New Gosport Borough boss Shaun Gale enjoying his ‘good blend’ after arriving at a ‘crossroads’ in his life last autumn

Last autumn, Shaun Gale had reached a ‘crossroads’.

Tuesday, 16th June 2020, 3:17 pm
Shaun Gale pictured during his time as Hawks boss in 2008. Picture: Dave Haines

After 34 years in football - more than half of them spent with Hawks as a player, assistant manager and manager - he found himself out of the game.

A short stint as assistant to Lee Bradbury at Eastbourne Borough ended with the pair walking out just 13 games into the new National League South campaign amid a backdrop of the Sussex club restructuring their finances.

‘Things didn’t work out, but we left on good terms,’ Gale stated.

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Shaun Gale with Gosport chairman Iain McInnes after being unveiled as the new Borough boss. Pic: Colin Farmery.

‘But I was now at a crossroads. I’d just turned 50, I’d been in football since I was 16, I needed to do something else,’ he told The News.

That ‘something else’ took him to Horndean a week before Christmas where he started a new job at the Key2 Group, a company specialising in plastic and acrylic displays.

Taking on the title of operations director, Gale has been kept spectacularly busy - the demand for plastic screens has obviously rocketed since Covid-19 took Britain in its grip three months ago.

Despite that busy workload, the football bug still bites hard. After a lifetime involved in the sport, that is no surprise.

Shaun Gale pictured with Lee Molyneaux, who he has replaced as Gosport Borough manager. Picture: Keith Woodland

As a result, he was only too happy to accept the chance to replace Lee Molyneaux as Gosport Borough head coach - the club’s official title, instead of ‘manager’ - when chairman Iain McInnes offered him a route back into management for the first time in just over eight years.

Gale was unveiled as the Southern League Premier South club’s fourth permanent boss in just over two years last week.

He was no stranger to Privett Park, with Molyneaux having brought him to the club in January to help out with coaching.

There were many familiar faces - the likes of Rory Williams, Theo Lewis, Matt Paterson, Mike Carter, Dan Strugnell and Marley Ridge had all worked with Gale at Westleigh Park the previous season.

Fairytale day - Shaun Gale on the Anfield touchline with Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez in January 2008

‘I knew Lee well, I’d worked with him at Havant - he helped out with sports science and coaching for the last few years I was there,’ said Gale.

‘When Lee rang me I’d been out of the game for the first time in 34 years. It was nice, and I’m sure my family enjoyed seeing a lot more of me.

‘I was only there for eight weeks or so before the season ended, I was taking the coaching.

‘I really enjoyed it, I knew a lot of the players.

‘I was sad to see Lee leave, but when the chairman rang me and asked if I wanted to take the job on I was more than happy to say yes.

‘I’m loving the job with Key2, they’re a really good company - it’s given me a different insight.

‘My day job is massively important to me, but I can do the Gosport job part-time - it’s only really Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

‘I’ve got a good blend now.

‘I’ve always enjoyed the coaching side, I never really saw myself as a manager, I’d never thought about that.

‘I learnt a few harsh lessons at Havant, but that was a long time ago. I know I’m a far better coach now, a far better manager.’

Gale’s name will forever be etched into Hampshire non-league football folklore for overseeing Hawks’ run to the fourth round of the FA Cup in 2007/08.

Just weeks after stepping up from his assistant manager role to replace Ian Baird, Gale found himself sharing an Anfield touchline with Rafael Benitez.

‘When Ian left it was a shock. I was enjoying the coaching, being the manager was not something I thought I was going to do,’ Gale recalled.

Though Baird wanted Gale to follow him to Eastleigh, the former Portsmouth defender stayed put - and was glad he did.

‘I didn’t think it was for me, at the time I saw Havant as the bigger club,’ Gale reasoned.

‘I had no reason to leave, and if I had left then Liverpool would never have happened, not for me anyway.

