Midfielder Gary Brabin joined Hull City at the start of January 1999, cutting short a loan spell at Lincoln City to move permanently from Blackpool. Brabin was a key part of the new squad that manager Warren Joyce assembled to pull the Tigers clear of relegation to the Conference National, a mission that seemed unlikely with the Tigers marooned six points adrift at the foot of the table when Brabin joined. Joyce’s approach was to recruit a squad full of aggression, gung-ho spirit and wild but strong team ethics, and this was enhanced greatly by Brabin’s signing, whose reputation was based on his tough tackling and combustible temperament. It was to his credit that Brabin was able to tone down his aggression during his time at the Tigers while still retaining his effectiveness and, let’s be clear, ability to intimidate opponents.
Gary’s debut broke a run of four defeats as loan winger Mark Bonner scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Rotherham United and by February 1999 Brabin was established in City’s midfield and scored the only goal in a 1-0 win against Darlington. As City’s form continued to improve and the points gap at the foot of the table was eliminated during March 1999, Brabin came to the fore with three goals in four matches – consecutive wins against Leyton Orient and Plymouth Argyle then a 1-1 draw against relegation rivals Scarborough in front of 14,000 fans at Boothferry Park. These three goals were a vital part of City’s elevation from the relegation zone and the Tigers survived by a five point margin as local rivals Scarborough dropped out of the Football League.
Brabin went into the subsequent 1999/00 season with a strong reputation amongst City fans, the hardman in midfield that could also play a bit and score a few – his former work as a nightclub bouncer was also part of his reputation and triggered a regular terrace chant. Brabin was a first team regular throughout the season as Joyce’s squad, ideally equipped to battle away from the foot of the table, found it harder to compete at the upper end of the table. Brabin netted goals at Southend in November 1999, Peterborough in February 2000 and against Barnet in April but the club finished in mid-table and Joyce was replaced by Brian Little in the closing weeks of the season. Little used Brabs more sparingly in the first half of the 2000/01 season, sometimes as a substitute, and City’s form suffered. But in the second half of the season, with Boothferry Park lockouts and players not being paid setting the narrative, Brabin became the players’ spokesman and returned to the first team as the clenched-fist attitude of the Great Escape season was rekindled to propel the Tigers into the League Division 3 play-offs. While City fell short of success, losing the semi-final 1-2 on aggregate to Leyton Orient, this was a fitting swansong to Brabin’s time at Hull City as he left the club in the 2001 close season.
Gary Brabin was born in Liverpool and after coming through the youth team system at Everton he joined Stockport County at the age of 16 in 1987, becoming a professional two years later at the beginning of a period when Hatters’ manager Danny Bergara was beginning to spark an upturn for the club – thanks in no small part to the goals of Brabin’s future Hull City teammate in 2001, Kevin Francis. After only four first team appearances in four years, two of which came in the 1989/90 end of season play-off against Chesterfield that Stockport lost 0-6 on aggregate, Brabin was loaned to Conference National side Gateshead. At the start of the 1991/92 season he signed for Conference National side Runcorn, a club he served for three seasons and led in two Wembley finals – the 1993 FA Trophy defeat to Wycombe Wanderers and the 1994 FA Trophy final, which runcorn also lost to Woking. In 1994 he was recognised by being picked three times for the England C squad – a semi-professional select XI – and attracted renewed interest from Football League clubs.
In July 1994 League Division 3 side Doncaster Rovers paid £45,000 for Brabin’s signature and he went straight into manager Sammy Chung’s first team. Gary scored his first goal in a September 1994 3-0 win over Hereford United and by Christmas he had netted six times. However in the second half of the season Brabs was sent off three times, adding to the dismissal against Rochdale in October 1994, and he missed a signfiicant number of games through suspension. In the 1995/96 season Brabin was able to curb his over-aggression and was a first team regular for Doncaster, taking his tally to 11 goals in 67 appearances. His improved form encouraged Bury to pay £125,000 for his services in March 1996, he started five games for the Shakers at the end of the season, seeing a red card in one of those matches, as the Gigg Lane club won promotion to League Division 2.
His time at Bury was brief, however, because in July 1996 Blackpool paid £200,000 for Brabin, a decent profit margin for the Shakers in four months. He started the 1996/97 season in manager Gary Megson’s midfield and was a regular throughout apart from a six weeks absence in February and March 1997 as the Tangerines narrowly missed out on a play-off spot. Megson was replaced by new Blackpool manager Nigel Worthington in July 1997 and Brabin was a more peripheral figure in the first team, often used as a substitute. This pattern continued into the 1998/99 season and by November 1998 Brabin’s tally for Blackpool had reached 77 appearances (of which 16 were off the bench) and 5 goals. In December 1998 Brabs was loaned to Lincoln City but after only five appearances he was recalled and transferred to Hull City.
