FEATURE: Gavin Strachan on his nomadic career, being the son of a star and life at Ilkeston FC

Gavin Strachan in action for Coventry City.
Gavin Strachan in action for Coventry City.

Gavin Strachan has been immersed in football since the day he was born.

The eldest son of one of the most talented midfielders to ever come out of Scotland in the shape of the country’s current national boss, Gordon, Strachan junior followed his father around the country in his playing days before himself becoming a well-travelled professional and eventually a coach.

Gavin Strachan (right) in action for Hartlepool against Sheffield Wednesday in a 2005 play-off final in Cardiff.

Gavin Strachan (right) in action for Hartlepool against Sheffield Wednesday in a 2005 play-off final in Cardiff.

Now installed as head coach at Ilkeston FC, an entirely new challenge has begun for the 36-year-old as he ventures into management for the first time, but it’s back in his birthplace of Aberdeen where his tale begins.

“From as early I can remember I was going to games to watch my old man play and loved it,” he said.

“Being around the football environment was really good and like any kid I just wanted to have lots of kits, pretend to be my favourite players and watch it on TV.”

Strachan and his family would move around the country according to where Gordon was plying his trade.

Strachan is shadowed by Man Utd's Owen Hargreaves while at Peterborough

Strachan is shadowed by Man Utd's Owen Hargreaves while at Peterborough

Gavin attended primary school in Manchester whilst his dad played for United, then switched to high school in Leeds when the move to the eventual champions of England was made in 1989.

“We had good solid spells in each place, unlike my own career where I moved around a lot more often, so we could get settled quite easily,” he said.

“The timing of the Leeds move was quite good as I was changing schools anyway to go to secondary so I didn’t have too much in the way of upheaval.

“It was a fantastic time to be in Leeds because the town was buzzing with the team doing so well and the regeneration of the city going on too.

Strachan is unveiled as Ilkeston FC head coach.

Strachan is unveiled as Ilkeston FC head coach.

“They got promoted and then went on to win the Division One title, as it was then. Even though my dad was part of a really good side I preferred to stay fairly quiet with regard to that at school and not be a ‘look at me’ type character, particularly as it can work both ways depending on if he or the team were playing well or not!”

On the playing front, Strachan junior had been appearing for various youth sides, before eventually having trials for Leeds and even planning a potential career as a journalist.

“As a kid I never really dreamed I’d be anywhere near good enough to be a pro and was certainly nothing like as good as my dad who was an amazing player,” he said.

“I actually played in goal until I was in the under-12 age groups but didn’t get any trials until I was 14. I did work experience at the Yorkshire Evening Post as a reporter as I thought that was what I’d end up doing.”

Then, when his father made a move to Coventry City that would eventually see him take over as manager, Gavin in turn was offered YTS terms at Highfield Road, having been offered similar at Leeds.

He said: “I made what in retrospect was the right decision to go to Coventry. I could have stayed with Leeds, who were a bigger club, and played alongside the likes of Harry Kewell and Jonathan Woodgate who were coming through, but being at Coventry worked out well as I ended up getting my debut there when I was 18 which probably wouldn’t have happened if I’d stayed in Yorkshire.

“I was with Coventry until I was 23 but probably only made around 20 first team appearances, along with a couple of loan spells in Scotland.

“It was great being part of a Premier League team although I’m probably the record appearance maker for Coventry’s reserves, which I guess is not what I was really after.

“It was frustrating at times and with hindsight I probably stayed there a couple of years too long while not playing enough games, which in turn gave me fewer options in terms of moves.

“That was tough too because I’d gone from playing at Anfield against people like Steven Gerrard to being unable to get a move for love nor money.

“At one point I had a deal arranged with Sheffield Wednesday but that ended up falling through and I actually ended up on the dole.”

Short-term spells at Southend and Peterborough followed, before a four-year career at Hartlepool United would prove to be his most successful period as a player.

As a young married man and with his wife and the first of his three children in tow, Strachan made the move to the north-east, spending two years living in Hartlepool and then settling in York in order to make it a little easier for his wife to get back home to Coventry where her family resided.

He said: “I’d contacted pretty much every Football League club offering myself up for a trial and was set to go to Darlington, before Hartlepool boss Neale Cooper, who had played with my dad at Aberdeen, spoke to me and offered me the chance to go there instead.

“I played a couple of pre-season games and they signed me up and the next four years were the most settled of my playing career.

“We got to the play-off final in Cardiff against Sheffield Wednesday in 2005 but lost that and then got relegated the following season. But it was great to be playing regularly and part of a good squad.”

Eventually a change of manager at Hartlepool would spell the end of Strachan’s time with them and a move to Peterborough United was next, during which time he played under former Ilkeston Town boss Keith Alexander and then Darren Ferguson, a man he would later go on to accompany on the coaching staff at London Road in Ferguson’s second spell.

But injuries would start to kick in with various long-term problems making appearances irregular, and although an 18-month spell at Notts County saw Strachan stay in the Football League a while longer, non-league sides Hinckley United and Corby Town would be his final ports of call before coaching became his next priority.

He said: “I was far from naturally inclined to move into coaching and even did a journalism degree towards the end of my playing career, but I’d done my initial badges when I was in my 20s because everyone was doing them and I even set up my own coaching school, The Strachan Foundation, with my brother and which is still running now.

“Then I got the chance out of the blue to go back to Peterborough with Darren Ferguson and work with the youth team.

“I’m indebted to them as they put me through the remaining badges, right up to the UEFA Pro Licence, and I progressed to working with the first team until things didn’t quite work out earlier this year and we all left the club.”

Fast forward a few months and Strachan’s arrival at Ilkeston FC. He had little knowledge of the Evo-Stik League, but it was an opportunity that immediately appealed.

“I knew of Ilkeston because when I was at Peterborough we’d tried to sign Che Adams, so was aware of the kind of talent they were producing,” he said.

“I got in touch with Nigel Harrop (Ilkeston’s owner) and we met the next day where I discussed my ideas of how I felt the club could be run on the playing side. He liked it and a deal was done.

“It’s been a huge building exercise as well as learning about the level. I’ve had to deal with things that they don’t teach you on any coaching course.

“I had to build a squad largely with players I knew of but was unsure about in terms of how they’d cope with this level.

“So it’s been a massive learning curve and I’m really pleased with the staff we’ve brought in. We just want to get the foundations, culture and financial stability in place to create a great future.”

Strachan ended by explaining what influence his dad has had so far on his managerial career, as well as how different things are now to when he was playing.

He said: “I certainly speak to my dad more about management things than I ever did about playing, particularly as in comparison to me as a player he was miles better!

“ I’ve been taken by surprise how different this is to a playing career. It used to be relatively easy as a player, now I’m thinking every hour of every day about formations, upcoming games and so on, and it consumes your life so much more.

“But I’m enjoying it and learning all of the time, and I hope that I can use what I’ve learned over my career to help Ilkeston FC reach their goals.”