Southport have only played at Wembley once in their history so the eleven that stepped out underneath the twin towers on that day in May 1998 will forever be remembered. The man I caught up with last week was one of those men. Manchester born Ged Kielty played for the Sandgrounders for only one season but took with him memories that will last a lifetime
Can you tell us about how you ended up signing for Southport?
I was playing in the League of Ireland for a team called Cobh Ramblers. They are usually known as the team Roy Keane played for prior to his move to Nottingham Forest. I wanted to return home to Manchester at the end of the 96/97 season, so I sent out my football CV to all Conference clubs. Paul Futcher gave me a call and invited me over for training and eventually pre season games. I had been a school boy, apprentice and professional with Manchester City prior to playing for Cobh, so Paul could see I had a decent enough background. He offered me a contract for a year and I snapped his hands off. Paul was a joy to play for, he had my full respect. He was fit as a fiddle and I was in awe of his passing, vision and eagerness to keep playing despite being over 40.
Can you remember your debut?
My debut couldn’t have been any better, it was at home versus Hednesford Town and I managed to score twice in a 4-1 win. It was a dream start on a beautiful sunny day at Haig Avenue. Things were looking good.
What was your favourite moment in a Southport shirt?
My favourite moment was unfortunately my last game for Southport. It was at Wembley against Cheltenham Town in the FA Trophy final. I didn’t know at the time it was to be my last game. My family and friends made the journey down to London to watch it. It was live on Sky Sports so mates back in Manchester were able to watch it in my local pub. Although we lost, it was to a team who won the Conference that year and also gained promotion to the Football League. A team that was managed by a young Steve Cotterill, who himself went on to greater things. I think I received the Southport Visiter Man of the Match award, so I was very pleased. I’ve still got the video (not DVD) and I have watched it a good few times. My shirt and medal is framed and it hangs proudly at my mums’ house, I can’t get it from her to take to my house! The club really looked after the players and their partners that weekend.
Charlie and Mavis were fantastic.
Who were your best friends in the dressing room?
We had a great dressing room. Paul Futcher had managed to assemble a squad that had a perfect mixture of youth and experience. I travelled from Manchester with Tim Ryan, Paul Mitten and Paul Jones so there was never a dull moment in the car. Once we were at games or training, everyone mixed well, no cliques. Senior players like Billy Stewart, John Deary and Dave Thompson knew all the gags and were great fun. Dave Gamble really looked after me, he could see I was a young lad and he made sure I was always alright. The squad often had nights out together, having a real good drink, which was great for team spirit. It always makes me laugh when I think back.
What are you most proud of in football?
When I was 9 years old, I had to complete a written project at Primary School about my family. I wrote in the project that I wanted to become a professional footballer one day. 10 years later, in 1995 I signed professional forms with Manchester City FC. That was a proud moment for me, and my supportive family. I am also proud of the number of years I spent in non league as both player and manager. I’ve met some fantastic people and travelled the country. I look back on it with fondness.
Do you have any regrets from your time at the club?
I only played for one season for Southport and in hindsight wish it could have been longer. I thought I had a decent enough season personally. As a team, we reached The FA Trophy Final and we won the Lancashire Junior Cup. Our league position wasn’t great, but our heads were turned by our cup exploits. At the end of the season, the club offered me another contract, but it was on reduced terms to what I was already on. I had numerous clubs taking an interest in me and I eventually opted to leave. It wasn’t an easy decision, there were tears on my way home down the East Lancs. I returned to Haig Avenue as an opposing player a few times, and I was always pleased in the main with the warm reception I received. I heard a couple of comments from the crows during the game questioning why I left the club, the subject of money being mentioned. I can understand that. I know Port fans will say they would wear the clubs’ colours for nothing. I was a young lad, trying to save up money to get on the property ladder. Football was my main income then. The difference in the reduced terms Southport was offering and what other clubs was offering, amounted to an awful lot over a season. It made sound financial sense to move away. However, it made absolutely no football sense at all. I signed for Barrow FC and the two clubs could not have been anymore different. At Southport, I was nicknamed “smiler” by Billy Stewart as I was always happy and enjoying myself. My smile reflected how the club as a whole treated me. I went to Barrow FC and I was a changed person, my smile quickly faded. There was no togetherness, everyone looked after themselves. Barrow as a club had no structure, stability or personality and it led to them having to reform. Luckily I got myself back on track and went on to play for other fantastic clubs, learning the hard way.
Tell us an interesting story about your time at the club, something people might not have heard before…
On the morning of the FA Trophy final, we were having our team breakfast at a hotel we were staying in at Burnham Beeches. A mobile phone starts ringing and Peter Wragg the assistant manager answers it. Wraggy was a real character, a friendly and well respected man in football. Anyway, Wraggy is chatting away as loud as he can at the table making sure everyone could hear. He was calling the other person on the phone “gaffa”. All you could hear was, “hi gaffa, yes gaffa, no gaffa, thanks gaffa”, etc, etc. Then Wraggy halts the conversation to tell everyone that on the other end of the line is Sir Alex Ferguson. He had called to wish us the best of luck for our game later that day. Wraggy then went back to speaking to Sir Alex, even louder this time, “gaffa” being used at the start, middle and end of every sentence. Wraggy was really pleased with himself, grinning from ear to ear.
From what I remember, Wraggy worked for Carling or Carlsberg and he had got to know Sir Alex Ferguson through his job and their promotional work in football. I’m sure Sir Alex Ferguson doesn’t do that to everyone, but he found time to call us to wish us luck, all because of Wraggy. A lovely gesture from him and testament to the way Wraggy got on with people.
What are you up to these days?
I watch the occasional non league game and enjoy watching Premier League games from the comfort of my armchair. I play a bit of 5 a side on a Wednesday night but it’s nothing serious. I’ve done 7 marathons in England, Ireland, Majorca and Holland, so enjoy seeing a bit of the world whilst doing them. I’m married and we have beautiful children who keep us busy, ferrying them to their various activities. I work full time and now look forward to spending time with the family at weekend rather than heading to football. How times have changed, I’m getting old!
Thanks to Ged for taking the time to talk to us.