Ex-QPR and Millwall defender Gavin Maguire: I was banished from Portsmouth's first-team for 16 months, all I did was train with the kids. Jim Smith's treatment still hurts
The exile from Pompey’s first-team spanned 16 months, a brutal banishment consisting of training with youngsters and turning out for the reserves.
During a period in which the Blues fulfilled 54 matches in Division One – the versatile Gavin Maguire was denied involvement in any of them.
The Welsh international’s exclusion was initiated by Jim Smith, curiously the same manager who handed him a Football League debut as a teenager during QPR days together.
They would reunite at Fratton Park in the summer of 1991, yet the pair’s simmering animosity resulted in the swift estrangement of Maguire – ensuring 491 days without a league appearance.
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‘That’s the nature of the beast. If a manager doesn't really want you, it doesn't matter how you feel about the club or the fans, you’re scuppered,’ Maguire told The News.
‘Me and Jim Smith didn’t really have any arguments at QPR, it was more when we came together at Pompey. We both got into a position where neither of us were prepared to budge - and the final straw was the 1992 FA Cup semi-final.
‘He wasn’t playing me, I was in the reserves and training with the youngsters. Then, a week before Liverpool, Awfs picked up a thigh injury, so Smithy pulled me into the squad.
‘We stayed at a hotel in Hertfordshire ahead of the match and, at training the day before, I was on absolute fire. Everything I did was ridiculous, I looked like a world beater, Smithy had a player really up for it.
‘He told me I was playing in the semi-final at Highbury. I went to bed the night before thinking about it, this was my chance to take Pompey to Wembley.
‘The next day Awfs was in. He didn’t even put me on the bench.
‘On the way home from what was a 1-1 draw, Smith came to the back of the coach and said to me and Guy Butters that he wanted us to play at Tranmere in two days time – I refused and told him where to go.
‘I felt I should have been playing full stop, yet wasn’t. For him to then ask me to play at Tranmere in a nothing game, knowing full well I wouldn't even be picked in the FA Cup replay, was a lack of respect.
‘People say I was silly responding like that, but I would make the same decision again today.
‘Last month it was the 30th anniversary of that first Liverpool game and it still annoys me, massively. I wouldn’t have given that free-kick away like Awfs, who I love to bits by the way!
‘But it does hurt. Normally I’m not one to let things get to me, yet it’s as if this happened yesterday. I was back in the team, it was an FA Cup semi-final, then that.
‘Rightly or wrongly, I had won the battle between me and Smithy, he had to come to me and asked “Can you do this?”. There was a thing between us and now he needed me, I had won, I’d been proven right.
‘Then he changed his mind.’
Maguire arrived at Pompey from QPR on New Year’s Eve 1988 for £215,000 as Alan Ball sought to boost a disappointing placing of ninth.
The defender had featured nine times in the top flight that season, yet Rangers wanted to move him on ahead of an impending court case over his controversial tackle on Spurs’ Danny Thomas.
The March 1987 incident would end Thomas’ career at the age of 26 and, with QPR in the process of negotiating a £130,000 out-of-court settlement, Maguire left.
Yet it wasn’t Ball which attracted him to Fratton Park, more former Rangers chairman Jim Gregory, who had bought the Blues from John Deacon six months earlier.
Maguire added: ‘John Gregory rang about the move, while Alan Ball met me at Rownhams Services for talks over a cup of tea - but Jim Gregory was the major factor in me joining Pompey.
‘Jim had been my chairman at QPR and, as wealthy as he was, he came up from the streets, the school of hard knocks, a normal guy who loved his football. He’d have a beer with you, one of the boys, an incredible man.
‘I had to leave QPR because they wanted to settle the case with Danny Thomas, so I might not have been an obvious choice for another club to pick up, but Jim made it perfectly clear he wanted me.
‘I was a QPR fan and, when I was about 14, he went out of his way to acknowledge me at Loftus Road, which meant a hell of a lot. I always felt he had my back.
‘The chance to work with Bally was the icing on the top, yet he was sacked in January 1989 after my third match, which was really disappointing.
‘Now John Gregory was manager. He had been at QPR just before me, so we had never been team-mates, and I found him a bit of an enigma.
‘He was very self confident and it was difficult to take. You had to be clean shaven, at one stage there was going to be a collar and tie every day, and it was a bit of a shock to the system.
‘You felt there was more importance being put on that than the games. It’s the sign of someone trying to stamp their authority and get everyone in line. It was strange.
‘In that period there was a lot of instability. Firstly Ball, then Gregory came and went, as did Frank Burrows, while Tony Barton was caretaker boss for a bit.
‘Then my old QPR manager came.’
Jim Smith was appointed Pompey boss in June 1991, having the previous season resigned at Newcastle United amid boardroom upheaval.
