Sunday, 16 January 2011
258 Gary Jones
Position : Midfield
Played : 1997-98 (initially on loan from Swansea) to 2001-02 ; 2003-04 (initially on loan from Barnsley ) to ?
Appearances : (firsr spell) 142 ; (second spell) 262 (at time of writing)
Goals : (first spell) 22 ; (second spell ) 40 (at time of writing)
As has been written elsewhere Graham Barrow was a nice bloke and when Swansea sacked their assistant-manager Billy Ayre in autumn 1997 he was invited to help out with the coaching at Spotland to keep his hand in. Billy repaid us by recommending a young player on the fringe of the Swansea side that they had signed from Caernarfon Town in the summer so Barrow took him on loan in January 1998. It was a gift that's kept on giving.
Gary's arrival initially caused some confusion as Barrow had been publicly tracking the Notts County striker of the same name ( always an unlikely prospect with County riding high at the top of the table). He made his debut away at Peterborough and made an immediate false start by giving the ball away with his first touch. However by the end of the game he'd made a better impression with his willingness to drive the ball forwards. A timely first goal in his fourth game at home to Brighton saw the move being made permanent. Unfortunately Barrow then started mucking him around, often playing him wide on the right which has never been his best position. As such there were those in the crowd (who wouldn't admit it now) who didn't rate him.
The following season was even more frustrating as Gary was in and out of the side for the first half of the season and then dropped altogether from February until the last game of the season at Brighton (Gillingham) when caretaker boss David Hamilton immediately recalled him in the wake of Barrow's sacking and he was offered a new contract (which would have been unlikely had Barrow survived). He didn't start the next season in the first 11 as Dave Flitcroft had arrived in the summer but he got his chance early on when Flitcroft was suspended and played so well he was pretty immoveable from that day on.
Gary doesn't have silky on the ball skills and can't pick out a man with 40 yard passes; his touch is OK and he has good awareness of those around him but his main attribute is a tremendous will-to-win and the energy to drive forwards with the ball when he is difficult to stop.
He soon became captain of the side and started scoring more regularly. It was fairly inevitable when Steve Parkin left for Barnsley that he would come back for Gary.He left it a month during which Gary scored his best ever goal for us, a 30 yard volley at Bristol Rovers. Parkin came in with a bid of £200,00 in November 2001 and when the Board hesitated Gary helped things along with another volley - of foul-mouthed abuse at the Directors and the club in general for which I suspect some have never quite forgiven him.
Parkin never really won over the Barnsley fans and like John McGovern at Leeds Gary copped some of the flak for being the managers proxy on the pitch. The general consensus was that he was a good Division Three player who was out of his depth two leagues higher. Barnsley were relegated at the end of the season and Parkin was sacked in October 2002 although Gary kept his place in the side until he sustained a serious foot injury in April 2003.
The following season he didn't appear at all for them and their fans started accusing him of milking the injury and not wanting to play. He was rescued by Alan Buckley bringing him back to Spotland on loan in November Gary making the appropriate apologies to all and sundry. He made his second debut at home to Kidderminster with one fan near me standing up and shouting "F**k off Judas Jones ! " as soon as his name was read out. He returned in the middle of a dreadful run of results and still obviously hampered by the injury he couldn't do much to help as we lost the next 4 games. He missed Buckley's last game in charge through injury and when he returned his old mucker Parkin was back in charge.
Tieing up the loose ends of his contract with Barnsley took a few weeks but he was finally our player again on 13.1.2004 and he celebrated by getting himself sent off at Northampton the next day. He helped us avoid relegation while never being impressive. He missed the opening game of the next season but scored two in the next game and gradually worked his way back to full fitness helping us get close to the play-offs again. He had a poor start to the next season with a petulant sending off in the League Cup disaster against Bradford after they'd run rings around him in the midfield and his general below-par form contributed to a very disappointing season.
He had to sit out the last three months of 2006-07 through injury although he was involved in Keith Hill's early victories. His future seemed a bit uncertain the following season as Perkins and Doolan held the central midfield places at the start but after a great performance in the 4-2 win at Rotherham in December 2007 he seemed to get his mojo back and was fantastic all the way to the play-off final. He had an uneven time in 2008-09 with two injury breaks and the apparent end of his goalscoring days with no goals in 28 appearances. He was injured again in November 2009 and many including myself thought we were at our best when the two Jasons were in the midfield together and the eventual reintroduction of Gary may have cost us the title.
But that's the great thing about Gary; whenever I write him off he comes back better than ever. I thought he was finished in 2006 particularly after the defeat at Bury where Dave Flitcroft put him in his pocket and he took out his frustration on Tony Gallimore. I thought this season we'd give him a few games for old times sake and then phase him out but at the time of writing he's our top scorer.
So I'll conclude with a prediction - Gary Jones will never play in the Premier League - and let's see what happens ...