When I was at school there used to be this kid, Marcus, who was always good for a laugh – not always intentionally either. For example one day he managed to bang his head on the floor while still sitting on a chair (you needed to be there), much to our delight (don’t worry, he didn’t get hurt, we weren’t evil…). Anyway somewhere down the line he picked up the nickname Mungo (I think it was originally Mongo, but as I said he was a good guy so we toned it down a bit).
Around this time Wimbledon signed a strong young forward from Brentford called Marcus Gayle. He made his debut a day after he signed, so naturally one of my friends christened him ‘Mungo’ too, shouting ‘Go On Mungo’ as he roared around the field much to the bemusement of the Dons fans around us. Eventually it stuck, as far as we were concerned anyway, and I continued to refer to him as Mungo until his £1m move to Rangers in 2001.
Marcus started his career at the Bees in 1989, making 158 appearances, as well as 22 while on loan to Finnish outfit KuPS while learning his trade in 1990. Its fair to say Gayle is as much an icon to Brentford fans as he is to us, and fortunately he got to bookend his career with a spell at both clubs, making 30 appearances for them in 05/06. They apparently had a song based on him that went along the lines of ‘Marcus Gayle, has a fucking huge cock…’. Not sure how they knew this for sure, it sounds a bit like lazy racial stereotyping to me, but I could be doing the great man a disservice!
Marcus song at Wimbledon was as per the title of this article, perhaps due to his religious convictions, perhaps his name just lent itself better to this tune (Wimbledon fans aren’t that clever, or they weren’t in those days. I remember when we stole a Cantona chant from Man United to use for John Fashanu- complete with French national anthem. I mean we could have been clever like we are these days and fitted it to ‘God Save The Queen’ in reference to Fash’s England caps, or even found out how the Nigerian anthem went…).
I vaguely remember an early Gayle game against Manchester United where his strong run down the left wing left whoever was playing right back for United that day for dead, delivering a perfect cross for Fashanu. Fash seemed to be preoccupied by his physical tussle with Pallister, and if he got a touch at all it was probably an arm – but a goal it was. Of course Marcus carved his name into Wimbledon legend for a rather more important goal against the same opponents a few years later…
Gayle was the first of the new wave of players that came through in the mid to late 90’s, big, strong and quick, but withgreat ability to go withit. Combined they played fast counter attacking football combined with an unbeatable spirit. There’s no coincidence that Gayle’s ‘career season’ was probably the greatest in terms of football played we ever saw from a Wimbledon side in the Premier League, 1996/97.
Plus he scored in that memorable 4-2 win at Stamford Bridge. Yes we had taken great pleasure in battering the Blues 4-0 and 5-2 there in the old Division One days, but this was New Chelsea. Gayle put the icing on the cake, the result only tarnished by the dodgiest of dodgy penalties given in the last minute for a non existent foul outside the area. But the pace and movement of Wimbledon’s performance, especially Gayle and fellow front-man Efan Ekoku, meant Wimbledon had earned a place at the top of the Premier League, even if league form was to slip away after that.
But the Dons were to prove their worth in the cups as well, reaching both semi-finals. In the League Cup Marcus made a habit of beating dozy keepers at their near post from a tight angle, smashing the winner against Aston Villa in the 4th round, before repeating the trick in the semi-final second leg against Leicester. Heartbreak was to follow as the Dons crashed out on away goals (just rubbing salt in the wound – we didn’t actually play a ‘home’ game for nearly fifteen years during that period). The season petered out after a 0-3 surrender to Chelsea at Highbury in the FA Cup Semi-Final leaving us only with memories. But what memories they were.
Plus lets not forget Marcus, along with Robbie Earle, was one of the first Dons players to see action at a World Cup. Although Robbie gets a lot of attention for his goal (and Robbie will get the ‘icon’ treatment himself one day…), lets not forget Marcus did more than just make up the numbers in 1998.
My personal favourite Marcus moment was set against the backdrop of unpleasantness. I found myself close to the front of what must have been C block in the HolmesdaleEnd, only to my horror to find myself sitting next to a Liverpool fan who not only felt he had the right to be there, he had the right to loudly support his team as well. Naturally, I was slightly annoyed, and this lead to several arguments with the plastic scouser, an argument witha steward, and worse still an argument withmy dad, for taking my argument with the previous two too far.
Just as I was about to snap, Wimbledon won a free kick shortly after, and Gayle floated it into the top corner, bouncing off the inside of the post and into the net after travelling across the goal line and off the opposite post. An absolutely brilliant free kick, and our joyous celebrations persuaded our illegally positioned Liverpool friend to find a different seat for the second half!
If anyone deserved a move to a big club it was Marcus. Sadly Wimbledon were desperate for money by the time he left, post relegation in 2001 to Rangers, and its probably fair to say they were the wrong club at the wrong time. He moved back to England with Watford, and it was here he made the transformation to centre half, a move that effectively extended his career by several seasons.
Normally a pace merchant will leave the game the moment their legs go, but Marcus was always too good a player for that to happen. His footballing brain was put to use at the heart of the defence of not only Watford, but Brentford, Aldershot (where he finally managed to score his first hat trick after coming on as a substitute against Kidderminster), before finally returning home to Wimbledon last season.
He didn’t have the pace that made him a Premier League star, but it all seemed a bit too easy for Gayle at times. To have him with us just for one season was a dream come true for most Wimbledon fans, one last link to the glory days. Our playoff win must have been a brilliant way to finish a career, walking off the pitch, knowing your job was done.
Except Marcus Gayle wasn’t finished with Wimbledon just yet. He took over the running of the reserves midway through last season, placing an emphasis on youth and guiding the side to a Suburban League Cup win over Bedfont, a game they dominated despite facing a stronger and more experienced side in the final. In future it will be his job to bring promising young players from a successful youth programme, and turn them into footballers. What does the future hold for Marcus Gayle? He has mentioned previously it is his ambition to become a manager, and there is no reason why he can’t move through the ranks at Wimbledon, as first team coach, assistant manager and perhaps even as Wimbledon manager himself one day?