Some times the word ‘Legend’ can be handed out too easily nowadays but in my opinion, Gavin has earned the right to be called a Dundee Legend with all that he has done for the club.
It was with great delight that he agreed to this interview and I’m sure that all the followers TDB will enjoy it.
You came through the youth ranks of Dens Park but you hail from Aberdeen. How did signing for Dundee come around?
I trained with Aberdeen as a youngster but never got offered S forms. I ended up playing for them in the youth cup and getting to the quarter finals which was a great run. We beat Dunfermline at East End Park 5-3. The same guy scored 5 for us.
Then Jim Duffy and John McCormack came to watch me in Aberdeen playing for my club side not long after a Dundee FC scout called Mike Will had told them I was doing well. They came up and watched me and Jerry O Driscoll at the same time and they wanted to sign us both. He asked my family down with me to Dundee and was very courteous and generous to my family and made a great impression on me. I ended up signing and leaving school in 5th year, halfway through my Highers as I was desperate to play football full time.
So it wasn’t a hard decision to sign up for the youth team.
March 23rd 1996. Dundee v Hamilton at Broadwood Stadium in front of just 828 fans. You replaced Andy Cargill to make your senior debut. How did that feel and do you remember anything about the game?
I remember coming on for Andy, not much about the actual game. I was a little nervous but that season I was so full of confidence that I wasn’t fazed at all.
For the remainder of the season you went on to feature in 6 of the 7 games left to play including being in the starting line-up for 4 of them. Jim Duffy was the manager who gave you the chance to break into the 1st team. How instrumental was Duffy in your early years at Dens?
Duff was very instrumental and I owe a lot to him. He threw me in there and backed me to play. I just wanted to do well to justify that decision. And playing in the same side with him was a great experience also. He was quality.
The next season you went on to make another 22 appearances and including 2 goals. Your 1st goal was scored at home in a 2-0 victory over Falkirk on December 7th. Could you describe the feeling of scoring your first professional goal?
I remember I lifted it over the goalie (Can’t remember who it was) but as I did he smashed me so I was sprawling on the ground as it went in I think. But obviously delighted to score my first goal.
When Jim Duffy left to take over Hibs, John McCormack would be his replacement but you would find it hard to feature in his plans. Did McCormack ever give you an indication of his reason for leaving you out?
Cowboy had some budget and signed some players so maybe it was that but no he never indicated I wouldn’t play much. It was strange as I played in every game for the youth team and most of the reserve games when he was the manager of them but when he became first team manager things changed. It was weird but I totally understand people’s outlooks and views change depending on circumstances.
He was at one point away to sell you to Brechin City when Dundee were battling away for promotion at the top of the table. How frustrating did it feel to see Dundee being at the top of the table but the manager didn’t see you in his plans?
Very frustrating and tough times. From being super confident to not feeling confident at all as I wasn’t playing and rated was tough to take. But mentality in football is so important so you have to stay strong.
When McCormack was replaced by Jocky Scott, he gave everyone a chance to prove themselves and you duly grabbed that opportunity with both hands. In Dundee’s first season in the SPL after winning the 1st Division, you claimed a starting place in the first eleven. How much of an influence was Jocky in helping you achieve this?
Jocky is probably the most important manager in my career as he gave me my chance again when I looked to be on the way out. We played a few practice matches when he came in so he could see everyone. I relished another chance and did well in these game and he pretty much stuck me straight in and stuck by me for pretty much the whole time he was there. It was a great period.
You helped Dundee finish in their highest league position and also above Dundee United for the first time in 25 years in that season. It was changed days for the fans who were used to fighting away in the Old 1st Division but just how much of a difference did you see in the club from when you first joined?
It was a huge difference. The stands were being built behind the goals. We beat hearts in all four games. The whole club was buzzing. And the team and spirit we had was amazing. Some great characters.
What was it like playing in the Dundee Derbies and what’s your best memories of them?
I loved the derbies. The atmosphere was always electric. Obviously scoring in one was amazing, even if it was from a yard out! But some of the games when we were so on top were ones to remember. The Juan derby, Giorgi’s chip, James volley etc. all special.
When Ivano Bonetti took over in the summer of 2000, did you feel your place was under threat from the influx of foreign players that were coming through the door?
Of course. Dario didn’t even know my name and called me number 12 (training kit number) and id went from playing every single game bar one the season before to not even being on the bench the first few games. Then Patrizio Billio got sent off at St Mirren and I got a chance and took it basically.
You of course kept your spot in the team, one of the few Scottish players to do so, and impressed on a weekly basis. How much of an influence was the new manager and also your new continental team mates?
It was a very interesting time. The training was really different. Lots of tactical work and fitness based training but I really enjoyed seeing something new and learning. So when Saturday came we were really organised and obviously had some special talents in our team.
