Gary Stevens was born in Birmingham on the 3rd August 1954. His family moved to Hereford when he was a youngster and he would start his footballing career in the Herefordshire Premier League with Lads Club.
Stevens tells me “I started out at Lads Club, there was some really good local players back then. I then had a season for Hinton who were then playing in the Worcester league. Evesham then started watching me and I joined them, they were playing in the Midland Combination which I think would be the equivalent to National League North/South level these days”
Stevens had three successful season’s at Evesham scoring 30 goals in each campaign. Plenty of scouts from a higher level were flocking to Common Road. At the time Stevens was working at Wiggins in Hereford and training two days a week at Evesham. “It took me about an hour to get there for training. I was getting petrol money and a bit on top, but I just loved playing and Evesham had put me on a contract”
Stevens then joined Cardiff City during the summer of 1978 for £4,000. Cardiff were playing in Division Two which is Championship level now.
I ask Stevens why Hereford United didn’t come calling “I don’t know, I never heard anything from them, interestingly the season I left Evesham to join Cardiff City, Hereford had one of their worst goal scoring season’s ever, I was at Common Road (Evesham’s ground) on the Saturday and then on the Tuesday playing at Arsenal’s Highbury for Cardiff reserves. I had to adapt pretty quickly”
Stevens would make his Cardiff debut against Luton Town in September 1978. “I thought I was quite fit as I worked full time and played semi professional, but after my first week of full time training I felt terrible, my body was so stiff and I was shattered. The day before the game I had a soap massage and that did the trick. We travelled down the night before and stayed over. We ended up losing 7-1. I thought I would never play again”
Stevens would have a succesful first season at Ninian Park scoring thirteen goals in all competitions. I asked him what it was like playing at the now demolished stadium which had a fearsome reputation “Absolutely brilliant, in the big games it was fantastic. I remember playing Swansea and getting on the scoresheet in a 3-3 draw. Some days it wasn’t so good. I would get picked on by the crowd at times, but I always did my best”
Stevens showed Hereford what they missed when he scored both goals for the Bluebirds in a 2-1 Welsh Cup Semi Final win over the Bulls on the 19th April 1982.
Stevens left Cardiff in 1982 and joined Shrewsbury Town for £20,000. He spent four seasons at Gay Meadow and joined Brentford in 1986. He would make the move to Hereford eventually in Spring of 1987.
“I was playing for Brentford but we were finding it impossible to find somewhere to live, the house prices were ridiculous. I was staying in digs, but driving back to Hereford when I could. Me and my wife had two young children and it was tough, back then there were no mobile phones or internet, so it was a hard time for us. I didn’t get on with the Brentford manager at the time and I needed to get back to be with my family. I was close to signing for Newport County, I had pulled my hamstring and was injured, but John Newman (Hereford Manager) got in contact with me, it was a bit awkward as I was in the Newport manager’s office at the time, but I agreed to sign for Hereford United”
I asked Stevens how living in the city of the club he played for helped his career “It was a massive boost, I wasn’t stuck in a car for hours and it helped me enormously. It shows how times have changed as when I signed for Hereford they had to fax the contract over to the FA, but the club didn’t have a fax machine, the secretary David Vaughan had to nip over to Bulmers to use their machine to get the deal completed”
John Newman departed as Hereford Manager in September 1987 and player coach Ian Bowyer took over as Player Manager. “Looking back I think Ian did too much on his own, he was bought in to help John Newman, but then when he replaced John, nobody was there to replace Ian as coach”
Stevens played 45 out of 46 league games in the 1987/1988 season as Hereford finished 19th in the league. He would switch between playing as a centre half or a striker. I asked him what role he preferred “I loved scoring goals, but I found it easier playing at the back. I was told I wasn’t the fastest, but I did have a good stride and I covered the ground well”
During Stevens’s time at Edgar Street he would witness the emergence of Phil Stant “In terms of finishing he was one of the best I have ever seen and his goal record proves that, I just wish someone had got hold of him and coached him better, he would stray offside a lot and needed to make diagonal runs a lot more, that’s why he didn’t play at a higher level, but his goalscoring record in the lower divisions was really good”
Stevens made 33 league appearances during the 1988/1989 season and this included a brace in a 2-1 win away at Stockport County on the 15th October 1988. He would also captain the side when Mel Pejic was unavailable.
