Looking Back At: Alan Gilliver

Allan Gilliver

Date of birth: 3.8.44, Born: Swallownest, Sheffield

Height: 6ft 1½in, Position: Centre forward

City appearances: League: 33(4), goals: 8, FA & League Cups: 5, goals: 2, Total: 38(4), goals: 10

Allan Henry Gilliver was born in the village of Swallownest close to Rotherham and Sheffield and after playing junior football for Rother Valley Boys was snapped up by Huddersfield Town, joining the Division Two (Championship) side as an amateur a couple of months before his 16th birthday in 1960, writes Malcolm Johnson.

Turning professional in August 1961 Gilliver’s real breakthrough into the first team came at the age of 21 in the 1965/66 season when he hit 18 goals in 27 league matches including a hat-trick in a 6-0 win against Middlesbrough as Huddersfield finished in fourth place. A hot property now, after a total of 46 league games and 22 goals for the Terriers he was transferred to Blackburn Rovers, newly relegated to Division Two, telling manager Jack Marshall he was sure they would be back in Division One the following season.

The cost to Blackburn of signing Gilliver was £30,000 at a time when the British record transfer fee was £112,000, but after playing just 11 games and scoring three goals a previously undetected back problem put him out of action for a year. When details of this injury emerged, the Football Association directed Huddersfield to repay £18,000 of the transfer fee they had received and determined that in future all players should have compulsory medicals before a transfer could be completed.

Eventually back in action for Blackburn during the 1967/68 season Gilliver could only manage 23 league appearances with 6 goals scored, and in May 1968 he was signed by flamboyant ex-Chelsea manager Tommy Docherty for newly-relegated Division Three (League One) side Rotherham United. This was as part of an exchange deal with striker Les Chappell moving the other way.

Gilliver spent one season back in his native Yorkshire, making 27 league appearances for the Millers, scoring just two goals, before moving on a free transfer in the summer of 1969 to Brighton & Hove Albion. Possibly with his injury problems now at an end he proceeded to finish as top scorer for the Third Division side with a total of 17 goals from 40 games in all competitions. Not quite as prolific the following season, he was nevertheless still joint top scorer for Brighton with eight goals from 28 games by the middle of February 1970 when he was rather surprisingly allowed to leave by Seagulls’ manager Pat Saward and dropped into the fourth tier for the first time in his career.

Lincoln City had made a bright start to the 1970/71 season under manager Bert Loxley but partly due to a series of injuries to players had begun to slip towards the re-election zone. With big striker Percy Freeman one of those on the injured list Loxley acted to strengthen the squad, paying the substantial sum of £10,000 to Brighton for Gilliver, a figure not too far short of City’s record which still stood at the £14,000 paid for Andy Graver in 1955.

Gilliver’s Imps debut came at Sincil Bank in a tricky game against runaway league leaders Notts County which ended in a 1-0 victory for the visitors. His second game a week later at home to Bournemouth was also against a promotion-chasing side and again ended in defeat, as Gilliver suffered an injury which was to keep him out for six games. In fact, his only other appearance that season was from the subs’ bench against yet another top side in York City which produced another home defeat – this time by the amazing scoreline of 4-5.

Following the defeat by Bournemouth Bert Loxley had been replaced as manager by former Manchester United star David Herd and he partnered Gilliver in attack with the diminutive Bobby Svarc at the start of the 1971/72 campaign. The Yorkshireman’s first goal for City came in the second game of the season and was enough to beat Scunthorpe United at the Old Show Ground in the First Round of the League Cup.

Partnered now by Derek Trevis, Gilliver’s first league goals for City came with a brace in the next home match which saw Newport County beaten 3-1. He then made it four in six games, but a 4-2 defeat at Stockport saw City slip towards the lower half of the league table. However, manager Herd now hit upon a 4-3-3 formation that was to serve City well, switching Phil Hubbard from midfield to play up front with Gilliver and Percy Freeman who had returned from injury.

City had moved to the fringe of the promotion places by the middle of November when what was to be Gilliver’s longest run in the side came to an end following an FA Cup exit to Bury, his goal in that match being his 8th in 22 games as Herd now changed to two up front. Gilliver’s reaction to being dropped was to submit a transfer request, but after one game on the sidelines he returned from the bench to inspire a fight back to draw at home to Aldershot after a 2-0 half time deficit. He was then back in the starting lineup and had withdrawn his transfer request before suffering a broken arm in a defeat at Southend four games later.

There had been some disquiet among supporters over Gilliver’s transfer request with the feeling that although not top scorer a lot of City’s success over the season so far had been down to the form he had shown. Maurice Burton writing in the Football Echo even considered that Gilliver’s absence through injury would deal an even more serious blow to City’s promotion chances than the Christmas Eve sale to Norwich of top scorer Phil Hubbard.

However, David Herd quickly acted to fill one of the gaps by bringing in Northampton’s top scorer Dixie McNeil and giving youngster John Ward and close-season signing John Worsdale opportunities to play up front.

1 Comment

  1. Sorry – a mistake I didn’t spot. It should read at one point: ‘…he was nevertheless still joint top scorer for Brighton with eight goals from 28 games by the middle of February 1971’ (Not 1970). That was when Gilliver joined Lincoln City.

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