Simon Gillett started his career at Southampton, alongside players who went on to great things such as Gareth Bale, Adam Lallana and Theo Walcott.
After receiving a first-class footballing upbringing at an academy that richly deserves its reputation for developing young talent, Gillett spent time at nine clubs in a career that came to an end in 2016.
FLW’s Sam Preston caught up with the former Nottingham Forest, Bristol City and Bournemouth man to discuss his career in more detail…
What was it like coming through the ranks at Southampton?
It was the best place to start out. It gets players careers. At Southampton there have been players like Gareth and Theo have really hit the heights but there are others dotted across the leagues that have come through the academy.
We’d do technical drills every day. I really responded to the training. We had Steve Wigley who was a disciplinarian and we didn’t want to step out of line. We were involved in the first team with Gordon Strachan and we looked up to those players. It was quite unique at the time.
Who was the best player you played alongside at the club?
It would have to be Adam Lallana. His ability was frightening. With the ball, he was superb and stood out above everyone; Gareth, Theo, everyone.
Theo was different because he was so quick. You couldn’t ignore him and he was a great finisher. Gareth came back one pre-season and it was like – wow! What has he been eating? He never looked back from that.
You’ve had various loan spells during your career – which was your favourite?
I’d have to say Blackpool. It was my first taste of first team football. We ended up getting promoted at Wembley which was amazing.
We didn’t really focus on Wembley. We just kept going and going and suddenly we were there. I got a brief cameo at the end but it was amazing and well deserved.
I was 20, 21 and it was totally different to Southampton as they didn’t have good facilities. The lads were really welcoming. I loved it, it was a great club and quite tight knit. It was a great season and a learning curve.
The club you made the most appearances for was Doncaster. How was your time there?
The way of playing suited me down to the ground and I knew Sean O’Driscoll from Bournemouth. I fitted in at holding midfield and we were doing really well.
Then we were hit by injuries, had a really tough time of it and didn’t have a big enough budget to get lots of replacements in. We struggled after that but I enjoyed it up there and I improved there again.
You enjoyed two spells at Yeovil which strikes me as a unique club to play for. Why did you go back?
The first spell was only a month when I was young and I went as cover. The second spell was a funny one because I was meant to sign with Bristol City in the summer but the deal didn’t get done.
Then I was supposed to sign at Oxford and that didn’t happen. Gary Johnson wanted me to go down but to be honest the time there is tarnished because I got a bad injury within about a month of being there.
That was the beginning of the end of my career. I was never really fully fit after that so it was disappointing for me.
Moving onto quickfire questions now – who was the best manager you ever played for?
Sean O’Driscoll and Nigel Pearson. Sean improves players and his philosophy meant I seemed to play good football under him. The best football of my career was under him at Nottingham Forest.
Nigel, I was a young lad, being phased out at the time but he put his arm around me and lifted my spirits massively. I think he’s a top man and a top man manager.
Who was the most skillful player you played with?
Adam Lallana was good but also Leon Best. He tried to be Ronaldinho and R9 Ronaldo when we were younger!
Worst dressed team mate you ever had?
Stuart Anderson and El Hadji Diouf. Stuart was my room mate at Southampton and he wore baby blue Timberlands with bootcut jeans – just not a good look.
Diouf at Doncaster wore big, baggy terrible gangster gear and big sunglasses when it was grey and raining every day.
Worst dancer you played alongside?
The first thing that came to my mind was Lloyd James. It was the worst and the best! He’s got all sorts, the robot, everything.
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