Howard Gayle

Where Are They Now: Howard Gayle

by Ashley Houghton

Former star now helping youngsters.

Howard Gayle joined the Black Cats in July 1984 after progressing through the youth ranks at Liverpool.

Gayle, who received a European Cup winner's medal after being an unused substitute as the Reds defeated Real Madrid 1-0 in 1981, was limited to just four league appearances at Anfield and, after loan spells with Fulham, Newcastle United and Birmingham City, he joined Sunderland for £65,000.

And the man who was also capped by England U21s says he had no hesitation in a move to Wearside; a place he says draws comparisons to his home town.

“It was great to move back to the north east as I’d just been with Newcastle in 1982 so I knew the area,” Gayle explained.

“You can draw so many comparisons to Sunderland and Liverpool; the people were similar, the fans were so passionate and the history, not just football, but also the location with the docks and so on.

“It was nice to join up with a good bunch of lads and a friendly face in Benno [Gary Bennett].”

Gayle made his debut in a 3-1 victory over Southampton on the opening day of the 1984-85 season, a campaign most notable for the Black Cats’ run to the Milk Cup final, where they were defeated by Norwich, and also relegation from the English top flight.

And Gayle told it was a frustrating time for all involved as Len Ashurst’s side only won one league game following their Milk Cup semi-final victory over Chelsea.

“My first season turned out to be a relegation season,” he added.

“We were doing well to be fair, we knocked Chelsea out of the cup whilst Len was temporary manager and then, as a result of that win, he was offered the job full time.

“After that, for whatever reason, we struggled for form; I didn’t play much in the second half of the season due to injuries.”

Arguably the biggest moment of Gayle’s Sunderland career was a magnificent individual goal which gave the Black Cats a 1-0 extra-time victory over Nottingham Forest in the third round of the 1985 Milk Cup.

And Gayle told he remembers the evening very well. “It was a really tight game,” he recalled.

“We were really tough to beat at Roker Park; the fans were great and the atmosphere that night was absolutely electric.

“I remember picking the ball up outside my own box and carrying it forward before beating a couple of Forest players, once I’d beaten two I was always going to carry on.

“I got towards their area and I just struck it sweetly with my left foot and it went in.

“I took the credit for the goal but I remember that night just as much for Chris Turner pulling off some remarkable saves.”

Gayle moved to America after two years on Wearside before returning home for spells with Stoke City and more notably Blackburn Rovers.

After five years at Ewood Park, Gayle was set to join Halifax but the contract offer from the Yorkshire club indicated to him that it was time to finish.

“I was going to join Halifax but they offered me something like £150 a week,” Gayle continued.

“I lived in Liverpool at the time so I wasn’t going to move up there for £150 a week - that wouldn’t cover my petrol.

“Unfortunately that gave me the signal that it was probably time to move on.”

Since his retirement, Gayle has worked in coaching football and also social work in Liverpool, an area which is close to his heart.

“I got my UEFA Level Two coaching badge but despite black players being welcomed into the game more, it was still tough on the coaching and management side to break through,” he explained.

“For the last 20 years I’ve been teaching young people in Liverpool social inclusion skills.

“The development of our own young people is very dear to me and football is a great tool to motivate.

“A friend of mine said to me a few years ago that young people are the currency of the future – I think we’re beginning to see that.”