Upon his arrival, he inherited a squad which included Maguire, a player he’d handed his Football League debut to as a 19-year-old some four-and-a-half years earlier while QPR boss.
Smith quit Rangers for Newcastle in December 1988, with Maguire following him out of Loftus Road three weeks later, moving to Pompey.
Encouragingly, of the defender’s 40 league outings for QPR, 38 of them arrived under Smith. Yet times had changed.
‘With Jim, you got the impression he was always trying to keep youngsters down, keep them in their place,’ said Maguire.
‘I understood that at QPR, but I had moved on. At Pompey, he found me two years older – and I would never conform to what he wanted.
‘I would have played a lot more games if I just did what he wanted, such as play in a certain position, but I was quite strong and not prepared to do that. I shouldn’t have to.
‘In an ideal world, I wanted to play sweeper or centre-half, not right-back or the centre of midfield. I don’t want to play there, I’ve no interest in being a jack of all trades and master of none.
‘It’s not my problem if you haven’t anyone else who can play in midfield. People say it's another feather in your cap, yes that’s fine, but you’ll end up constantly moving around filling in for people.
‘We were both stubborn people, but a lot of players are like that. Instead of responding to situations, I always reacted, going with my emotions.
‘I don’t regret saying what I did to Smithy on the coach back from Highbury. My mum said: “Why didn't you just shut up and do what they wanted”. I replied “Mum, I can look at myself in the mirror, I’m happy and comfortable with my decision. I’m not doing it to be awkward, I’m doing it because this is what feels right for me”.
‘I’m sure Pompey fans think differently, that I ought to be better than that, but I was strong enough to say “No”. If, for a short period of time, that then goes against me, I am prepared to take that, it was my choice.
‘I should have played in that semi-final, I think I should have been playing prior to that, but his pride and mine prevented me from playing.
‘Somebody has to be big enough to back down, but then I was a young man. Maybe it should have been Smithy who should have been the man.’
In October 1992, following one year, four months and three days without a league first-team outing, Maguire was surprisingly hauled out of cold storage for a trip to Luton.
Handed a central midfield role, he subsequently became a regular starter for Smith, racking up 27 appearances and, somewhat inevitably, a red card at Peterborough.
His final Pompey appearance was that same season – in March 1993 – when he helped the Blues to a 2-0 win at Tranmere for a fifth straight win.
Just two days later, he departed for Division One rivals Millwall in a £115,000 deal having amassed 109 appearances and four managers.
Maguire added: ‘Looking back, it’s a bit of a shock how long I was out of Pompey’s first-team for. I had a few injuries, but generally would shoved with the reserves and kids.
‘Bearing in mind all you worked was 10.30am to 12pm each day, there’d be so much time on our hands to get into mischief or dwell on negative thinking.
‘You’d resent the world, you’re not a nice person to live with, just awful, awful for everyone around you. You’re so single-minded and, when you can’t do it, just feel so worthless.
‘Apparently I came back into Pompey’s team in my final season and played 27 times, yet I can’t even remember. The die had been cast by then, I was looking to leave.
‘Me and Smithy never made up, but I have a grudging respect for him. He gave me my Football League debut, while when I first got on the map things were flying. I have to thank him for that – but I’ll always remember that FA Cup semi-final.
‘If he had handled me correctly, I would have gone through brick walls for him.’
After 12 matches for Millwall, Maguire underwent a groin operation and, when former Pompey assistant boss Steve Wicks offered the opportunity to join Division Three side Scarborough on loan to rebuild his fitness, he agreed.
However, in April 1994, during his second outing, the Welshman broke and dislocated his ankle against Rochdale – and never played professionally again. He retired aged 26.
In recent years he worked as a porter at Swindon’s Great Western Hospital before relocating to Compton, Berkshire, in 2021, buying a house with partner Claire.
He has also returned to hairdressing, working for Gould Barbers, stationed in Newbury’s Tesco Extra, with the chain having 35 shops based in stores across the country, including Havant.
The 54-year-old added: ‘They put some metal work into my ankle, but, down the line, it was still moving around, so they took some bone from my hip and a graft from my arm.
‘I returned to play some reserve games, but no longer felt I could play at the same level. I most probably would have been fine physically, but not mentally. I just couldn't risk going through it again, I don’t think I would have coped, so I retired in 1994.
‘Pompey was the favourite part of my career. It was where I played internationally for Wales and I always love going back. It hasn’t changed, it’s such a warm place.
‘What Jim Smith did to me doesn't affect my love for the football club, the fans or my team-mates. It wasn’t the club that did that – it was a manager’s decision.
‘Pompey just gets in the blood. What a place, what an unbelievable club.’
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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