Pat McGibbon played for Wigan Athletic between 1997-2002 after joining from Manchester United for a fee of £380,000. The former Northern Ireland international played almost 200 times in all competitions for Latics.
You retired 10 years ago and it’s been 3 years since you resigned as Newry City manager. What have you been up to recently?
I set up a charity football club called TTBS Juniors a few years ago. I’m also working as a physio at Portadown – the team I was at before I came to England – along with my own part-time physio clinic in Lurgan as well.
Alex Cribley retired in the summer so you could have headed back to Wigan as a physio!
Ahh did he!? Sometimes me and the missus think about what it would be like to go back – I really enjoyed my time there.
How did you settle in after moving to England from Ireland to play for Manchester United at such a young age?
I was homesick for the first six months but I knew that if I wanted to make a career in football for myself I had to overcome that.
During the first year I spent at United my brother took his own life so that made things tough during the time. I was only 18 and eight months into my career at United when he took his life so it was really difficult for me to get over, but I couldn’t let it affect me because football’s such a cut-throat industry. If you look at the amount of people who start out playing football compared to the amount that go on to be professionals – it’s not a big percentage.
Your debut for United was a 3-0 defeat against York City and to make it worse you were sent off. How much of a learning curve was this and do you think it actually helped you further down the line?
We were 1-0 down and I took the lad [Paul Barnes] down outside the area but the referee got it wrong and gave a penalty, although it was a red card [AGL has seen the highlights and agrees with Pat].
It was difficult but you have to get on with it. Usually in times like that the group of players there help you to get over that as well which helps.
That disappointment aside, there’s not many players that go on to reject a two year contract at Man United…
At the start of that final year at United I was within the first team squad, playing in the pre-season games and very pleased with the way things were going. I was then sent out on loan to Swansea but ended up doing my knee in after just one match and I was out for five months. It was after this that I went to Wigan, initially on loan.
When I went there I was playing first team football and was also lucky enough to score the goal that won Wigan the league, so it makes you feel important and very comfortable there in Wigan. After that I had to make a decision. As much as I really enjoyed my time at United, playing week in week out competitive was very so important to me and I was only going to get that at Wigan. Although I was offered an extra two years by United I had to make a footballing decision really.
Is this something you still stand by now?
Yeah, I don’t have any regrets about anything. Of course I’ve made mistakes and had good times and bad times, but no regrets because for 11 years I was paid for something I love doing. Especially with something like my brother dying, it makes you put things into perspective.
Who was the best manager you worked with in your career?
They all had their different styles. My youth coach at Manchester United was a terrific coach in particular.
At Wigan, Bruce Rioch was a pretty strict manager, Ray Mathias was a very personable person who was easy to get on with and I had a lot of time for John Deehan as well.
Obviously the gaffer at United [Fergie], who even though I wasn’t in the first team an awful lot, still made a big impression on me in terms of what to do as a manager and the managerial skills I learned from him are so important.
How much of a factor was Ray Mathias in your decision to join Tranmere for a short time after Wigan?
As I say, I really enjoyed my time with Ray particularly when he came in at Wigan and for me he did well with the players he had because we got to the play-offs and won the Auto Windscreens Trophy.
So already knowing what a good manager Ray was, when he offered me the chance to play for him at Tranmere I jumped at the chance. Simon Howarth was there too, who I got on well with from my time at Wigan.
I was stuck in between things at the time because Portadown had offered me a two year contract and it was around the time I finished my physio degree. At this stage my wife’s dad wasn’t well with Alzheimer’s so we made a family decision to go back to Northern Ireland a couple of months after I had joined Tranmere.
Was captaining Latics to victory at Wembley the best moment of your career?
Well you don’t get too many opportunities to go to Wembley so it was huge for all of us. The fact that Paul Rogers scored in the last minute too, it couldn’t have worked out any better really at a place which is steeped in so much history.
When we went back a year later to play Gillingham in the play-off final it was obviously disappointing to lose out but just to play in the final, at that stadium and in front of so many people – it was terrific. Sometimes you don’t realise at the time because you’re so focused, but looking back now those times were great experiences.