We continue our chat with ex-Gills forward Paul Shaw.
In the first part of our exclusive interview with Paul Shaw, the former Gills forward reflected on the early moments of his career at Arsenal, playing under Arsene Wenger and sharing the same training ground with legendary icons such as Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Tony Adams and David Seaman, while also commenting on some of his loan spells away from Highbury which, in the man’s own words, helped him “grow up.”
After signing for Millwall, and enjoying three years at the Den, it was Andy Hessenthaler who convinced the former Gunners’ trainee to join his project at Priestfield, and Paul fondly recalled his time in the Gills dressing room while also recalling on certain games which he looks back on with great pride.
In our second part, Shaw comments on his exit from Priestfield, his time at Sheffield United, and an enjoyable spell playing abroad before moving to the United States.
Q: In 2004 you made the decision to move on to Sheffield United. At that time what was going through your mind? You must have left with a heavy heart?
A: That was really difficult. If I was in that same situation again I don’t know what I would do. At the time, Sheffield United were third in the Championship so I was thinking that it was January and I could possibly go there and have a chance of playing in the Premier League and moving my career on.
I had known Neil [Warnock] for a long time; he had tried to sign me before and so, in my mind, I was moving to a club with a manager who really wanted me, or who I thought wanted me, and so it just made sense. That was the only reason I left. At Gillingham we were enjoying a good time; Hessy was fantastic with me and I had a good relationship with the fans and in my last game we beat Charlton Athletic in the FA Cup.
There were so many mixed emotions as to what I should do. As a family we didn’t want to move; it was purely a Football decision as it was an opportunity of going to a really big club and possibly getting into the Premier League. It didn’t really work out the way I wanted it to work out Football wise, but in hindsight, it’s easy to say that.
It was very difficult to leave.
Q: You made a near perfect start with Sheffield United, scoring on your debut at home against West Ham?
A: I had one training session before that game; we were 3-1 down and I came off the bench. Neil Warnock put me on, we got back in the game and it was a great feeling; the atmosphere was so good and it was a great way to start, sadly though things didn’t carry on that way.
Q: Even so, with them being one of your former clubs, you must be pleased for them to be doing so well in the Premier League under Chris Wilder?
A: It’s a fantastic club which is so well run; what I like about them is that there are still people working there who were there when I was. They do things the right way; they invest so much in their academy and they brought in the right manager at the right time, alongside Alan Knill who was my manager at Rotherham. He’s a great guy, a Football guy, and it’s worked for them. They look so strong in the Premier League and they’ve always been a well supported club.
Q: You came back to Priestfield and scored twice against us the following season for Sheffield United. Was that a difficult day?
A: Extremely. I was going through a good spell at the time; as a team we were clicking and we were very confident. We played well at Gillingham and to get a couple of goals was good, but it was difficult because it was at Priestfield.
Q: After Sheffield United you ended up with Rotherham, Chesterfield and Oxford. Talk us through those spells.
A: They were okay; I enjoyed my time at Rotherham. We were struggling at the time and finding things difficult. Alan Knill was the manager and I had a lot of respect for him; he was a good coach. Chesterfield didn’t work out; sometimes it happens. And then it was Oxford; I was there for a couple of months but after that, that was pretty much it.
Q: After Oxford you went off to Hungary and you enjoyed a really good spell?
A: It was funny actually because the club in Hungary, Ferencváros, were part owned at the time by Sheffield United so it was ironic that I had left them and bouncing around before getting a call from their Chief Executive asking if I would like to go to Hungary. I spoke to my wife, who wasn’t exactly jumping for joy, but I went out there to take a look.
I went out for a couple of weeks and, in my ignorance, I didn’t realise how big they were. They were the biggest club in Hungary; I did some training and watched some games and Budapest is a lovely place. I said to my wife maybe we should go and do this; Sheffield United sent a couple of other players out there and then Craig Short [former Blackburn defender] went out there to coach.
There was a sprinkling of English players and I had a fantastic three-and-a-half years there. I absolutely loved living there, Budapest is a beautiful city, my wife and boys came over and they went into the British school there and my wife got a job there so, family wise, we had a great time and didn’t want to leave. I almost got a new lease of life Football wise; it was very technical but wasn’t quite as quick.
