that they had a useful football team, so there I was private Gill of the 70th Liverpool company playing football twice a week now, Saturday mornings for the school and Saturday afternoons for the Boys Brigade (centre half for the school and centre forward for the Boys Brigade). In my first season for the 70th I scored over 80 goals and we won the cup and the league. We were a very good team and won some of our matches by ridiculous scorelines. In one particular game we won 19-0 and I scored eleven goals and we won the cup final by 6-0.



The "Football Special" transported supporters to Anfield

I have been a Liverpool fan for as long as I can remember and in early 1957 I received a letter inviting me to go for trials to Liverpool FC. I had received several offers for trials; Everton, Oldham Athletic, Bolton Wanderers, Preston North End being some of the clubs interested, but there was only one club for me, Liverpool. On the day of the trial I was very nervous and was cuffed around the head a few times for not paying attention in class. I don’t know why but I had never told anyone about the trial and it was a very long day in school. I turned up at Melwood a very nervous boy. I remember there were about 100 boys there mostly older than me and certainly bigger. The man in charge explained that they were going to have four matches playing at the same time and would we please pay attention because he was going to read out the eight teams. Those boys not selected initially would be used to replace boys as and when the coaches thought fit. Four teams were to play in red and four in white. By this time I was having problems controlling my nerves and he started to call out the teams in the order of play, i.e. Goalkeeper, Full backs, Half backs and Forwards. I felt that there had been a terrible mistake when I heard my name called for the red team in the position of left half. I said to the man (Bob Paisley): “Excuse me I think you have made mistake, I play centre forward or centre half”, he replied: “No mistake son, that’s where you’re playing”. I didn’t argue but felt a little bit hard done by.



Paisley was appointed chief coach at Liverpool on 1 May 1957

The games started and after about ten minutes the nerves had gone and I was really enjoying it. I knew I was playing well and I still get little flashbacks of the game today. I wasn’t taken off and finished the whole game. As we left the pitch Mr. Paisley asked me if I would like to sign for Liverpool FC. He explained that because of my age they would need my father‘s signature on the forms as well as mine and that I would be the second youngest player ever to sign for Liverpool FC, the youngest being a full back called Ray Lambert. I was so happy, after all those years going to Anfield to watch my heroes playing: Billy Liddell, Alan A’Court, Jimmy Melia, Dick White, Laurie Hughes, Geoff Twentyman, John Evans, Charlie Ashcroft, Ray Lambert, Johnny Wheeler, Jimmy Harrower and big Louis Bimpson, I was now part of the same club. I would see my heroes up close and personal, to even tread the same grass, I even tried to walk like Billy Liddell. A footballer, it was the only thing I wanted to be and I had put my foot on the first rung of that ladder.



Reds heading for the Kop in 1953

Liverpool FC were in the second division of the football league, having been relegated from the first division in 1954. The man given the task of getting the club back into the first division was an ex Liverpool and England wing half called Phil Taylor who very rarely showed up at any of the junior team training sessions or matches. I remember one Tuesday evening training session in particular, a coach pulled in to the car park at Melwood and this guy stepped down from the coach and said to coach Tom Bush in a very posh voice: “Could you get some of your lads together to give my team a game”. Apparently the English league were going to play the Irish league at Anfield the following evening and the guy in charge of the English was none other than Walter Winterbottom, the manager of the English international team, so there I was lined up to play against players that I loved to watch every Saturday. I still remember that team; it was Colin McDonald (Burnley) in goal, Don Howe (West Brom) right back, Bernard Shaw (Sheffield Utd) left back, Johnny Wheeler (Liverpool) right half, Joe Shaw (Sheffield Utd) centre half, Wilf McGuiness (Man Utd) left half, Jimmy Harris (Everton) right wing, Jimmy Melia (Liverpool) inside right, Len White (Newcastle Utd) centre forward, Johnny Haynes (Fulham) inside left and Alan A’Court (Liverpool) outside left. We drew 1-1 but the following evening they beat the Irish league 5-1.at Anfield.



Manager Phil Taylor introduces himself to his players

One of my dad’s favourite sayings was: “If you don’t put anything in, you don’t get anything out”, so he used to get me out of bed at six am every week day morning and I would run around Lord Sefton’s Estate about five or six miles. It hurt at the beginning but it was a lovely run, so peaceful and quiet except for the birds and sometimes his lordship out riding with family and friends. Dad would have a hot bath ready for me when I got home and while I was having my bath he would cook my breakfast, two snotty eggs and crispy bacon just the way I didn’t like it. He couldn’t cook to save his life but I would eat it all, I couldn’t hurt his feelings. I have a lot of good memories of my dad, I know he wasn’t perfect but then who is, it was later on in life that I realised he only wanted the best for me and god knows he tried really hard.



Vic at Liverpool at 15-16 years of age

1959, I had been at Liverpool now for a little over two seasons and the club was still in the second division. It was December and Mr. Taylor had been sacked or resigned, I can’t remember which, but either way it was a good decision. Tuesdays and Thursdays were the training nights for the amateurs and part time professionals, it was a Tuesday and I had arrived early, I made this a habit because I liked to warm up with a few laps before training started. This particular evening I got changed into my training gear and went downstairs to the toilets to have a pee, while I was there this old guy came down and stood next to me, he had a training kit on and I thought bloody hell they’re signing some old players. He said to me in a broad Scottish accent: “How old are you, son?” I replied: “Sixteen” and he said: “Aye, yer a big lad”. We went out onto the pitch together and did a few laps. We chatted while we jogged along and he seemed quite a nice bloke. By this time all the other lads had turned up and I returned to the changing rooms to have a chat with my mates. I was approaching the changing rooms when Eli the groundsman came up to me and called me a “Suckhole”. I laughed and said: "Why?" He said: “That’s the new boss Bill Shankly”.




NEXT WEEK: Vic's adventures at Liverpool FC when trying to impress the new boss.. 
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