Paul started his career in youth football with Redheugh Boys Club, a youth team based in Gateshead before eventually breaking into professional football with Hartlepool United in 1991.
Paul stayed with the ‘monkey hangers’ for 4 years before eventually leaving the club in 1995. Paul’s time at Hartlepool was “a bit stop-start with ongoing shin splint problems” which hampered his career there and limited his chances to 56 first team appearances in which he scored 9 goals.
Reflecting on his time in County Durham, Paul took some solace in the fact that he “managed to play in some big cup games, most notably against Arsenal at Highbury in the League Cup”.
The game Paul is referring to took place in the 1994/1995 season in the Coca Cola League Cup 2nd round 2nd leg.
The Gunners won the game 2-0 with Kevin Campbell and Paul Dickov the goal scorers for the North London side. Paul remembers the game fondly saying that that Arsenal team was the best team he played against in his career by “a mile” and ruefully adding “playing against Tony Adams and Martin Keown showed me what proper defending was all about!” For the record the Gunners won 7-0 on aggregate over the two legs.
Paul decided in 1995 to drop into non- league and back to his roots by joining Gateshead FC for his first spell with the club. It was a fruitful time for Paul as he found the back of the net 23 times in 80 appearances until a certain North Hertfordshire club came knocking for his services at the end on 1996/1997 season.
Paul was the star signing for Boro in the 1997/98 pre-season. Boro were not the only club in for Paul at the time. “It was, I suppose, a difficult decision as I had lived at home all my life, but I knew that Boro was a great opportunity. Other Conference Clubs wanted me and I had trialed with Toulouse in France for a month but could not settle, but nothing bar the Boro opportunity was concrete.”
“Paul (Fairclough) brought me down and showed me around and made me feel wanted and promised to improve me as a player. It was a great set up and it just felt right. Mind you he said the club couldn’t pay more than £25k for me, so it was a relief when the tribunal set it at £18k!”
Paul’s career at Boro started disastrously, picking up a bad injury sustained in a pre-season game against Cambridge United. In front of the home fans, Paul opened his account for Boro with a spectacular effort “which was voted goal of the season as well. A great team effort and definitely my favourite” before he sustained a broken leg which would prevent him for kicking a football in anger for a further 7 months.
His return to the Boro first team came about in fairy tale circumstances, an FA Cup 4th round replay against his home town club, Newcastle United at St James Park. Ironically Paul was recalled to the team when Giuliano Grazioli, the goal scorer in the original tie at Broadhall Way, sustained a leg injury in an FA Trophy game, ironically against Gateshead FC, the week before the replay. “The Newcastle game was such a memorable match, against my boyhood team and such a massive occasion. Stuart Pearce’s shirt is still in my wardrobe.”
Looking back at his career Paul reflects on what may have been. “Bit of frustration really, started really well that pre-season but after injury was never the same. I lost a yard of pace and my mobility was really affected. I was not the player I was before my injury without doubt.”
It is hard for Paul not to wonder what could have been. “I had an enjoyable career which could have been so much better if not for that Saturday against Cambridge. I have got to say though the way I was looked after by the club and the support from the fans during that period I will never forget, a proper football club supported by proper people, although nobody ever understood a word I said down there ! I could have been from Zambia!”
|Place of Birth||Newcastle Upon Tyne|
|Boro Career||1997/98 and 1998/99|
|Boro Shirt Number||10 (Paul couldn’t get his preferred no 9 shirt off Gary Crawshaw!)|
|Roomed with||Stayed in a club house with Errol Telemaque.|
|Influence on career||His Dad and Ex Gateshead Manager Colin Richardson|
Paul had a brief spell at Kettering Town before returning to Gateshead FC in 1999, a spell that lasted to 2004 where he played another 170 games with a 48 goal return. Spells with Bishop Auckland, Blyth Spartans & Whitley Bay followed before another return to Gateshead where he completed another 100 games between 2005 and 2008 netting a further 17 goals.
From 2007–2010, Paul was a coach at Gateshead, but left after the 2009–10 season as he was unable to commit to a full time role for the following season.“I have had a good career with Gateshead, I hold the second highest appearance record for Gateshead – 450 appearances and have the all-time Gateshead scoring record with 131 goals.”Gateshead awarded Paul a testimonial against Newcastle “it was an amazing night where half the proceeds went to a little girl who had lost her hands to meningitis. I will never forget that night for so many reasons.”
As for now “I am working in the NHS for the loan equipment service adapting people’s houses when coming out of hospital.”
Stevenage FC History website would like to thank Paul for agreeing to the interview and for all the help given in compiling the article. We would also like to wish Paul all the very best for the future.
All images supplied by Paul Thompson and reproduced with his kind permission.