Hero who wants to re­live the glory days

The Football League Paper - - LEAGUE ONE - By Chris Dunlavy

BY his own ad­mis­sion, Ady Pennock owes a great deal to Tony Pulis. His play­ing ca­reer. His coach­ing ca­reer. Per­haps even his life.

In May 2010, the pair were climb­ing the fear­some Mount Kil­i­man­jaro for char­ity when Pennock col­lapsed from a com­bi­na­tion of hy­pother­mia and al­ti­tude sick­ness.

Bat­tling tem­per­a­tures of mi­nus 25, Pulis dragged, ca­joled and car­ried his as­sis­tant man­ager the 9,000 feet down to base camp. As a metaphor for their life in foot­ball, it couldn’t have been better.

It was Pulis who, in 1992, res­cued Pennock from rot­ting in Nor­wich re­serves and gave him the chance to blos­som at Bournemouth.

Pulis, who, three years later, ig­nored the doc­tors say­ing Pennock would never play again and signed him for Gilling­ham, the club he skip­pered to a leg­endary pro­mo­tion.

And, in 2006, it was Pulis who turned his old mate from a part-time win­dow cleaner into a renowned Premier League coach.

Yet Pennock is no priv­i­leged pro­tege. As fans of Gilling­ham and Bournemouth will at­test, his suc­cess was built not on pa­tron­age but on pain, de­ter­mi­na­tion and an in­her­ent abil­ity to lead.

“I al­ways wanted Ady in my side,” said Andy Hessen­thaler, who played with and man­aged Pennock at Pri­est­field.

“Not just for his abil­ity but for what he gave the rest of the team. He was al­ways talk­ing and, when we were un­der pres­sure, he was a calm­ing in­flu­ence. Young play­ers used to look at him and think ‘We’ll be all right’.”

Spot­ted

Born in Ip­swich and raised dur­ing the hal­cyon days of Bobby Rob­son’s Euro­pean con­querors, Pennock grew up dream­ing of turn­ing out at Port­man Road.

“I used to go and watch them home and away with my dad and my gran­dad,” said the new Gilling­ham boss. “They re­ally were the glory days and I loved ev­ery minute of it.”

But, de­spite play­ing for Suffolk Un­der-15s, it was Nor­folk ri­vals Nor­wich City whose ea­gle-eyed scouts spot­ted the young cen­tre-back.

Alas, while con­tem­po­raries like Chris Sut­ton would flour­ish in the top flight, Pennock played just once – a fear­ful 4-1 hid­ing at the hands of a Matt Le Tissier-in­spired Southamp­ton – be­fore being loaned to Nor­we­gian side Molde.

Un­wanted on his re­turn, Pennock was star­ing at an un­cer­tain fu­ture. But, in 1992, Pulis paid £30,000 to take the 21-year-old to Bournemouth and an en­dur­ing bond was formed.

An in­stant suc­cess at Dean Court, Pennock scored nine goals in 160 games for the Third Divi­sion strug­glers. “You’d never have be­lieved he was so young,” said Cher­ries leg­end Steve Fletcher. “The way he read the game, his lead­er­ship – he played like some­one in their 30s.”

Soon, he would have a body to match. In 1995, rup­tured knee lig­a­ments re­quired four op­er­a­tions to re­pair and the ad­vice from doc­tors was to walk away from foot­ball while he still could.

Pulis, by then in charge at Gilling­ham, de­murred, hand­ing the Cher­ries £25,000.

Pennock re­quired an­other four op­er­a­tions be­fore kick­ing a ball and, by the time he left the Gills in 2003, the tally had reached 11.

But, de­spite a knee held to­gether by noth­ing more than nuts and bolts, Pennock bat­tled through 199 games to achieve cult sta­tus at Pri­est­field in a three-man back-line along­side Guy But­ters and Barry Ashby.

“He could hardly walk at times,” said Hessen­thaler, who re­mem­bers Pennock as the club’s chief prac­ti­cal joker. “But he just loved prov­ing peo­ple wrong.”

The great­est came at Wem­b­ley in May 2000. A year ear­lier, the Gills shipped two late goals as Manch­ester City came back from 2-0 down to win the Divi­sion Two play-off fi­nal on penal­ties.

Pop­ping

Pennock, who shanked wide from the spot, stepped up only be­cause sev­eral of the des­ig­nated tak­ers bot­tled it and spent an in­con­solable hour locked in the toi­lets af­ter­wards.

Yet he would re­turn a year later, this time as skipper, as Gilling­ham saw off Wi­gan to claim a place in the sec­ond tier.

“I didn’t want to come off the pitch,” said Pennock, whose son Daniel was mascot that day. “All the lads were pop­ping cham­pagne corks in the dress­ing room, but I was still out there, milk­ing it.”

Even when the car­ti­lage in that right knee was gone, Pennock still played on, spend­ing two years in Non-League with Gravesend & North­fleet be­fore call­ing it quits.

By 2005, he was manag­ing part-timers Welling in Con­fer­ence South, a job he sup­ple­mented by work­ing as a win­dow cleaner.

Both roles in­volved plenty of climb­ing, with the Wings achiev­ing their high­est fin­ish for six years.

Once again, though, Pulis would come call­ing.

Hear­ing that Pennock was about to be of­fered the Alder­shot job, the Stoke boss in­vited his old skipper to head up the Pot­ters’ academy.

By 2011, he was first-team coach and well re­spected by the play­ers. “He has a very good way with peo­ple, he can han­dle him­self in pub­lic and he has a good un­der­stand­ing and knowl­edge of the game,” said Pulis at the time.

“He has a good man­ner about him and isn't afraid to say what he thinks. He has all the traits of a good man­ager and I’d love to see him take that step. He just needs an op­por­tu­nity.”

So, when For­est Green chair­man Dale Vince called Pulis for a rec­om­men­da­tion in Novem­ber 2013, the ref­er­ence was glow­ing.

Since then, he has notched fin­ishes of 12th, fifth and sec­ond, be­fore being bizarrely sacked just be­fore the 2016 play-offs. Gilling­ham have now shown the be­lief Vince did not.

“I’m re­ally pleased to see him get a shot,” said Danny Hig­gin­botham, who worked un­der Pennock at Stoke.

“He’s very like Tony – a great man man­ager who will al­ways treat peo­ple well if they put a shift in for him.

“I al­ways re­spected him. If I was still play­ing, I wouldn’t hes­i­tate to play for him.”

CULT STA­TUS: Ady Pennock was voted into Gilling­ham’s all-time great­est XI

PAST TIMES: Pennock in ac­tion for Gilling­ham

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