‘There were lots of things going on behind the scenes.

‘The club had some debt, we were being badgered for some of our players. Ian and I fell out for a while, they (Eastleigh) were looking to get players on the cheap. Some players wanted to leave, the club weren’t prepared to let them go …

‘You could say my first managerial job was lot of fun and games!’

Gale was sacked towards the end of the 2011/12 Conference South season, but remained at Westleigh Park running the community scheme that was started up with cash made from the 2007/08 FA Cup odyssey.

When Lee Bradbury replaced Stuart Ritchie as manager in October 2012, he had no hesitation in asking Gale to be his assistant. It was a partnership that lasted seven eventful seasons, taking in two promotions and two relegations.

When Bradbury left Westleigh Park in April 2019 following Hawks’ relegation from the National League, Gale resigned his role shortly after.

‘I had seven great years with Lee, I was sad to leave. I get on well with Paul Doswell, and he wanted me to stay,’ explained Gale.

‘I just felt it was the right time to go, so everyone could have a fresh start.

‘Looking back, I wouldn’t change a minute of it. There were some lows - getting relegated is not nice. But we bounced back unbelievably by winning the Ryman and then the Conference South.

‘It was a shame we couldn’t stay in the National League, but that’s a full-time league and you need to be full-time. The players did really well under the circumstances but when you’re spending six or seven hours on a coach and then playing a game it is difficult.

‘I was happy to be an assistant, I loved my time with Lee, we had some fantastic times.

‘Who knows, I might work with him again, that would be nice.’

Gale is now planning to bring in an experienced face to help him plot Gosport’s return to the sixth tier of English football - the club were relegated from the National League South in 2016/17.

‘It’s not easy winning football matches, though some might think so,’ said Gale. ‘You need to have the right people around you, and I’m working hard on that.

‘I’ll be looking to bring in a new first team coach, someone with a lot of experience - someone similar to myself.

‘I won’t rush it - there’s no point rushing things in football at the moment …’

Gale praised Borough chairman Iain McInnes for his work in helping to turn the club into one at the heart of their community.

That has included fundraising to help the vulnerable during the pandemic via an online ‘Feed a Family in Need with the Boro’ campaign.

Initially aiming to raise £2,500, the total has just passed the £9,000 mark.

‘The people of Gosport owe him (McInnes), because he saved the club,’ said Gale.

‘He wants Gosport to be a real community club.

‘They’ve done an unbelievable job with the food scheme - I don’t see many clubs doing things like that.

‘The chairman’s driven it, he’s financed it - they’ve raised an amazing amount of money.

‘I am sure the people of Gosport are thankful, and hopefully they will turn up to support the club in their masses when we do return.

‘There’s lots of good things going on here. They’ve just brought the youth section on board, and so it should be - they should be a big part of the club.

‘The older ones, 16/17 years old, they should be looking to see if there is a pathway to the first team.

‘I want local boys coming through like Rory Williams, he’s a local lad, he loves playing for the club.’

McInnes has said that Gosport ‘under-performed’ in 2019/20 and will be anticipating a strong promotion challenge when 2020/21 gets underway.

Gale is happy to have that pressure.

‘The Southern League is a difficult league, a physical league,’ he said.

‘My aim is to get out of it, but it’s going to be competitive.

‘There was a thought that Gosport were big spenders last season, but that won’t be the case now. We’ll be ok, but we won’t be spending silly money.

‘It shouldn’t be about the money, it should be about the players.’

It was finance that was behind defender Sam Roberts’ decision to leave Privett Park and join Steve Claridge’s Salisbury.

‘Financially we couldn’t compete with what they are offering,’ Gale stated..

‘That’s football. In my early days as a manager I might have got the hump, but I want people at Gosport who first and foremost want to be there. Money comes after that.

‘The game needs a reset. Perhaps players who want to play for money will find that the pay packets won’t be there - I think that will be better for the game.'