RIP Derek Gill
A good friend of mine, another writer and publisher, many years ago said to me, after the first book I ever did came out, that not everyone leaves a thumbprint on the world after they depart, but as long as someone has your book on their shelf, you will not be forgotten. That is your thumbprint.
Derek didn’t exactly write a book but his diaries are an eye opener for anyone who has seen them. They formed a major part of chapters in NNN Vols 1 and 2, chapters that looked at the year that John Bond spent at Burnley, and the seasons that preceded it and then followed it.
The John Bond chapter in NNN Vol 1 didn’t give any voice to Derek Gill although it mentioned him several times. NNN 2 rectified that and emphasised how it was he that made sense of the financial mess that Bob Lord had left the club with, got it back on track, modernised the systems, found new income and eventually guided it to security and a healthy bank balance. His accountancy and business skills gave him a forensic mind that could identify problems and then find solutions.
At that point he and John Jackson got on well but that would eventually change as the boardroom atmosphere became quite toxic. Maybe the directors were a little in awe of John Bond, but he was allowed to spend the money like water. But as Bond remarked, if a board allows me to spend the money, then I will. When the team results declined, so did crowds and so did income. The end was nigh.
The Derek Gill diaries have become almost legendary in Burnley. He was always happy to print off a copy to give to people. At one point he was keen to publish them. They provide an insight into the club and how it was run. They provide a window into the working of the board, the machinations, the personalities, and most certainly Derek’s frustration at the way things were progressing…although progressing is probably the opposite of what was really happening.
Very early in the Bond season, the directors sat up long into the night after a truly dire result, they could already see that his appointment was perhaps a mistake. They debated should they bite the bullet and sack him. They did not.
It was John Jackson who originally invited Derek to the club to examine the accounts in 1981 and present a report. This he did, and in 1982 became a director. Other than bank statements and player contracts he described the situation as a shambles.
Once on the board he was given virtually a free hand to implement his recommendations and he took on the role of company secretary replacing Albert Maddox. This should not be confused with his later role as managing director when he had some of the power needed to make decisions.
It cannot be emphasised too much that he transformed the finances and even at the end of the relegation season that followed the promotion season of 1981/82, the club was healthily solvent. When the club was promoted, the Trustee Savings Bank gave generous banking terms and the Burnley Building Society sponsored a stand to the tune of £100,000. The sale of Trevor Steven added £300thousand. On top of all this there was the windfall money that came from the Bob Lord sale of the land at Lowerhouse that caused so much controversy. The legality of the sale of that land near his factory, and the way the club shared it out after his death, will forever be shrouded in doubt. Derek gleefully raked in the money from all these sources.
“Once we’d gone up were suddenly quite favoured. Multipart came in. TSB came in and in banking circles were known as Those Silly Buggars. They offered us terms that were unbelievable. They were so daft we couldn’t possibly turn them down. They were throwing money at us. Then the Burnley Building Society came on board. They were being absorbed by another society and were taking a lot of criticism for this so they came to see me and wanted to sponsor a stand. I’d never heard anything so stupid in my life but I kick myself to this day about it. I thought I’ll quote them a silly figure because negotiating was not their strong point so I asked them for £100thousand and they said yes, alright. I immediately regretted not asking them for more because it was clear they would have paid it. It was a fortune in those days when our turnover was only half a million. And just for posting their name on top of a stand. I made a suggestion that it said Burnley’s Building Society and they thought that was a stroke of genius because they wanted to deflect away some of the merger criticism. The bloke went away and came back when I said for another £25thousand we can put your name on the back of the tracksuits. We settled ALL our debts and the season ticket money was coming in. All of a sudden we had a lot of money and we’re top of the league.”
“Oh, what clever buggars we thought we were,’ he said. Self-deprecation fills his diaries.
But after promotion, it all went wrong. How that team was relegated so quickly, with so many fine players, such good cup runs, with the coffers overflowing, is one of the great puzzles of football. Derek Gill was as baffled as the next man.
And then, without his knowledge, (he was in Tenerife), John Bond was appointed by John Jackson replacing Frank Casper. In my possession is a letter from John Bond relating how he met Jackson in Manchester, was offered the job, and was then told to keep quiet for the time being. Gill was as surprised as any other supporter when the news broke and he saw it in a newspaper.
But this is a Derek Gill tribute and obituary, rather than a dissection of that season; so, suffice it to say, he saw the financial gains go to waste and the season end with the board at last dismissing Bond.
Derek’s love for the club lasted his lifetime despite some shabby treatment he received in the Teasdale era. It was a love that began in 1942 and the first game he ever saw, Burnley versus Oldham Athletic. Burnley won 3-0 with two goals from Tommy Gardner. He had a 1947 Cup Final ticket but let a relative persuade him to give it to him, no doubt for a bribe, he thinks. “You can go next year,” said his uncle but out they went in the Third Round. His favourite players back then were Harry Potts, Alan Brown and Reg Atwell (he could drink for England) and Peter Kippax.
