Andy Hessenthaler: The Gillingham legend on managing Dover and his inspirations

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You’re currently manager of Dover Athletic, where there have been a lot of well-documented issues due to the Covid-19 pandemic including a points deduction this season. How are you enjoying the role and what have the biggest challenges been?

I’m enjoying managing Dover Athletic a lot but unfortunately for us at this present time what has gone on over the past year at the club has been tough. I returned to the club three years ago when they were part time. They were struggling at that stage and the needed to go full time because the National League was coming harder and harder each year.

I spoke to the chairman, Jim Parmenter, and the money that he was paying out at that time was definitely a full-time budget, so we went full-time, although hat came with its complications because some players at that time had jobs. It was great to establish Dover Athletic as a full-time club, before the pandemic came along that really caused us a big problem as a football club.

Last season we had to stop playing even though the league carried on and the knock-on effect for us was that the league punished us and we started this season on -12 points and also received a £40,000 fine. Although it has jeopardised our status as a football club, the chairman has saved us and whatever happens at the end of this season, there will be a club. We have to give Jim Parmenter credit for saving the club.

You made more than 300 appearances for Gillingham and went on to manage the Gills, becoming a club legend. How do you look back on your time at the club and what does the club mean to you?

Gillingham FC means a lot to me and it is a wonderful club. I’m a Kent man and to have the opportunity to sign for Gillingham was great. Tony Pulis was manager at the time. At that stage the Bosman Ruling didn’t exist, I was 30 years old and had an opportunity to go to Charlton Athletic. I know that the case would go to a tribunal because Watford could still get a fee for me.

I remember that Sam Allardyce was actually on the tribunal at that stage, working for the FA, and that set the fee at £285,000. I remember Tony Pulis looking at me and saying I don’t think our chairman will be able to pay that and I thought I’d be going back to Watford as I was still their player. Fortunately, I got a call the next day from the chairman Paul Scally and he said he’d pay the fee – I was over the moon.

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I feel as if I have repaid that fee over my time with the club as a player and a manager. I had a great time at Gillingham. The infamous Manchester City game where we lost on penalties having been 2-0 up with five minutes to go [in the 1999 Division Two play-off final] was a really tough one to take but what a wonderful occasion for a club like Gillingham to play in a play-off final and leading the team out at Wembley Stadium was probably the greatest moment of my career.

I became assistant manager under Peter Taylor who is a great guy and friend. He has been a great mentor and that season under him got me ready for management in which we finished 11th in the Championship. It was the the club’s highest-place finish in their history. The club means a lot to me.

You also played five seasons for Watford at the start of your season. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any highlights or special memories?

I had a great time at Watford. I had dreams of becoming a full-time professional footballer and had played non-league from the age of 18. I was a builder at the time and was earning £40 a week at Dartford before that.

Peter Taylor then got the job as assistant manager to Steve Perryman at Watford, which is when the move materialised. At the age of 26, Peter asked me if I still wanted to be a professional and I said I’d love to have the opportunity to play for Watford. I couldn’t believe it. I made my debut at Goodison Park and had to pinch myself – it was a great atmosphere that night and a very proud moment for me.

I made my league debut against Charlton Athletic on the Saturday and we won 2-0 – I scored and got man of the match. When you come out of non-league, you’ve got that pressure of showing people that you’re good enough, even your team-mates. I remember facing the famous Leeds United team that went on to become champions in 1992 and we knocked them out of the League Cup, winning 2-1 at Vicarage Road.

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You accrued great experience in professional football. When you look back, who were the best players you played alongside during that time?

At Watford, I went into a dressing room with a very young David James. He was a tremendous goalkeeper who went on to play for Liverpool and England. Peter Nicholas was a former Wales captain and the way he played and approached games made him somebody you could learn from. He was a proper captain and proper leader in the way he managed players – if you can get a group of players together the way he did it does help a manager.

Trevor Putney, who now lives in Spain, was a tremendous player who had a great career playing for among others Ipswich Town and Middlesbrough, and he was so gifted on the ball and he made the game look easy. He was a wonderful player. Bob Taylor was a player who achieved good things for Gillingham and what a wonderful goal scorer he was.

As a midfielder, you were used to going toe-to-toe with several difficult opponents. Who were the opponents that stood out for you in terms of talent and ability?

Glenn Hoddle just had phenomenal talent in the way he moved the ball around and as a youngster I was a Tottenham Hotspur fan, so to come up against Glenn in the end was an honour. Gianfanco Zola had such ability in terms of manipulating a football and was frightening to play against. His movement was amazing and I remember we played Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup and he was just so clever. I also went up against Didier Deschamps [at Chelsea] and Paul Gascoigne at Burnley towards the end of his career. Gazza would also come to watch Watford games as he was friends with the late Glenn Roeder.

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Finally Andy, who were the managers and coaches that had the biggest impact on your career?

Peter Taylor taught me a lot in the way he coached and the way he was organised on the training ground because he made training enjoyable. His man-to-man management was top draw. I played under Glenn Roeder and he gave me the captaincy at Watford.

Tony Pulis is another who has done well in his career. He was very thorough, so you knew your job as a player and he was a real winner who I learned a lot from. Steve Perryman gave me my first chance at Watford and he taught me how to tackle – he’d smile at me when I tackled him in an aggressive manner in a training game and I’d tell him “that’s how it how I tackle, gaffer”. I’m grateful to all of those managers and I can’t thank them enough really.

Andy Hessenthaler: The Gillingham legend on managing Dover and his inspirations
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