Ivano famously claimed you were worth pounds 10million and could hold his own in Italy’s tough Serie A. This was after Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri watched you in a midweek game against Rangers at Ibrox which Dundee won 2-0. Mark Hatley was also in the national press urging you to move to abroad or to the English Premier League. From nearly being sold to Brechin City to having a £10 million price tag slapped on your head, how surreal was this all?
Very surreal, I was at the top of my game. Buzzing. Loving it. That game at ibrox I had one of my best games ever so I think he just meant how valuable I was to our team at the moment but even that meant a lot.
How influential was it working under the Bonettis and of course the foreign talent such as Caniggia, Ketsbia, Nemsadze, Caballero and Sara to name a few?
As I touched on, they had their own methods and it worked well for us. And the blend of foreign players and Scottish spine of the team worked really well together.
All your hard work paid off for yourself when you were called up to the Scotland squad to replace the injured Barry Ferguson. You were an unused sub for the friendly against San Marino but you would start and play the full 90 minutes against Poland in the following friendly. What was that experience like?
Ivano actually made a bet with me that I would play for Scotland that season. I think I’m still due him some money!
But to play for the national team and even to train with the squad etc. was dream come true material and doesn’t seem as if it real at all.
In total with Dundee, you won 8 caps with Scotland and now sit proudly as joint 5th in the list Dees who have represented their national team with Dark Blues legend Ian Ure.
It really means a lot. To be anywhere near a guy like that is huge so I am blessed to be in that position.
The Bonetti era never lasted as long as most people thought it would and Jim Duffy would take over the reins at Dens. Was he any different from the first time around and did the way the club went about its day-to-day business change?
Duff had mellowed a little! Just a little! I liked Duff as there wasn’t any bullshit. He told it as it was, if you were playing well he would tell you and same if you were having a poor game. We still had a Scottish spine but with some of the foreign lads left over from the Bonetti’s and they enjoyed his training and methods also.
Duffy led the team to its first Scottish Cup final since 1964 against Rangers. What can you remember of that cup run and also the final itself?
I remember scoring in the first game of the run at thistle and then we just got some momentum and kept going. Beating Aberdeen at home was big then getting a chance at Hampden against Caley which I was captain in as Barry was suspended. To captain us through to final was an amazing feeling. Then the day came I remember it being boiling hot and we played well but couldn’t score and they scored from a corner. Gutted at the end of it.
The following season we entered Europe for the first time since 1974. In the preliminary round against K.S Vllaznia at Dens Park, you scored an absolute peach of a goal to send the Dees into the 1st round of the Uefa Cup. You had made your mark on the European scene. How did you find your first experience of playing on this stage?
Really enjoyable. You basically can’t tackle in European games without it being a foul so you have to change your game a little. It becomes more tactical but certainly an enjoyable experience and a learning curve also. And the goal, well sometimes it comes off and sometimes it goes over the stand!
I mentioned your goal in Europe but have you any favourite goals that you scored for us?
The left foot strike against St Johnstone was a mark of my confidence at the time and the last-minute winner at ibrox was special also. My brother-in-law mark Robertson set me up for a goal at Kilmarnock one day also that I caught sweetly too.
Not long after, Dundee revealed they had severe financial problems and entered administration. You eventually signed for Rangers which gave the club some much-needed funds but what was your feelings about leaving the club you had spent 8 years with?
I was sad to be moving on but think it was the right time to do so, financially the club got a little boost and I had an opportunity to move to a club that was competing for trophies every year.
Your time at Ibrox was hampered by injury but you still managed to win the League title with them and also become the club captain. How would you rate your time in Glasgow?
Very disappointing. Injury ridden and never really got going. Unfulfilled an opportunity I had down to reasons that were hard to control, but to see a club like that and how they operate was a great experience.
Cardiff was your next point of call and your first season with them proved to be very successful for you. 55 appearances in total and despite the defeat, starting in the FA Cup Final against Portsmouth. Was playing in England always a goal for yourself?
I wouldn’t say it was something I thought about every day but always if something came up I would like to try it. I would have liked to play abroad maybe. But yeah the moved to Cardiff turned out to be an excellent choice. FA cup final-play off final etc. amazing.
After a few seasons with Cardiff, you returned back North and signed for Dundee for the 2nd time on a short-term contract. You would then move on at the end of the season and sign for Aberdeen. Was this always a boyhood dream that you wanted to achieve?
It was, l went to watch Aberdeen with my dad a lot when I was younger so to be given a chance to sign for them was huge to me and my family.
You then signed for Dundee for the 3rd time in what would be your final season in Scotland. You were also made club captain. Was this a case of coming home to where it all began before you retired?
It just seemed a great fit, to be captain of the club I started at as a youngster and a 3rd spell- very grateful to the club to come back. You played all 42 games we played that season. Not too shabby for a 35 year old!
Yeah I trained every day also. I’ve looked after myself and have always been naturally fit so I just wanted to carry on as much as I could. Games are the most important though and yeah I was delighted to have played as much. I enjoyed being able to try and rub off on some of the younger ones. The way to approach being a pro etc.
