Howlett’s howitzer

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From The Argus in 6th August 2001:

Eighteen years on from his dramatic debut for Albion, Gary Howlett is getting ready for another emotion charged occasion back in Ireland.

It was back in March 1983 that the young Irishman, then coming up 20, thrilled Goldstone fans with a goal on his debut as the Seagulls gave mighty Liverpool a fright.

Within months of that first senior outing, he had played in a cup final, tasted relegation and won his only cap for the Republic of Ireland.

According to Les Scott’s ‘555 Football Facts To Wow Your Mates’, Howlett had quite a journey to gain international hours:

Gary Howlett (Brighton) travelled to the other side of the world to earn his first and only international cap, and played for just 19 minutes. On 3 June 1984, Howlett was named as a substitute for the Republic of Ireland’s game against China, which was taking place in Japan. Nineteen minutes from time Howlette replaced Pat Byrne (Hearts), but was never chosen for the Republic again.

The Argus article continues:

His career never really progressed as many expected, but he gave good service to Bournemouth and York before winning trophies with Shelbourne in his native Dublin.

These days he combines an administration post with Aer Lingus at Dublin airport with raising a young family and working part-time as assistant manager with newly promoted Monaghan United.

Along with former Shelbourne midfield sidekick Bobby Browne, he has just guided Monaghan into the Premier League for the first time.

The fixture computer has given them a game with Shelbourne to kick-off the season next Sunday. It could be quite an occasion, but it will have to go some to beat that Seagulls debut.

Howlett, having been released by Coventry, had done enough in the reserves for Jimmy Melia to throw him into a midweek clash with Liverpool.

Goals from Michael Robinson and Howlett delighted most of the 25,000 in the Goldstone and had fans taunting the visiting goalkeeper with choruses of: “Brucie, what’s the score?”

Grobbelaar replied with the appropriate number of fingers before Ian Rush provided the more eloquent response of two goals as the Reds grabbed a point on their way to the title.

Howlett joked: “There must have been an injury crisis for me to get in.

“It was a great night at the Goldstone and I got probably the only headed goal I ever scored.

“As soon as I went to Brighton I loved the place. I remember getting the train down there the first time and walking to the ground and just feeling like I fitted in straight away.

“I was in digs at Southwick, then I got a place on Hove seafront, near the King Alfred.

“There was a group of us all the same age playing in the reserves and it was just a fabulous place to be when you were 19 or 20.

“I remember playing well and with lots of confidence. It seemed so easy to play and train and have a good time.

“The squad was full of good midfielders like Neil McNab, Jimmy Case and Tony Grealish. That was the competition I was up against.”

Howlett was in midfield when Albion beat Sheffield Wednesday at Highbury to clinch their cup final place.

Indeed, he had an audacious attempt on goal from way out:

As Spencer Vignes’ article in the Brighton v Nottingham Forest programme in December 2012 revealed, Howlett was on the phone to family and friends after the match, talking about his effort. Sadly for him, it didn’t make ITV’s cut of the highlights.

The Argus goes on:

Then the worrying started.

He admitted: “Even though we were facing relegation the place was buzzing.

“After getting to the final the question was, would I be in the side?

“The last league game was against Norwich and the guys who were 50/50 for a place in the final all played brilliantly but I had just done enough and Jimmy decided to stick me in on the left side.”

Howlett went walkabouts to create the opening goal for Gordon Smith with a pinpoint cross.

He said: “It was all United for 20 minutes and Graham Moseley was playing brilliantly.

“I just remember defending and trying to keep it simple when we had the ball and then of course there was the goal.

“For some reason I found myself out on the right. I could do a couple of things well on a football pitch and one of those was passing a ball. It was just a simple pass which found Gordon who put it away well.

“I was on my hands and knees on the halfway line worn out when he had that chance at the end. His touch let home down but at the time we didn’t mind because we were looking forward to another trip to Wembley on the Thursday.”

Howlett’s form dipped the following season as Albion finished in mid-table.

He played just twice in the next campaign before the coaching skills of Harry Redknapp enticed him to Bournemouth, who he helped to promotion while the Seagulls were going down.

There was more success with Shelbourne, who he helped win the league for the first time in 30 years.

He played 128 time for Shels, though injuries ruled him out of three cup finals. When he took Monaghan back to Tolka Park for a cup tie last season, the match programme described him as one of the most popular players ever to appear for the club.

Persistent ankle problems brought his career to an end but he got coaching qualifications and still runs Shelbourne’s successful under-12 team.

He said: “Last year was a great achievement for Monaghan. We train three nights, we play on Sundays and we might go in on Saturday mornings as well, so it is a huge commitment.

“The football is improving over here and so are the facilities. The rewards are there and our aim is to get into Europe.”

Howlett has been married to Annette for three years and has two daughters Kate, 15 months, and Ellen, who was born the day Albion touched down in Ireland for their recent tour.

Fans arriving in Dublin to follow the Seagulls probably did not notice one of their former favourites as they headed through the airport terminal But Howlett certainly remembers his time in Sussex.

He said: “My career was littered with highs and lows. Over a course of a season I lacked the consistency and I didn’t realise that until I came back home.

“I can always relate to Brighton because I made so many friends there who are still friends and I met some great characters. It was special.”

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