In my last post, I caught up with former Tiger Colin Heywood and mentioned another, Greg Wilson. I attended St. John’s Primary in Dukinfield with Greg and had a very brief chance meeting with him many years ago. The power of social media meant that his wife picked up on the previous blog about Colin and got in touch – and we met this week at his dad’s home in Dukinfield.
Stone-clad houses now dominate our former playground adjacent to St. John’s church at the end of Vicarage Drive. It was here that we spent many hours honing our skills and developing our love of the beautiful game. We’d line up and pick our teams, lay jumpers or Parka coats for goalposts and never worry if the ball went over the wall onto the road – one of us simply went and got it! Greg was never picked last. He was never picked first. He was always doing the picking! A dominant character, no one really dared to argue with this because he was just too good to endure the indignity of waiting to be picked!
When Tiger’s pioneer, Don Woodcock found him kicking a ball against the wall of the house, he quickly snapped him up, putting him in the team above his own age group where he flourished. I remember Greg being strong and tricky, powerful and accurate. He started at Duki Tigers aged 8 and stayed for some time, playing for Tameside Boys and North West England Boys as well. The scouts were on his case from the age of 11. As a teenager, he almost caught the eye of Bobby Robson during a spell at the England Centre of Excellence at Lilleshall but a toenail infection left him on the sidelines and the chance was gone.
A lifelong Liverpool fan, Greg soon attracted interest from a number of clubs including United and City, but signed as an apprentice with Oldham Athletic at 16. After 2 years he signed a professional contract with Latics which saw him play under Joe Royle and alongside the likes of Andy Ritchie, Roger Palmer and Graeme Sharp. Life as an apprentice was clearly something of a ‘mixed bag’. Greg spoke of cleaning duties and being on both ends of practical jokes and initiations, much of which is not suited to a family audience (but let’s just say the lads were very creative with cans of ‘Deep Heat,’ tubs of vaseline and boot polish!).
His playing career took him to St. James’ Park, Maine Road and Goodison Park to name a few. But when I asked him about his favourite time, he had no doubt – a testimonial match at Anfield in front of 25,000+ fans, for the late Wayne Harrison. Harrison’s record-breaking transfer from Oldham to Liverpool saw him become the most expensive 17-year old, but his time at Anfield was blighted by injures.
Greg also recalls playing against the stars of United’s Class of ’92 and scoring a perfect hat-trick against the now famous Ryan ‘Wilson’ at Salford Boys. The other Wilson (now known as ‘Giggs’) also scored that day and the game ended in a 3-3 draw.
His most painful memory (literally) came in a match against Man United reserves in 1992 where he was clattered and flattened by Bryan Robson. It clearly left an impression on Greg as he winces when he describes it! Robson was returning from injury and Greg thought his luck was in that day as Robson was smelling heavily of booze. Robson was known to like a pint ‘or two’ as a player, but it hardly seemed to matter as he was captaining United and England so well. It didn’t affect his performance that day either as he let the young centre midfielder and his teammates know he was there!
At 21 Greg left Oldham and had a brief spell with Hyde United as a semi-pro before taking an opportunity to work in finance, which is how he still earns a living. He is married, has two daughters and a young son. When I ask him about getting back into football, and maybe doing a bit of coaching he doesn’t rule it in or out but I get the feeling he might jump at the chance if it was offered…
What has struck me from my meetings with both Colin and Greg is the enjoyment they’ve had from football and the way they’ve been able to leave it behind and move on once it finished. A career in football is the privilege of only a few and for many of these it is short-lived. But (don’t try to tell this to a 10-year old) there is more to life than football. And I can say, without the slightest hint of bias, that you DO need to listen to your teachers (Colin, lol!) when they tell you to think of a second career…just in case.
This Tiger Tale was written by Tiger’s parent and club chairman, John Taylor. His two children train and play with the Tigers.
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