On April 9, 1989, a Nottingham Forest player delivered arguably the greatest goal-assisting pass ever seen at Wembley Stadium, and after almost 30 years, Tommy Gaynor has been talking to me at length about that day and his time with Brian Clough’s red-and-white army.
Although he left the City Ground in 1992, whenever the Irishman’s name is mentioned, you’re immediately greeted with a chorus of ‘Oooh Tommy Gaynor’ by anyone lucky enough to have seen him play.
So, when I found out he was attending the Munster Forest charity event in County Kerry in the summer, I was determined not to let pass the opportunity to interview him.
In early 1988, Gaynor was playing in front of 1,600 fans at Doncaster Rovers’ Belle Vue stadium, but 18 months later, he was a double Wembley winner with Forest. His contribution in the 1989 League Cup final was immense and for many, he was the real man-of-the-match, which was some return for the miniscule £25,000 that Clough paid for his services.
I asked Gaynor, now 55, all about that famous cup win over Luton Town. He said: “I always roomed with Des Walker on away trips and neither of us could sleep prior to the final. At 10 pm, we went down to the hotel games room, where Cloughie and the coaching staff gave us two beers each and we played snooker for the next couple of hours. We both ended up sleeping really well that night and played well the following day. Great management!”
I then asked Gaynor to talk me through THAT pass. He said: “I picked the ball up in my own half and drove forward down the right flank. I looked up and saw something that I’d never seen before -- Neil Webb sprinting! I picked him out with a long crossfield pass and he finished it beautifully. That was the real turning point in the game.”
Next, I dared to broach the subject of Stuart Pearce and the accusation he made in his book about Gaynor not contributing to the victory meal costs after the final. Gaynor said: “I’m unaware of the comments, having not read the book. Regarding myself and Stuart, we had a working understanding and that was all!”
So, what about life under the management of Clough? Gaynor said: “He was very hard to make out. I scored a hat-trick away at Chester one Wednesday night and when the teamsheet came out for QPR at the weekend, my name was on it to play. However, I arrived on the Saturday to find that it had been changed and that I wasn’t even on the bench. After the buzz of my midweek performance, I was obviously disappointed. Things like that really affect your confidence.”
The Irishman also provided an account of pure hilarity regarding his former manager. He said: “On one occasion, I was playing really well when my number came up from the sideline. Slightly bemused, I made my way off the field and took a seat in the dugout. Five minutes later, Mr Clough turned to me and asked: ‘What the hell are you doing here, son?’ Having explained that he’d taken me off, the gaffer replied by saying: ‘Oh, I thought you were Phil Starbuck!’”
While on the subject of Clough, I wanted to know if Gaynor was insulted by his gaffer’s comments regarding his omission from the squad on a certain occasion when he had been playing very well and even keeping Nigel Clough out of the side. Asked by the press if the Irishman was injured. Clough responded by saying: “He’s Irish. He probably fell over coming back from the pub!” Gaynor told me that he didn’t remember the quote, but felt it it was his manager’s typically funny way of dealing with things. He said: “It certainly wouldn’t have offended me, that’s for sure.”
Gaynor was pleased to hear he was still massively revered among Forest supporters. He said: “Yes, I got on very well with them. I always made time to chat, sign autographs and take photos. I always gave 100 per cent whenever I played for Forest. They appreciated that.”
I was honoured to have spoken with Tommy Gaynor, and I was blown away by his dignity and humility. It’s unbelievable to think he hasn’t stepped foot in Nottingham since 1992, but I’m pretty sure there would be high demand for his presence after this unexpected re-emergence. The l-word gets thrown around all too flippantly these days, but he certainly constitutes legend status in the eyes of many a Nottingham Forest supporter. Oooh Tommy Gaynor!