Peter Gain: 10 years of heartbreak

Peter Gain is one of Lincoln City’s all-time greats. Voted at number 44 in the centenary legends vote of 2007, and he is amongst the top 30 all-time appearances holders for City with 263, scoring 22 times in league competition.

He was virtually ever present in the fateful 2001/02 season and despite his obvious talent he elected to remain at the club through administration and out of the other side, virtually ever present again as we strode on to Cardiff in 2003. Two more seasons of quality ensued but unfortunately he didn’t get the heroes goodbye, he disappeared out of the back door under a cloud. Now’s he wants to redress the balance.

Peter Gain was also a big personal hero of mine. I’ve always liked players with a bit of flair and a penchant for the unexpected, and he had just that. He was unpredictable, could glide past players like they weren’t there, and although he wasn’t prolific, when he hit a shot it stayed hit. Not only did he have ability though, he also ran through walls for the shirt, just like each and every one of Keith Alexander’s 2002/03 team. There’s no wonder I was so delighted when I stumbled across him on social media the other week, even more so that it was through DF. It transpired that my hero from the Big Keith era was a follower of the Deranged Ferret Facebook page, and he casually commented on one of our picture quizzes. I seized my chance, and whilst chatting to him he told me our humble fanzine was partly responsible for turning Peter Gain the young starlet from Spurs, low on confidence into a fully fledged club legend.

“My first season at Lincoln Steve Holmes had a copy of DF and it had an analysis on all players in squad. I remember reading it and being overwhelmed at my analysis it gave me so much confidence. That was turning point in my Lincoln career.”

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The DF article that convinced a young Peter Gain he was respected by the fans

Gain initially signed on loan from Spurs in January of 1999 and he made his debut in the 3-0 LDV Vans Trophy win over Hartlepool. Three more appearances followed from the bench before the loan spell was up, although his Lincoln City career had barely started.

“Initially Gerry Francis was trying to get all the young players out on loan to gain experience, and I came to Lincoln. Spurs offered me another year but I had made a lot of friends at Lincoln. I really felt part of team whereas, as much I loved Spurs, I was tired of reserve football. I had the option to stay or go back to Spurs, and I chose the option of staying at Lincoln.”

It wasn’t easy for the young midfielder from Tottenham to force his way into the side, and the year he joined Lincoln wasn’t the most harmonious either, signing initially under John Reames. Under Reames he got a bit of game time, and scored his first goal for City against Rochdale in November. Phil Stant took over as manager for a few months, but it was senior players who guided him in those early years.

“Steve Holmes was a great player, it was hard for him when I came because the club did seem to be in disarray. There was no organisation and those senior players had a lot of pressure to steer the ship with no real direction. It was still good being there but there was no stability no direction but big Keith changed all that, he was a great manager.”

Keith arrived at the club under Alan Buckley as assistant, and Buckley had a left sided player he liked much more, his son Adam. Buckley frequently picked his son ahead of Gainy, leaving our future talisman to have an enforced spell out of the team. Before Adam signed Gainy was getting game time, scoring in only our second away win in a year as we beat Kidderminster in Buckley’s second game in charge. However his son soon took a starting eleven spot.

“It bothered me not playing of course but that’s football. I would always confide in Keith Oakes the physio at the time. He’s a great man and was an integral part of our good times under Keith Alexander,  an unsung hero if you like. I know if he had chosen to manage he would have been very successful and would still be managing today,  it’s a shame he never did.”

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Gainy looks to beat two Bristol Rovers players. Odds on he did as well.

I held off jumping to the seasons that made Gain a hero with the fans and gave us such much pride and respect in our football club. Here was a player who had been there as we plummeted towards administration, and a player who had stayed with us during those rough times. It was interesting to find out which other players played a key role before we entered administration.

“Justin Walker and Lee Thorpe were really good players. Terry Fleming was a great leader, as was Steve Holmes. Another leader was  Grant Brown, those senior players were great for us younger ones at time.”