Stevens though would sadly be phased out the following season “The 1989/1990 campaign I was mainly used as an occasional substitute”
Stevens came off the bench in the below game against Wrexham. He also started in the 1-0 FA Cup win 1st round win away at Farnborough on the 17th November 1989.
Stevens found the 1989/1990 campaign frustrating “I spent most of that season out on loan. I played for the likes of Telford, Merthyr, Kidderminster and Worcester. I trained full time in the week at Edgar Street and would help out with the youth and reserve sides at the club, but at the weekends I would play non league. Bowyer was phasing out the more experienced players. The likes of myself, Kevin Rose and Mel Pejic were on the way out and he was signing some really good younger players like Richard Jones, Darren Peacock, Jon Narbett and Tony Elliott. Individually we had a really good set of lads, but it didn’t seem to mould into a team and Bowyer was trying to do everything himself”
Stevens was released by the club in the Summer of 1990. Colin Addison came in as manager. “Colin was totally different, he was a man manager and he bought in a coaching team, I helped out at the start of the season with the youth and reserve teams, but it was a voluntary role and I needed to get paid so moved elsewhere”
Stevens enjoyed his time at Edgar Street “I had some great memories at Hereford as a player. I enjoyed the games against Nottingham Forest in the League Cup. There were some big clubs down in Division Four back then, we had Wolves, Swansea, Bolton and Burnley in our league in the late 1980’s”
Life as a professional footballer in the 1980’s was totally different to what it is now. “I retired in 1990, so was probably about 10 years too late to make the serious money. SKY were pumping the cash into the game in the early 1990’s. I remember leaving Shrewsbury in 1986 and needing to find a new club, we were on holiday in the south of France. I had to rig my answer machine so I could call it to listen to messages. I had about eight or nine clubs come in for me. I didn’t have an agent and even though I was on holiday. I needed to provide for my family and have a contract signed for the following season”
Stevens was manager at Westfields, but departed in the late 1990’s, he would return to Edgar Street “I got a job teaching sport in the early 2000’s, I also ended up teaching Maths and English at Pershore College which had a connection with Holme Lacy College. I knew Hereford manager Graham Turner from my Shrewsbury days and we linked up the college to make a Hereford youth team. We wanted to give local lads a chance to get into the Hereford first team”
The success of this was Andy Williams who was sold to Bristol Rovers for £100,000 in the Summer of 2007. “I remember playing away at Port Vale and the then Hereford United Coach Richard O’Kelly came to watch us. Andy came on with 20-30 minutes to go and we put him on the right wing, back then he was a skinny lad who hadn’t physically grown up. Richard asked me why we put him on the wing and I said he wasn’t physically ready to play up front, Richard agreed he had something about him, so they signed him for the first team and he did well for the club”
The youth setup would deliver a number of lads who played first team for Hereford United. “We had Tyler Weir, Sam Gwynne, Joel Edwards and Craig Jones who all appeared. I remember one reserve game at Stoke we had a number of the youth players in the side. They had Eidur Gudjohnsen playing up front for them, the lads were buzzing at college about it the next day”
Stevens was recently managed of Midland League side Wellington until last season “It’s a bit of a vicious circle locally as all the best players get snapped up by the bigger clubs in the region, they either make it, or don’t, by the time they have filtered back down to us they are disillusioned with the game and pack it in”
Stevens now works as a teacher for Horizon Training “I do three days a week teaching 16-18 year olds”
Photo’s supplied by Ron Parrott, MH Archive, Leigh Stevens and Facebook.