In the lead up to the final few games of the season, Dundee and Hamilton were basically neck and neck. Hamilton eventually went ahead with 2 games to go after we were defeated away to Morton. Did the players feel they had blown it after this result?
Pretty much yeah. Same as everyone really. At that stage of the season to lose down there was gutting and we were waiting on favours from others.
The Alloa game was surreal. Hamilton were expected to beat Dumbarton but what occurred that afternoon was amazing with Dundee reclaiming the top spot. What were you thinking when you heard the fans cheering each goal Dumbarton had scored?
I really fancied Dumbarton that day, we all did. It’s a tough place to go and Hamilton had struggled against them at times during the season I think. So we needed to take care of our business and see what happened elsewhere. I actually never heard the cheering. Maybe a little butI like to focus on my game a lot so can be oblivious to other things.
What was the atmosphere like in the dressing room like after the Alloa game?
When the fans invaded the pitch, it felt great to feel the energy from them after we won and Dumbarton had won so we were top. But if I’m honest, I was that focussed on the next weeks match already that I wasn’t interested in celebrating anything. Nothing had been achieved as yet and I told the boys after the manager said the same that it was time to focus on the match. Don’t get carried away etc.
Prior to the final game of the season, did the squad and manager know of your intention of hanging up your boots?
I had told the manager about 4 weeks prior, it just felt the right time for my family as my kids were at a good age to move. He understood and said we would talk about it again at the end of the season. Not sure if he was trying to convince me to stay but my mind was made up. Win or lose the league I was going. So it felt very strange at the end of the game as it was over but I wanted to do it on my terms rather than be forced out down the line or not play as much as would have liked the next year etc.
I had touched on it with my team mates but they didn’t know I had definitively decided.
I also had another year on my deal automatically if we were promoted which kicked in after we won the league but I had already decided to politely decline the option.
And to end on such a high was amazing and wouldn’t be topped so it felt fitting to bow out winning the championship and having a pitch invasion of happy Dee’s.
Dens Park was full to the rafters of Dundee fans for the final game of the season on the 3rd of May. This was the first time I’ve saw Dens sold out and it being all Dundee fans. Can you describe what it was like to see Dens Park like this?
It was unbelievable scenes. A sold out stadium of all home fans is unheard off. Dens when it is packed and buzzing is a great place to play football.
With Dundee 2-0, Dumbarton pulled one back. At the same time, Hamilton were knocking them past Morton and clawing back the goal difference needed. The atmosphere within Dens took a knock, especially with Dumbarton then taking the game to the Dees. Did the players know what was happening at Hamilton?
Again, I never knew a thing about the other score. We got our goals at good times and just hung on really without being under massive pressure.
Kyle Letherens save was absolutely magic but at the same time one that made everyone’s hearts skip a few beats. Did you ever think that Dumbarton were going to spoil the party?
Kyle’s save was unreal, I was positioned about 10 yards back from the header and as soon as he connected I thought ‘uh oh’ but somehow he managed to claw it round the post. It’s one of the best saves I’ve seen live. I honestly thought even if Dumbarton equalised we would still win it as I didn’t think it was possible for Hamilton to make up the ground on us in goals. How wrong was I! The manager told me when I got back in the result from Hamilton. I was shocked. So Kyle’s save became even more prevalent.
Full time came and we were Champions! It was a great moment for us long suffering fans and you could see just how much it meant to the players and everyone involved with the club. You also got your hands on the trophy that Sir Bobby Cox famously lifted in ’62. Out of all the honours and achievements you won in your career, how would you rate this moment?
It was an immeasurable honour for me to lift the trophy Sir Bobby lifted as captain of the club that had treated me so well over the years in what was my last professional game. It was so fitting and couldn’t be topped. That and my Scotland caps are my career highlights.
You immigrated to Australia with your family not long after leaving Dundee. Was this always the plan you had?
Yes, I met my Aussie wife when she visited her sis and Brother in law Mark Robertson and she moved from Sydney to Dundee. We spent 12 years in the UK but always with the vision of moving to Oz. We bought a house in Sydney in 2007, always with a view of heading there as a family.
You currently run a clothing range called Seven One Zero which seems to be very successful and your involved with Sports Career UK which helps sports professionals progress their careers. Were these two business ventures something you were always going to do when you retired?
I’ve always tried to keep my options open for when I finished up playing full time. So I have my coaching badges up to my A licence and also my two businesses. It’s good to be involved in these things. Both SevenOneZero and SportCareers are bubbling along nicely and we will keep pushing them to progress. Helping young players that exit the game and also experienced coaches getting their marketing sorted for future roles and new jobs also, has been very interesting and we have had some conversations with some big hitters as testimonials for our clients. All interesting stuff.
Have you a message to the Dundee fans?
All I can say is thanks for everything. The club will always have a special place in my heart for the way the supporters have treated me over the years. And I hope in representing the club I made you proud and happy to support the Dee.