It’s hard to talk to a player who gave fans such great memories without wading straight into those wonderful years under Keith Alexander. Peter Gain was an integral part of that side, producing moments of sublime vision and often awe inspiring technical ability. When Simon Yeo needed an assist to score the goal against Torquay, it came from Peter Gain. It all started in the summer of 2002.

“The start of the good times! Although we never won anything on paper it felt like we were champions those few years especially because everyone wrote us off, but soon people started paying attention.”

There’s no doubt that Keith instilled a confidence in Gain, and although we now know DF played a part the Gaffer built up a good relationship with his talented midfield creator.

“I played quite a bit for Keith in the reserves during Adam Buckley’s spell in side. I think I scored in five consecutive matches and so we always had a rapport. He gave me freedom every time I played and it just continued from there. The first season was the same for us players as I’m sure it was for the fans, we were favourites to get relegated at the start!!”

Despite his obvious talent Gainy was unable to fire us to play-off victory against Bournemouth, nor again against Southend two years later. However had it not been for his craft and guile we may not have ended up there at all.

“I remember in particular the assist I played through to Simon Yeo second play-off game against Scunthorpe to seal the final spot. It was a dream to be in both finals but on a personal level I never played half as well as I should. Maybe nerves got better of me, I always felt more pressure when my family watched and they only ever watched me in those finals unfortunately.”

Over those three years the team that Keith built defied the odds time and time again. Two play-off finals and a semi-final defeat against Huddersfield followed. I’ve always maintained the 2003/04 team was the finest side I’ve ever seen take to the field.

“That’s a hard one to call. Obviously Taylor-Fletcher would better any side, but that initial team got the ball rolling. McAuley and Taylor-Fletcher gave us more strength and depth overall.”

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Quick and agile against York City

It’s clear to me Peter has an awful lot of affection for that first season and what the group of players achieved. Surely after such a great season players of his ability were in demand, and given administration the year before it was a surprise to maintain a the same squad.

“When the club was in administration there was a good three months we didn’t get paid. We were promised to be reimbursed, I only got some but I thought fair enough, I moved on and got on with it. After my first season under Keith I signed the same contract I was on at Christmas even though I had two solid pre contract offers from Oxford and Huddersfield for a lot more money. I was loving it at Lincoln and could sense good times were ahead, so I stayed for less money. I really do love Lincoln the fans, the people and the club itself.”

The final season Peter played for us culminated in a Millennium Stadium appearance against Southend and ultimately a failure to achieve what the club deserved. I always pinpoint the fall out of the Marcus Richardson and Ciaran Toner affair.

“Maybe, both were very good players. If Yeo’s legitimate goal wasn’t ruled offside we would have won. Football is all about ifs and buts”

Whether we went up or not that team achieved something that managers have tried for a decade, and that was a restored pride. As a fan you could be proud of your club and of the players, and Peter Gain was right at the heart of that. The Monday after a Gain goal was always the day to get work mates and non-believers to watch Look North to see what this extraordinary footballer had produced yet again. Great goals were a part of his all-round game.

“My favourite Lincoln goals were twice away at Carlisle, we won 2-0 and 4-1. I scored a scissor kick at home to Hull in front of the Stacey West as well, that was a good goal.”

That was more than a good goal, this writer remembers spilling half a cup of coke as his 78th minute strike set us up for a 2-0 win over the now-Premiership giants. It was a good time to be a Lincoln fan, with a squad laden with good players.

“There was a lot of players who stood out for me. Probably the ones that stood out the most were Gareth McCauley, Simon Yeo and the late Richard Butcher, but really there are too many to mention. Oh, of course I have to say Gary Taylor-Fletcher! Stuart Bimson was an experienced player who always helped younger pros”

Richard Butcher is another player from that time who is remembered fondly, and between the two of them they formed an iconic midfield pairing. Butcher and Gain were surely the first two names on the Lincoln City team sheet for two and a half seasons.

“I want to mention to Gail Butcher and her family. She’s a great woman who does so much in Richard’s memory to help others. She’s a great woman. Richard was the nicest player in football. I know that’s a cliche but he really was everyone loved him and playing with him was a pleasure. He was 100% dedicated and, as you know, a great all round player”

 

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Eventually the end came for Gainy, and when it did there was no fairy tale for our star midfielder. All that was left was a reputation slightly tarnished for a decade, branded (by some) as someone who sold the club down the river. That wasn’t the case then, and Peter is keen to put his side of the story across.