Doing National Service (who remembers that) he got into trouble for taking leave without permission to watch them play Liverpool. Burnley lost and to add insult to injury his absence was noticed and Private Gill spent a few days doing jankers, as punishment was called back then. Entrenched in his memory were games against Liverpool, the cup semi-final, and the quarter-final game against Middlesbrough and for that game he thought he must have bunked off school. The same uncle that had taken his ticket off him in 1947 for the Cup Final was then sacked by Lucas Factory management who had warned their workforce not to take time off.
The conditions that games were played in stuck firmly in his mind, games on ice, in mud, under water, in gale force winds. The games went ahead no matter the weather. Contrast that with games postponed today for the flimsiest of reasons.
On leaving school at 15, he somehow drifted into accountancy. He passed the exams, became a chartered accountant but then soon dropped that line of work to run what he called “a proper business.” Prior to undertaking the report into the club’s finances in late 1981, his involvement with the club, other then watching games, was nil, save to enter into correspondence with Bob Lord regarding the sacking of Jimmy Adamson in 1976. He thought it was absolutely crazy and Adamson had done nothing wrong. The vitriolic reply he received from Lord remained one of his prize possessions. Although at one time he had harsh views of the dictatorial Lord and his bookkeeping, the way he made money from the club, the land deal, the sackings of Adamson and McIlroy, Gill’s opinions mellowed over the years. “His problem was that he had no money but he was so far-seeing. I didn’t give him credit for that at the time and there’s no doubt at all that his many football predictions have come true.”
At the club things ended unhappily for him. John Benson replaced John Bond and by the end of that season and relegation, Gill felt he had had enough. “I wanted out. I thought if I could have got someone in of a similar outlook to me it would have made things easier. Frank Teasdale and Basil Dearing came in and I couldn’t work with that board. I wasn’t prepared to invest money in the club unless I had a more substantial interest in it. I would only have done that on the basis of being totally in charge of the club. Somebody had to be in charge and it just wasn’t working between John and me.”
“So, I challenged John for the chairmanship and gave the board notice that I wanted to be chairman. They had a meeting. There was a vote and the vote went in favour of John. So, I left the board and spent my money on my business and it turned out to be a good business decision.”
After he left the club and things deteriorated dramatically, he put together a rescue package and went for the chairmanship a second time. He was invited to a meeting at Dearing’s offices and felt there was agreement in principle and that he would be paying the wages that week and returning as chairman. At that point it was Frank Teasdale that was chairman and the club had huge financial problems with four days to solve them and stave off insolvency. Somehow Teasdale managed to find alternative money and Gill’s hopes of taking the club over were dashed. Had he succeeded he would have invited Martin Dobson to be manager with Jimmy Adamson assuming an overseeing role. Football’s biggest word ‘IF’. If his bid for the chairmanship has succeeded, would there have been the 7 long acrimonious years in the wilderness. One thing is certain, and that is that his business and financial skills would have made him a very fine chairman. One thing that did irritate him was the suggestion that he colluded with John Bond to take over the club. That was never the case. He regarded the chairmanship of the club as the greatest prize.
The diaries are a treat to read and deserve publication in their entirety. Maybe that should be my next project. They reveal the jockeying, the manoeuvrings, the intrigue, the tasty tit bits, the politics and 101 anecdotes and behind the scenes stories. His dry wit and turns of phrase are on every page nearly. Joe Gallagher was fitness tested by running up and down steps. “Since when has football been played on a flight of stairs?” he asks.
“Up the creek without a paddle is an understatement,” he writes of the prelude to the Benson season.
A tribute such as this can only lightly touch upon the diary.
But here is a snippet about Gill the person: “I was at my worst in a committee room. I just find it impossible to suffer fools and I have to admit impatience with ditherers and hangers-on.” Oddly enough there are shades of Bob Lord there and Gill did indeed ask of himself whether or not deep down he wanted to replicate Bob Lord and just be the unquestioned dictator.” He hoped not.
What he told himself was that he would have acted for the greater good of the club and not for personal gratification. But how proud and honoured he would have been. He left the club with huge regret and feelings of emptiness and even failure. But then the club got in touch. Oh, the irony. They needed his assistance to process the wages which without him they were unable to do. This he continued to do for many weeks to come.
If he wasn’t watching Burnley on a Saturday he was singing. His passion for music came from his mother and his beginnings as a chorister at St John’s Church, Gannow. He represented the church at the Festival of Britain in 1951. He sang at festivals all over the UK, the North West, the Isle of Man, Blackpool and Llangollen. He won the prestigious Rose Bowl at Burnley Festival in 1966 and in 1970 became the first person to win it twice. He regularly sang at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool and the National Eisteddfod of Wales. Music, Burnley FC and his family were the foundations of his life. At a Jimmy McIlroy book event, a while ago his performance of Jimmy Mac’s favourite song ‘Oh Danny Boy’ was superb. Whilst he sang, you could have heard a pin drop.
He passed away peacefully in his own home and the tributes were immediate. The word ‘gentleman;’ was frequent. One tribute stood out. ‘A remarkable man of many talents and achievements but underneath all that his family meant everything to him.’ His family was his wife Kathleen, seven children and all his grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Derek Gill is a part of the history of Burnley Football Club. His thumbprint will remain forever in that, and in his diaries of a most turbulent time. He never realised his dream to be chairman of the club. More’s the pity.Follow UpTheClarets:
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