Brian Gibbs – ‘Mr. Reliable’
How much would you pay for a striker who can give you twenty goals a season, and be available to play almost every match? A bit more than the £4,000 Freddie Cox paid Bournemouth for Brian Gibbs, that’s for sure.
When Gills signed Brian in October 1962 he was 26 years of age and at his peak. Once Freddie Cox unveiled his defensive system a few months later, it became clear that Brian was exactly the type of player needed up front – strong, full of running, good in the air, able to forage on his own and worry defenders into mistakes, the ability to find space and put chances away. An exact CV for a modern forward, but a rarity back then. Brian excelled. In the five full seasons he played for us, he was leading goal-scorer in every one, and in total missed only 5 games. I don’t know whether Brian was born without any hamstrings and ligaments, but what I do know is that you could rely on him to play, and you could rely on him to score. He was the first player ever to score over 100 goals for Gillingham, banging in 101 in 259 appearances.
A Brian Gibbs goal was workmanlike rather than spectacular. As he was strong in the air he got a share of headers from corners and crosses, but his main source was to outpace defenders or get into space and belt the ball hard and low into the net. Who could argue with that? Well some old duffers did, suggesting his style was crude and the only reason he got in the team was because he was Cox’s son-in-law (he wasn’t, but it shows that totally pig-stupid thinking isn’t just a modern phenomenon). Amongst those who wanted to see Gills win, Brian Gibbs was a cult hero.
His first goal for us was a winner, a looping header over the Oldham goalkeeper to turn over the unbeaten leaders 4-3. From then on he got a goal every two or three games. More importantly, he got goals when we needed them, and most particularly when we needed one to extend the home record. In the 52 unbeaten games, we were behind in only 5 of them, and each time it was Brian who got the equaliser.
In the almost-like-clockwork goalscoring record these are some that stand out for me. April 1963 when a hat-trick of trade-mark goals beat Newport 3-1 to make us believe that we could actually go up. April 1965 when another run and strong shot won us a tough match 2-1 at Bournemouth – when again we all thought we were going up. September 1965 – we lost 5-3 at Oldham and he scored a hat-trick, the only time I have ever seen a Gills player score a hat-trick and we’ve lost. October 1965 – outpacing a Swindon defender and cracking it just inside the post to win 1-0 and silence a crowd that was vicious that day too. (It was my dad’s 57th birthday, and he was a big Brian Gibbs fan. Brian signed a card for him on the train home. Pretty good birthday all round, I thought). November 1965 – two goals in a 4-0 win in pouring rain at Oxford, and cannoning in the first one off Ron Atkinson’s ample backside. Did it sting much, Ron?
Even with the slow decline of the team under Basil Hayward, Brian still managed a good goal return, but it was clear that, like us, he was beginning to lose heart. It was no surprise when he asked for a transfer, and moved on in September 1968 to Colchester for £8,000. There he played for another 4 seasons – and achieved immortality. One of the biggest ever Cup upsets was in 1971 when Fourth Division Colchester overturned Revie’s Leeds 3-2, and he scored. A deserved triumph for a good pro and a genuinely nice bloke.