“I need to clarify this because I feel my relationship with the fans has been tarnished and I sincerely loved the Lincoln supporters and always will. After two successful seasons my contract came up again and I had three offers from Huddersfield (again), Peterborough and I think it was Rushden. They all offered more money and all it came down to was £50 a week. It broke my heart. I dreamed of a testimonial at Lincoln, but it came down to the principle not the money. My loyalty in previous contracts was not rewarded, and of course I hated way it ended.”

The next season Gain scored against Lincoln at Peterborough and celebrated passionately. Some fans turned on him after that, but it wasn’t a reaction to scoring past Lincoln, it was a reaction to one or two idiots who had singled him out for abuse.

“I got a lot of stick that day. I was always passionate on the pitch but when I hear personal insults, not related to football I reacted. I hate the fact that Lincoln supporters remember that and the manner in which I left, it’s heart breaking.”

Just like 1999 when a DF article gave a young player from Spurs confidence to perform to the best of his ability, I hope a DF article can today give an Imps legend the praise he deserved. We saw last season with Chris Moyses how vitriol and abuse can provoke a reaction, and it’s clear to me speaking to Peter for a period of time that he has carried a sadness around with him since his departure from Sincil Bank.

“In hindsight I would never have dreamt of celebrating a goal against the fans I loved for so long but like I said during a game so much adrenaline takes over and when I heard personal insults I lost my head. It wasn’t football related and I directed my frustration out on that minority, not the real Lincoln fans, although I still feel some were bitter towards me sadly”

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Defenders usually had to double up

These days we see Simon Yeo in the stands as a fan, we have memorials to Keith and Butch and we look on proudly as Gareth McAuley takes to the field for Northern Ireland. Each and every one of those players are ‘one of our own’, players who cared as much as the rank and file fan, players who battled and fought for the pride and reputation of the football club.

Peter Gain did exactly that as well, and although the manner of his departure upset some, looking back I feel his motivation was understandable. The club had experienced three years of success and arguably our most talented player felt he wasn’t being respected. Peter is now a plumber, he didn’t have a lucrative career and hasn’t been set up for life. After four or five years of dedication to the club, didn’t he deserve a tiny bit more security for him and his family? Peterborough offered a three year deal, the sort of security that footballers crave.

Gary Taylor Fletcher for instance hadn’t missed out on wages when we went into administration, and not every player subsequently turned down bigger offers to remain a part of the club. Anyone who choose to remember a one-off goal celebration at Peterborough is choosing to remember the wrong thing entirely. I know Gainy hopes this interview will show fans that he wasn’t a money grabber, and those years in the heart of Keith’s revolution meant everything to him. I asked if he wanted to add anything as we wound things up.

“Just that I loved my time at Lincoln. I loved the city, I loved the people, and those fans will always have a place in my heart.”

I know many Imps fans who hold Gainy in the same esteem, after all in 2007 when the legends vote was cast he was a Peterborough players, and yet he still beat the likes of Dennis Booth, Dennis Leigh and Steve Thompson. I hope now that with this heartfelt article he can be remembered for the right things.

I know Gainy is a follower of the Deranged Ferret Facebook page, and if you feel inclined please do let him know that he is remembered for the right reasons. He’s a softly spoken man who has carried around the regret and concern for too long, and we owe it to him to let him know he’s remembered in the right way.

If only for that chip against Carlisle. Or that scissor kick against Hull. Or this classic opener  v Macclesfield 3-2. Or the virtuoso performance as we thrashed Hartlepool 3-0, or the Yeo assists, or…. Well you get the picture.

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Photos thanks to Graham Burrell.

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One thought on “Peter Gain: 10 years of heartbreak

  1. Cracking player, i can remember lee philpott being around at the same time i don’t think we’ve ever had two players with a left foot like them two! I always used to see him and a few other players in town of a saturday night after the game and he always had time to talk over a beer, really nice bloke, great read again.

    Like

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