Matt Healey continues the series.
Gavin Mahon was born in Birmingham on 2nd January 1977. He was a YTS at Wolverhampton Wanderers and signed a one year professional contract at Molineux. He left the club in 1996 and there were plenty of clubs looking to acquire his signature.
Mahon told me “I had a few clubs interested in me that summer, there was Watford, Bradford City and Lincoln City, but I knew Graham Turner from my Wolves days and Hereford wasn’t far from the Midlands so I signed a two year contract at Edgar Street”
The Hereford squad had been drastically changed that summer, after being knocked out of the 3rd Division Play Offs. The likes of Steve White, Richard Wilkins, Tony James, Nicky Cross and Neil Lyne had moved on, and as well as Mahon the new intake at Edgar Street included Quentin Townsend, Adrian Foster, Dave Norton, and Ian Foster, whereas Chris Hargreaves and Andy deBont who had been on loan the previous campaign had now signed permanently.
Mahon would make his Football League debut in a 1-0 loss at Fulham on a boiling hot day on the 17th August 1996.
I asked him what he made of the standard “It was different to what I was use to at Wolves, reserve football was totally different, in professional football people pay to watch you and you can’t carry anybody. I knew I could do it ability wise, but we were thrown in at the deep end and you knew there would be certain opposition players who would kick you”
Mahon played both matches in the 10-0 aggregate defeat to Middlesbrough in the League Cup. “I remember Branco nearly took my head off with a free kick, but as youngster it was great playing against the likes of Emerson and Fabrizio Ravanelli, the 2nd leg at Edgar Street was a great atmosphere under the lights.
Mahon scored his first Hereford goal in a 3-0 win over Rochdale on the 21st September 1996.
By the end of September 1996 Mahon was out of the team “I suffered an ankle injury, then lost a bit of fitness, I only played a couple more matches that campaign after that. Graham Turner took me aside and told me he was going to go with experience. It was really frustrating as I knew I could contribute to the team and I knew I could handle it, but personally it was a tough season being sat in the stands and playing for the reserves”
I asked Mahon what it was like being sat in the stands watching the infamous Brighton relegation game on 3rd May 1997 “I don’t remember too much from it. I remember the ground being packed out and people trying to watch the game climbing onto lamp posts. Trevor Matthewson was outpaced when they scored and Adrian Foster missed a great chance at the end to win it”
Hereford were tragically relegated from the Football League on 3rd May 1997. In an end of season shootout. The final game of the season was against Brighton. To stay in the Football League Hereford needed to win. Brighton needed a win or a draw. The game ended 1-1.
Despite accruing 47 points, which would normally most seasons keep you up. It was sods law that in the 1996/1997 season the rules had changed.
Usually when a team is level on points, the usual system of goal difference would kick in, but that season it was changed to goals scored, and with Hereford scoring less than Brighton, and with both clubs level on 47 points, Hereford went down by just 3 goals. If it had been on goal difference then the Bulls would have survived.
“Even though it was early in my career I was starting to learn the ups and downs of football. I realized back then that I needed to fight every day. That summer I told myself I would stay in the team. I knew I would be good enough for the GM Vauxhall Conference”
Mahon started every single league and cup game for the Bulls during the 1997/1998 season.
“It was a physical league, it was a great learning curve for me”
Mahon showed his versatility by playing as centre half alongside Richard Walker in a 2-1 FA Cup 1st round victory against Brighton on the 15th November 1997. “I enjoyed the win and the game, playing as centre half you can see the game a lot more and whats happening on the pitch”
Hereford would go on to defeat Colchester United in the next round, but bowed out 3-0 to Tranmere in the 3rd round.
Graham Turner had bought Mahon to Edgar Street and they had known each other from their days at Wolves too “GT was very honest, sometimes we didn’t agree on things, but he was a proper football man and he got the best out of me”
Hereford would finish the 1997/1998 season in 6th position. After a shaky start the club became accustomed to life in the GM Vauxhall Conference.
A famous win that season included a 2-1 win at Cheltenham Town on Easter Monday 1998.
Mahon signed a new contract ahead of the 1998/1999 season. Hereford were going to go with a younger squad and Graham Turner slashed the playing budget.
Former players from the Football League era Tony Agana, Trevor Matthewson, Brian McGorry, Dave Norton, Jamie Pitman, Chris Hargreaves and John Brough would leave the club in the summer of 1998. The new intake at Edgar Street included Paul Fewings, Tony James, Matthew Cross, Mark Druce, Richard Leadbeater and Mark Taylor, plus part time players John Snape and Stuart Evans.
I asked Mahon what made him decide to sign a new contract “I was building a profile at Hereford, I heard some other clubs were interested, but I was enjoying my football. I wasn’t believing my hype. Even though the newspapers were full of positive stories about me”
Mahon started the season well and had scored three goals by the end of September 1998. He opened the scoring in a 2-2 draw against Southport on August Bank Holiday Monday, the game is remembered for a Hereford fan invading the pitch and running from the Meadow End all the way to the opposite goal to congratulate Mahon. The supporter was promptly ejected. Mahon then scored a couple of penalties against Northwich and Rushden & Diamonds.
He would leave Edgar Street in November 1998 by joining 3rd Division Brentford for £130,000. The financial landscape at Edgar Street was in a dire state and the below documetary highlights the struggles the club faced at the time.
“We were playing away at Kettering and the Brentford scout the late John Griffin was at the game and taking a look at a Kettering player. He told the then Brentford Manager and Chairman Ron Noades to sign me. Next thing I know I was in GT’s office and had to drive down to London. That was an experience in itself as I had only ever been in the Midlands. I stayed at Ron Noades’s house for two weeks. I remember he had a Ferrari whereas I had a Ford Orion”
Mahon would later join Watford and played in the Premier League for the 2006/2007 season with spells later on in his career at QPR, Notts County, Portsmouth and Stevenage.
Mahon played in the top 5 leagues of English Football. I asked him if he would recommend his route to the top of football to a young professional now “Yes, its a lot more satisfying. I felt I had earnt my stripes in the lower leagues. You learn so much more playing men’s football and not being in development squads. Back then things were different . If you had a rollicking from the manager you would go out and prove your worth. Some players a lot more fragile now . I know some coaches who are afraid to give players a rollicking incase its classed as bullying”
Mahon is still involved in the game working for the Stellar Group which is a sports consultancy company. Mahon is a football intermediary who passes his knowledge and understanding to the younger players.