The word legend often gets overused in football these days, but few players could argue Gary Charman is anything other. The veteran Horsham man racked up a whopping 600 appearances for his boyhood club against Merstham a week ago as we fell to a 1-0 defeat to the Moatsiders and he found time to chat to Matt Dale about how proud he was to be back at the club where it all started.
Few players in the modern game get to be synonymous with certain clubs, Manchester United had Ryan Giggs, Chelsea had John Terry, Horsham have Gary Charman. His return in October pleasantly surprised Horsham supporters who had often wondered if there would be a final swansong for the 39-year-old defender who re-joined from Bognor Regis Town and ‘Gazza’ – as he’s affectionately known – revealed he always had plans to finish what he started.
“My plan was always to try and finish my footballing career at Horsham” he confirmed. “I joined a fantastic club at Bognor, and I enjoyed my time there, but Horsham is where it all began and everyone knows I love this club. I watched them as a boy and came through to play for the first team so it only feels right to come back now.” In November 2013, Gary became player-manager after the departure of Simon Colbran, but with a severely restricted budget and – by his own admission – a lack of experience, he was unable to address an abysmal run of form and left the club in January 2015.
Reflecting back, Charman explained “I didn’t like the way it ended with the club. What happened, happened, but I wanted to make sure my time with Horsham ended on a high. I knew that I was a few games short of reaching 600 appearances and I was eager to come back. Dom Di Paola and I had spoken in the past and he had told me he was keen to bring me in as a player and I was eager to come back. At the time I was just getting over an injury to my shoulder but I worked hard to get myself fit and when I knew I was starting against Merstham and it would be my 600th appearance – well, what can I say? It was certainly a proud moment. Not many players get to play 600 games throughout their careers, let alone for a single club. I feel very privileged to have done it and honoured that the club have allowed me to get there.”
With Charman beginning his career at Horsham’s old Queen Street ground, the defender was delighted to see The Hornets open their much-anticipated new ground back in August, and even more pleased to finally play on the 3G pitch at The Camping World Community Stadium and he was full of praise for Horsham’s existing set up exclaiming “Horsham is an incredibly well run club these days. It always was, but the new ground has taken it to an entirely new level. It’s professional from the youth team all the way up to the first team. The coaches here are excellent – Dom, Wezzo and the rest of them – they are superb. As a player, and a fan of the club, I’m so pleased because they’ve set it up fantastically. All the lads realise just how lucky we are to be playing at a ground with the facilities we now have, and on such a great pitch – easily the best 3G pitch in the county.”
Despite enduring some tough days at the club as manager, Charman’s enthusiasm and positivity for the club is infectious, and he’s able to look back upon his time as the boss with maturity and balanced reflection as he admits that he learnt a great deal personally and professionally. “Despite how results went, I enjoyed the time I had as manager. It definitely toughened me up, you have to learn how to deal with results and go from highs to lows – one minute you win, then you lose several on the bounce and you have to react to that. You try to take the pressure off the players and shoulder yourself with that burden and that’s tough when you’re new to management. I won’t lie, it was a hard time for everyone, the club was in a tough place, the ground application had been rejected, we had a severely reduced budget and looking back now, I only had limited contacts within the game and it was difficult to bring in players.” Charman continued on explaining that his decision to leave the club not taken lightly “I feel for the supporters at the time, I’m sure looking back now at it they know I did everything I could for the club, and I dwelled on it for a couple of weeks before I knew it was time to go. In the end I felt that the club needed someone with experience to take the club forward. I could argue that there might have been things I could have done differently, but it might not have changed the results.”
So, would a return to management be on the cards in the future for Charman? “Yes, possibly, I wouldn’t write it off. At the moment I’m not thinking about it while I’m still playing. I’ve always said I’ll keep going until I feel like I’m letting the team down. Fortunately, I have some great people around me such as my family to support me.”
Friends and family aside, Charman is also keen to pay credit to his former managers during his long career in the game, having played under legendary Sussex based managers John Maggs and Jack Pearce before joining up with Di Paola. Charman is quick to point out that despite his current manager being younger than his previous bosses, there are vital similarities and personality traits essential at this level to be successful.
“They all have their own way of doing things, but probably the main thing you notice is that between them all, they all have their own way they want to play football, and they are all unbelievably dedicated in what they do. You have to be to a successful manager for as long as how long Jack Pearce has been doing it for and you need to have a Plan B and be willing to use it when things aren’t working out. Dom’s obviously been successful and done fantastic things in a much shorter career. Playing for him, I can tell you he has that pedigree – if he’s not happy with something he will tell you straight and he’s not afraid of making changes if he needs to. He has a way of playing and he ensures you adapt to it. I’m not just saying it, but Dom is destined for great things and it’s important that Horsham as a club evolve at the same time as his managerial career does as it’s so important we keep him here.”
Delving more into Charman’s relationship with Di Paola, Gazza reveals how his experience and versatility to play anywhere on the pitch was influential in his return to the club. These days, Charman is more comfortable playing in defence, but he has also found himself deployed up front as a late substitute against Folkestone Invicta and at Hornchurch. His appearance in the 2-1 defeat at Hornchurch while The Hornets were chasing the game saw him bark out a battle cry to his team mates to support him further up the pitch as a chance broke down, and it’s this desire to win that he feels was important to Di Paola. “I’ve still got that willingness to win” he asserts “I like to think that Dom’s decision was partly down to bring in some experience and hopefully he sees that I have good leadership qualities on the pitch. There are a lot of winners in this squad and hopefully I can add to it.”
With over 600 appearances for Horsham, it is perhaps unsurprising that Charman has a decent selection of memories he’s proud of while playing for The Hornets as I ask him to pick out some of his favourite moments “Oh wow, there’s been a few!” he gushes “Probably the main one that sticks out would be when we gained promotion under John Maggs. We needed to win away at Molesey in what was the second-to-last game of the season. We were trailing 1-0 at the time and I came on as a sub and we went on to win 3-1. It was a huge highlight as it was my first promotion and you have to make the most of it because quite often in football you have more downs than ups. Then there is the FA Cup run of course, and being part of that side that got to go to Swansea. It was such a huge deal for the town and we beat some big sides along the way. Then there was getting to 500 appearances for Horsham, and – for me personally – making my comeback from the facial injury which I think would have ended quite a few players’ careers.”
It’s at that point I point out that Horsham supporters will be all too aware of the injuries he has sustained as part of his ‘service’ to the club as much as his prowess on the pitch as he continues to wear a protective mask during matches. Such has been his tendency to put his body on the line for the club, Charman has suffered more than his fair share of nasty injuries and he certainly is aware of the toll they place on his body and mental well-being as he goes on to explain. “It’s hard, when I broke my face it knocks your confidence. At the time I remember feeling embarrassed by the way I looked.” As he details the horror-injury he sustained in a 1-1 draw away at Hendon in December 2009. “you get told by doctors you won’t play again, so you feel even worse. I had fractured my cheekbone and my eye socket was damaged and I needed an operation on my face. It definitely wasn’t easy and you know it’ll take you a long time to get back, but you get through it and you work hard. It was the same when I fractured my shoulder playing for Bognor. It was another long-term injury and it’s demoralising because you just want to play football and you can’t. With that one, it was frustrating because at the time I was playing extremely well and to make matters worse, the lad who pushed me over was a friend of mine so he felt guilty about what happened and he also has to deal with that. But again, with a good support network, your friends and family help you get through it.”
Our congratulations to Gary for making 600 appearances.
Gary Charman was speaking to Matt Dale.