Star Q&A: Scot Gemmill

By Chris Rattue

Scot Gemmill's football travels have brought him into contact with the most famous names in the British game.

The late Brian Clough, the call-a-spade-a-spade club manager, had a big part in launching Gemmill's career. Gemmill also rubbed shoulders with Roy Keane and Wayne Rooney, among others.

The name that looms largest, though, is that of his father, Archie Gemmill, an integral part of the great Derby County and Nottingham Forest sides and a much-loved Scottish midfielder.

There are parallels in the father's and son's careers - for one, they are among the elite band of Scottish footballers who went to World Cup finals, although their experiences once there were vastly different.

The similarities certainly don't extend to physical appearance, however.

Archie had a famously old-looking head, due to a prematurely lost hairline.

His midfielder son, now 35, cuts a schoolboy-like figure. A crop of collar-length hair sits atop a slight frame, and the look is completed by sagging socks if you catch him training at North Harbour Stadium with the Knights.

But with 400-plus games for Nottingham Forest and Everton and 27 for Scotland, Gemmill is the senior pro in the new-look Knights squad.

With a charming humility, Gemmill took a quick trip down memory lane for the Herald, and had a peep at his venture into the Hyundai A-League.

Your father's career meant you were raised in England, yet you were born in his home town of Paisley in Scotland.

I'm proud of feeling Scottish. Dad sent my mother home for my birth. My [younger] sister was born in England, though, the only member of our family who was.

Did having a famous Dad help your career?

When your father is famous from day one in your life, it seems completely normal. It was definitely a help. I would not be a footballer if my dad hadn't been Archie Gemmill. At 15 or 16, when decisions are made about young footballers becoming professionals, I was physically immature and nowhere near good enough. I was only given the chance as an apprentice at Nottingham Forest because my surname was Gemmill, because of the friendship between Brian Clough and my father. Mr Clough had watched me grow up. He was apparently in our house trying to sign Dad for Derby County while my mother was heavily pregnant with me.

Legend has it he threatened to sleep in a car outside your house until your Dad signed. Bit of a character, Brian Clough.

You didn't want to let him down, even if he asked you to go and get him something to eat. I used to take his dog for a walk when I was an apprentice. It was all part of the experience under Mr Clough.

And Roy Keane? The man is a legend, but he's also crackers, isn't he?

He was just emerging in my first year at Forest. He was a great player but I'd be lying to claim I knew the impact he would have. But he had that hunger not to be beaten. You couldn't help but be influenced by it.

And young Mr Rooney?

I've got nothing but respect for Wayne. On the whole, he's handled things well. The guy is under observation virtually 24 hours a day, which is hard. There was talk in the Everton dressing room about him when he was still in the youth team. He started training with the first team as a schoolboy. Players can be intimidated in that situation but not Wayne.

English football has changed drastically in your time.

I played in the first-ever televised premiership match in the early 90s. Forest beat Liverpool 1-0. I played a season in the old English first division and you would have lost the argument then if you claimed it was the best league in the world. But you can easily argue the premiership is now the best. People like me have to pinch ourselves when you hear of players earning £100,000 a week, so the man in the street must find it hard to comprehend. But in any walk of life, who says "you don't need to pay me that?"

Your dad scored a long-remembered goal against Holland in the 1978 World Cup finals. Did he regale you with stories from his playing days?

My father isn't like that. Even when prompted to speak about it he's very quiet and private on his thoughts.

And so to your World Cup, France 1998.

I didn't cross the white line and play, so it's bittersweet. If you'd said to me at 18 "you're going to go to the 1998 World Cup" I would have snapped your hand off. But the best way to put it is this. Scotland are playing Brazil in the opening game in the Stade de France, a full stadium, helicopter escort to the ground, the opening ceremony, and you're sitting two yards from the game, in your kit, and you're not allowed to play. I warmed up all right - I was the keenest substitute in history. Heartbreaking - the frustration is still unbearable.

How about a career highlight?

A cup final at a full Wembley Stadium. We beat Southampton 3-2. I scored goals at either end of Wembley. It wasn't a prestigious cup, but still a boyhood dream. A week later we lost the League Cup final to Manchester United. I went home in tears.

Any other lows? Might as well get them out of the way.

I played for Forest twice when they were relegated. Luckily we won promotion next season but it didn't take away the humiliation, the sick feeling of being relegated.

Speaking of heartbreak, the Knights. It's a big call, leaving a player-coaching job at Oxford to join this mob. They're lucky there's no relegation.

When Jim Smith got the manager's job at Oxford, he asked me to be player-coach. It was a great opportunity - [English manager] Steve McLaren started off under Jim so you think this could lead to good things. But I'd already talked to Paul Nevin at the Knights and the offer came in a week later. My girlfriend Ruth and I had always wanted an opportunity like this. Believe me, I know how lucky I am, to be able to come to the other side of the world to do the thing I love doing, and experience another culture.

What's your link with Paul Nevin?

I played for Leicester reserves against Fulham reserves last year, and I'm sure Paul was in charge of Fulham. Our side was young and hopefully he saw I could influence them in a positive way. We are both friends with David Weir, the Everton captain, and Paul rang him to see if he thought I was a good professional.

Have you settled in well?

We arrived in May, and are living in Devonport. I feel quite at home. We don't have children yet, which has almost been a conscious decision in case this sort of opportunity arose. It's a lot easier without babies, sorting out schools, etc.

There's a bit to sort out at the Knights though.

It's a totally new team, which is quite exciting. A good mix, including six players from last year who need to prove they can be part of a successful team and people like me with personal challenges. I have to prove I can still play at this level. The team has to get pride back into the club.

What will be your role?

The manager wants me to play my game, which is great. I don't have to pretend to be something I'm not. I'm not a standout individual renowned for beating a man with speed and skill. The way I play is very simple. Part of my job will be to give direction ... I'll speak to my teammates positively and if younger players want to talk to me about anything football-related, I'll be more than happy. I believe I'm more than capable of helping them out.

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