The tale of Terry Gibson at Manchester United is one that oozes frustration and curiosity at what might have been.
Terry arrived at the club in early 1986 from Coventry City where he recorded an impressive tally of 52 goals in just over 100 appearances and remembers the speculation in the weeks leading up to the transfer: “There was a lot of talk in the press and Peter Barnes who’d been at Coventry with me before he left to join United rang me and said that Ron Atkinson had asked would I be interested in coming to Manchester United, which was a daft question.
“Of course I said yes, that was the first I knew of any definite interest, I knew that Ron had been watching a few Coventry matches that I’d played and scored in.
“My transfer was part of a swap deal, with Alan Brazil going to Coventry so the Don drove me up there because he had to meet Alan. When we got there I went in one office and Alan went in another with Don McKay. I went to see Ron Atkinson and 20 minutes later it was all done.”
Terry made his debut soon after as a substitute in a 2-1 defeat to West Ham at Upton Park and remembers being keen to get involved in his first appearance in United shirt: “I was pleased to get on, I’d been playing regularly at Coventry and scoring regularly as well so I was keen to get involved straight away.
“I think Bryan Robson came off injured towards the end so I was able to get on and make my debut. It was a live TV game as well so it was a clear sign that I was playing for a big club.”
Terry spent the next few months frustrated at his lack of opportunities in the first team, as he found himself competing with established strikers like Peter Davenport and Mark Hughes, who had agreed a deal to join Barcelona but wasn’t leaving until the end of the 1985/86 season.
“Before Mark left, Peter Davenport signed as well and he was an England international and then when Alex Ferguson took over Norman Whiteside started playing up front again and they had Frank Stapleton there as well, it was tough and I wanted to play regular football. I think that I could have done a good job for Manchester United given the opportunity, I scored a lot of goals at Coventry in a team that was trying to avoid relegation.
“When you go to a club like United you’re playing with better players and you should win more games and get more chances, it took a lot out of me to go a year without starting a home game, it knocked my confidence.”
Terry scored his only goal for the club in a 2-0 win over Arsenal at Old Trafford in January 1987 and remembers the relief at getting his first goal for the club nearly a year since he signed.
“It was my first start at Old Trafford and I was fed up by that time, I’d lost a lot of confidence and didn’t have any rhythm in my game at all. It got to the stage where I’d already nearly left the club once to go to Watford, one of the reasons I didn’t go was because I thought if I was going to leave Manchester United I wanted to at least score a goal.
“The Arsenal game was a big game, they were on a massive unbeaten run in the league and were one of the best teams. Sir Alex Ferguson had not long been in charge and he was giving people a chance, so I hoped that I would get a chance. I had a couple of sub appearances that went well then I finally got a start.
“It was a big game to get a start in and I was up for it, I made the first goal for Gordon Strachan and he repaid the favour by laying one on a plate for me. From six yards out, he squared it when he could have gone for goal himself and I just side footed it into the back of the net. It was a relief to be honest, it was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
“I must admit I was quite emotional because I had gone through a lot in that year, not getting many chances to play. It was a goal that I had been scoring for Coventry with my eyes shut but it was a totally different scenario in front of the Stretford End against Arsenal.”
When asked to compare the two managers he played under at Manchester United, Terry says there is no comparison between Ron Atkinson and the man who replaced him, Sir Alex Ferguson: “I had no relationship with Ron Atkinson, from day one really I couldn’t understand why he bought me.
“There was no encouragement, I wouldn’t say we didn’t get on, there was just no relationship there really. I spent most of time under Ron training and playing in the reserves, I just thought it was poor from him that he spent decent money on a player and just didn’t fancy me. He actually told me once that he should have signed Cyrille Regis instead of me from Coventry so that was bad management on his part and not a great way to encourage a player.
“When Fergie took over everyone had a chance, it was clear that everyone was going to be treated on level terms. Training was better, the organisation was much better and I genuinely felt that when he took over that if I worked hard in training and in the reserves he’d true to his word and I’d get a chance and I did.
“If I’m being honest it was probably a lost cause for me because I’d been out for so long. The reason I left Tottenham as a youngster was to get first team football, I wanted to play in big games in front of big crowds that people cared about.
“I was grateful for Fergie giving me an opportunity, when a new manager takes over, particularly at Manchester United, the speculation is rife about who will be leaving, my name was always being reported as someone who was going to leave while there were rumours Brian McClair was going to join the club so I knew that there wasn’t going to be a long term future for me at the club as a regular player. If I’d stayed I might have got a few games here and there and been on the bench a few times but I wanted to get back to playing week in week out.”
Terry left the club in the summer of 1987 after 18 months and total of 27 appearances, his strike against Arsenal at Old Trafford being his only goal for the club. Despite his tough time at the club he insists that he has no regrets: “I’m immensely proud to say that I scored a goal for Manchester United at the Stretford End, I know there’s quite a few people who can say they did that but not an awful lot.
“I think that took a bit of the pain away, if I hadn’t of scored a goal and had left after 18 months without having that feeling and emotion of scoring a goal for Manchester United that would have probably lived with me for the rest of my life, I’d have loved it to have been more than one goal but it was just something I had to do before I left. I’d still be there now if I hadn’t scored.
“I’m proud and privileged to have played for Manchester United and wore the red shirt. I actually had the chance to go back to Tottenham when I left Coventry, the team I supported but I chose United and that’s how much it means to play for a club like Manchester United, I chose them over the team I supported as a kid so it meant a lot to me to join them.”
After leaving Old Trafford Terry joined Wimbledon where he was part of the side that famously upset Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup final before going onto play for Swindon Town, Peterborough United and Barnet before moving into coaching, he now works for Sky Sports as a pundit on Spanish football.
Of the current United side, Terry is very enthusiastic about the appointment of Louis Van Gaal and also about United’s two new signings this summer Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera, who he knows well from his work in Spanish football.
“Both are really good signings, I probably know a lot more about Ander Herrera who I recommended to clubs four or five years ago before he signed for Athletic Bilbao and I think he’s worth every penny United have spent on him, he’s a fantastic footballer and I think the supporters will love him.
“He’s a typical Spanish midfield player in terms of technique and skill, he’s got a bit of fire in his belly and doesn’t mind a tackle. Last year when it didn’t work out I was disappointed because I thought he would have been great for United so I was surprised this year when out of the blue it finally went through.
“As for Louis Van Gaal he’s been a fantastic manager and I think the best is yet to come from him. I think with his experience everything will come together at Manchester United. We’ve seen that in the World Cup, he’s taken a squad with just two outstanding players and he overachieved with that team. I think England had a squad of better individual players than Holland but look what they both achieved. I think he’s the right man at the right time for Manchester United, I’m 100% certain of that.”