Brabin left the Tigers in 2001 and spent two months at Conference National side Boston United, making just one appearance before joining League Division 3 side Torquay United in October 2001. His time at Plainmoor lasted only two months and featured two red cards in seven appearances, one against Hull City at Boothferry Park and the other against local rivals Exeter City. Brabin returned to the North West in December 2001 and joined Conference National side Chester City, where he rekindled the spark and scored three times in 17 appearances, winning the Player of the Season trophy. He moved to Welsh League side Total Network Solutions in the summer of 2002 and in two seasons at Llansantffraid he scored seven goals in 48 appearances. In February 2004 he was advised to stop playing due to a chest condition and in November 2004 he was apppointed assistant manager at Witton Albion, the first step in what became a lengthy managerial career.
In July 2005 Brabs defied medical advice and returning to playing football, joining Conference National side Halifax Town. After only four starts for the Shaymen he moved on to Southport in January 2006 after a two week sojourn at Lancaster City. In November 2006 he joined Northern Premier League side Burscough, leaving the club in the 2007 close season.
In June 2007 Brabin was appointed assistant manager at The New Saints, a revised name for the Welsh League club previously called Total Network Solutions. He made two appearances as a player for TNS, drawing his playing days to a drawn out close four years after medical advice suggested he should stop, and he began a successful second career in football management. In April 2008 he was appointed manager at Southport and piloted the Sandgrounders to the Conference North play-off only to lose the semi-final to Stalybridge Celtic after a penalty shootout. In June 2008 he became manager of Conference rivals Cambridge United and took the U’s to second place in his first season, only to lose the play-off final at Wembley to former club Torquay United – this took Brabin’s play-offs tally to 0-4 as a player and manager. Despite being named Conference Manager of the Season, Brabs was dismissed in July 2009 after disagreements with the Cambridge board and he quickly joined newly relegated Conference National rivals Luton Town as chief scout.
Luton lost the Conference play-off semi-final to York City at the end of the 2009/10 season and in May 2010 Brabin was elevated to assistant manager at Kenilworth Road. He became the Hatters’ first team manager in March 2011 and piloted the club into another play-off campaign that saw Wrexham beaten 5-0 on aggregate in the semi-finals, only for AFC Wimbledon to win promotion after a penalty shootout at the City of Manchester Stadium – Gary’s sixth defeat in the play-offs. He remained manager at Luton for the 2011/12 season but was dismissed in March 2012 when the Hatters’ promotion push started to fade, although a subsequent uptick in form under successor Paul Buckle saw the Hatters lose another Wembley play-off final to York City. A few days after his sacking Brabin was convicted of using threatening behaviour when confronting a steward after being shown a red card during a lively touchline encounter the previous April at York City.
After two years out of the limelight Brabin returned to football in October 2014 when he was appointed manager at Southport but three months later he accepted a post as Under-21s manager at Everton. In May 2015 he resumed his managerial career once more, taking the reins at recently relegated Conference National side Tranmere Rovers. His results at Prenton Park were good with the club narrowly missing out on a play-off spot and assembling a talented squad under Brabin, however he was dismissed in September 2016 after a run of poor results. In October 2017 he returned to football once again when appointed first team coach at Port Vale and a year later he was appointed assistant manager at League One side Blackpool, stepping down in March 2019 due to personal reasons. He spent much of the 2019/20 season as assistant manager at Luton Town, who had now risen to the Championship, but left his role in March 2020 when manager Graeme Jones was sacked. In April 2021 he was appointed Sporting Director at The New Saints, his third spell with the Welsh League club that had relocated to Oswestry in Shropshire.
Date/Place of Birth: 9 December 1970, Liverpool
Hull City First Game: 9 January 1999, Rotherham United H (League Division 3), 28 years, 31 days old
Hull City Final Game: 16 May 2001, Leyton Orient A (League Division 3 Play-Off Semi Final Second Leg), 30 years, 158 days old
Stockport County (1987-1991), Gateshead (1991, loan), Runcorn (1991-1994), Doncaster Rovers (1994-1996), Bury (1996), Blackpool (1996-1999), Lincoln City (1998-1999, loan), Hull City (1999-2001), Boston Unitede (2001), Torquay United (2001-2002), Chester City (2002), Total Network Solutions (2002-2004), Halifax Town (2005-2006), Southport (2006), Burscough (2006-2007), The New Saints (2007-2008)
Hull City Record
Career: 109 apps, 9 goalsGary Brabin
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