It was a good club, well run, who have gone to achieve a lot of success. They have played Champions League and have a new stadium. They were in the second division when I went and we helped to get them promoted, I had a year back in the first division. If you had said to me a few years prior to that I would be playing in Hungary I would have said I had no interest, but I loved it.
Q: You did come back to the UK to play non-league and then went out to New York. How did all of that come about?
A: We came back from Hungary and I didn’t really know what I was going to do; I started to get into coaching but then one day I got a call asking if I would play for Retford; oddly enough the same guy who got me the move to Hungary put me in touch with a guy at New York. He asked if I would be interested; I had the bug of moving around and once again asked if I could go out and take a look, they agreed, and I went out on my own.
It was a new start up club, completely from scratch, and needing everything imaginable. There were two blokes in an office trying to get it started within a couple of months and that was a new challenge. They wanted me to play and be the Assistant Coach and we had to build a squad from the very beginning. My boys were still living in Sheffield so my wife stayed in the UK with them and I did the first season on my own. It was interesting because within a month of the season starting they let the coach go and they asked me to take over as manager, so I stopped playing, and really enjoyed it.
I was busy planning for the second season, and then the club folded. As the season ended, my wife and the kids left the house and their schools and came over to New York, we got them settled and then the club went out of business, so we had moved out and then left without a club. It was a case of “what do we do now?” We had rented the house out, and got lucky to get a chance to go down to Orlando City.
I got a call out of the blue from Adrian Heath [former manager of Orlando City, and former player at Everton and Burnley] and that’s what got me to Orlando. We didn’t want to go back to the UK at that point, but it could have been our only option.
Q: You remain at Orlando City. Just talk us through your responsibilities and what roles you have at the club?
A: I’m Technical Director of the youth club; so what we have here, Orlando City is the MLS Club, and then they have their academy underneath that, and then they have affiliate youth clubs so, we are Orlando City Youth Soccer which is an affiliate youth club of Orlando City. I am Technical Director of that; we have boys and girls playing. We have 51 teams playing; some are recreational and some play at the highest youth level and we mainly provide a platform for every player to play, whatever their ability is. But our highest level players will play in college, that’s what we push them towards. We have an awful lot of players who play in our U17s and U19s and we are just trying to prepare them to play in college.
Our best boys, if they get to a certain level, we push them to the MLS Academy. I am really enjoying it; it’s completely different and I enjoy being around the young players. Unfortunately in my role, to a certain degree, I don’t get chance to coach as much as I want to, my role is overseeing everybody because we have so many teams. My role has changed a little but over the years as I started as boys’ director but I now oversee the boys and girls; the facilities are good out here. In Florida we can train outside 12 months of the year, it’s good to be able to do that and my family are happy here. My two boys play here and my eldest has just gone to college and the youngest plays in the U17’s. It’s worked out for us, but you never know what the next few years will hold.
If you had said to me ten years ago I would be working, and living, in Florida I would never have believed in. In this game, expect the unexpected because you never know what will happen next. I wouldn’t have believed you had you told me I would have lived in Hungary, New York and Florida by this time. It’s been a great experience.
Q: How much attention do you still pay to the UK game?
A: A lot. Premier League is everywhere over here and it’s a perfect time here. Due to the five hour difference it’s a great time to watch it and, for me, I can pay attention to my former clubs and I love doing that. It keeps me informed; I still speak to certain people at home in regards to how things are going.
Q: Reflecting on your playing career, and now your coaching career, how would you sum it up?
A: I am extremely lucky. I’ve been able to stay in this game all in my life from 16 years old. I’ve played for some fantastic clubs, Gillingham being one of those, and had some great experiences. Some places I have been lucky enough to live in, I am now coaching the game I love. Who knows what will happen in the future, but at the moment I like seeing youngsters develop. Looking back though, I’ve been very lucky as I played as a pro for over 20 years. I probably played for a few too many clubs, but that’s all part of the experience but I wouldn’t change it at all.
Paul Shaw was speaking to Phill Catterick from his offices at Orlando City and we thank him for his time.