Gary Hamilton - One of our unsung heroes by Mark Davies
When it comes to the Spirit of 86 and the players most remembered from those rollercoaster days, Gary Hamilton may not be the first to spring to mind.
It’s fair enough really and I’m sure Gary himself doesn’t mind too much. The grit of Mowbray, the goals of Slaven, the promise of Ripley and Pallister. These and others, rightly, were the headline makers. But without Gary Hamilton, something fundamental would have been missing.
Every team needs a Gary Hamilton. Every fan needs a Gary Hamilton. And every opposition - player and fan - hates a Gary Hamilton.
Boro Midfielder Gary Hamilton in action against QPR on 15th April 1989 see the full image here.
And ever since Gary Hamilton I’ve judged Boro’s midfield generals by his standards. Some have hit the mark. But not many.
He made an unlikely hero I suppose. Stocky and short, buzzing about, purveyor of the archetypal crunching tackle, getting in the faces of opponents and every now and then showing that he was more than just a midfield workhorse with a cultured pass or sublime goal. Never did he have a quiet game. He was hard, fearless and perhaps a little bit scary. But most of all he was just a wonderful footballer.
It was enough to win friends on every terrace but those in the away end. But there was something else too: his absolute commitment to the cause. There was never a question about whether Gary Hamilton was just going through the motions: his unwavering desire to do whatever he could to support the mission, to help propel the Boro to where they were meant to became out in everything he did from the moment he crossed the white line until the final whistle screeched above the Ayresome Park hubbub. The guy cared about what he was doing and what it meant to the fans, and his commitment shone out like a beacon throughout those great days.
We’ve had a few like Gary since. I’d put Grant Leadbitter in the same category, and George Boateng too. Robbie Mustoe hits the mark and Adam Clayton comes close for me. I suppose Souness was a forerunner but I was too young to really know. Of the current squad, Jonny Howson deserves a mention and others have the potential too. All different types of player who share Hamilton-esque qualities, of which unshakeable commitment is the underpinning essence. Emerson was, of course, an unbelievable footballer but lacked that critical element.
I saw a tweet from Gary the other day in which he confessed to a tear or two on watching a film about the fall and rise which started in 86. My favourite memory of him, one of many, was seeing him in the directors’ box at the end of the Wigan promotion game in ‘87, surrounded by his teammates, celebrating as exuberantly as anyone lucky enough to be in the ground that night.
Football needs people like Gary Hamilton. Every glittering prize or gilded lifestyle enjoyed by those whose exploits draw millions to their name and millions more to their bank accounts depends on there being a Gary Hamilton around to help make it happen. And every true club fan knows the value of the mud and sweat guy who is all too familiar with the physio’s room.
Sometimes we fall into the trap of pigeon-holing them with easy labels: like I’ve done here with “midfield general”. The workhorse, the tough tackler, the box to box lad with a good engine - to do so is to lose though the individuality they all bring. You wouldn’t skip over Messi’s name by dubbing him “the flair player” and move on to something else, but we tend to skip over the Hamiltons without remembering that essential cogs make the thing work, and really good ones make it excel.
Gary Hamilton was a really good one. He helped that wonderful team excel. And everyone who watched him play knew that as he did he gave his all for the cause, and a lot more besides. For me he set the standard for others to follow. And that 35 years on he still sheds tears of joy for the memories of a great time in the lives of those of us lucky enough to witness it tells you all you need to know about one of the true Boro greats.