Bat­tler who keeps on run­ning to reach goals

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

PAUL Fair­clough called him a freak of na­ture. Peter Tay­lor de­clared him the fittest man in Eng­land. And Ian Holloway?

“I can’t wait to find out how old Andy Hessen­thaler re­ally is,” joked the Mill­wall manager in 2007.“I reckon if you cut him up the mid­dle you’d find a lit­tle alien hold­ing up a stick like on Men in Black. Ei­ther that or he’s wear­ing a mask. The way he runs around at 37 was su­per­hu­man.”

That’s Hessen­thaler. Even at 42 he was still run­ning, still tack­ling, still cov­er­ing more miles than the sprightly young pups along­side him at Bar­net in League Two.

For­get aliens. The man nick­named the Lit­tle Ger­man was more like Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger in Ter­mi­na­tor – he ab­so­lutely would not stop.

“Hess was so ded­i­cated,” said Tay­lor. “I re­mem­ber when he be­came player-manager of Gilling­ham in 2000. The play­ers must have hated train­ing be­cause Hess was still fit­ter than them!”

Yet Hessen­thaler’s de­sire to pro­long his pro­fes­sional ca­reer makes com­plete sense when you re­mem­ber he didn’t ac­tu­ally get a crack at the big time un­til he was al­most 26.

Though briefly on the books at Charl­ton, Hessen­thaler’s early years were spent dec­o­rat­ing halls, not kick­ing balls. A self­em­ployed plas­terer cour­tesy of an ap­pren­tice­ship at the age of 16, he played for noth­ing whilst work­ing on build­ing sites in his na­tive Kent.

First came Corinthian, then Dart­ford un­der Tay­lor and a first-ever wage of £40-a-week. In 1990, Hessen­thaler moved to Red­bridge For­est (who would later be­come Da­gen­ham & Red­bridge) and won pro­mo­tion to the Con­fer­ence.

“When we won the Isth­mian League, the club had a break in Benidorm,” said sec­re­tary Derek Almond. “But while we were in the bar, Andy was out run­ning.”

Tay­lor, of course, knew all about Hessen­thaler’s ded­i­ca­tion and, by then man­ag­ing Wat­ford, in­vited his old mid­fielder to join him at Vicarage Road.

De­ci­sion

“I ac­tu­ally had to take a pay cut,” said Hessen­thaler. “But it was a case of do I want to spend the rest of my life be­ing picked up by a van at 6.30 in the morn­ing or do I want to give it one last crack?”

It would prove the best de­ci­sion of his life. Over the next 20 years, Hessen­thaler would play 217 times for the Hor­nets, 360 for Gilling­ham (win­ning pro­mo­tion to the First Di­vi­sion in 2000 be­fore keep­ing them there for four years as player-manager) and an­other 40 for Bar­net.

More im­por­tantly, his re­lent­less drive and fe­roc­ity would win the af­fec­tion of al­most ev­ery team-mate, manager and sup­porter.

“I played with him in the masters re­cently,” said for­mer Hor­nets team-mate Nigel Gibbs. “And watch­ing him run around kick­ing peo­ple and mak­ing tack­les brought back mem­o­ries of what he used to be like ev­ery game. Train­ing, 11-a-side, kick­abouts – he played with that same pas­sion and heart no mat­ter the sit­u­a­tion.” And as a manager, first with Gilling­ham and then with Dover, where he won con­sec­u­tive pro­mo­tions to reach the Con­fer­ence South be­fore resigning in 2010, that at­ti­tude is some­thing Hessen­thaler has al­ways tried to in­stil.

“I’ve spo­ken to a few peo­ple, like Ian Wright, who came to the game late,” said Hessen­thaler, who was named Gilling­ham’s great­est ever player in 2005. “And I think you ap­pre­ci­ate it so much more do­ing it like that.

“Some of the young­sters you see now, they come in ev­ery day and they just don’t know what they have got. It sad­dens me to see some of the young­sters fall away all be­cause of the at­ti­tudes. It’s why I al­ways ad­vise them to ap­pre­ci­ate what they have got and work hard at it be­cause it is a fan­tas­tic ca­reer.”

Hessen­thaler fi­nally hung up his boots in 2010 upon his re­turn to Gills, a two-year stay that re­sulted in the sack when he failed to make the League Two play-offs in 2012. Now, hav­ing re­turned as No.2 to Tay­lor last year, he is en­joy­ing an un­ex­pected third spell in the dugout as care­taker-manager.

“He’s a big in­flu­ence on play­ers,” said for­mer Gills and Dart­ford striker Adam Bir­chall. “He’s a big per­son­al­ity and a leg­end at the club. As a player, you lis­ten to him and ev­ery­thing he says makes sense. When some­one’s been in the game so long, he gets in­stant re­spect.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

GRAFTER: Gilling­ham care­taker­boss Andy Hessen­thaler has a strong work ethic

HU­MAN DY­NAMO: Hessen­thaler play­ing for Gilling­ham

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