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How David Beckham's former housemate walked out on United and ended up in prison

Gary Twynham talks to The42 about defying Alex Ferguson, going from a prison cell to Wembley and sharing sunbeds with Robbie Savage.

Alex Ferguson and Gary Twynham (right).
Alex Ferguson and Gary Twynham (right).

IT IS THE condition of even the rich and teeming careers found in football: they are all eventually reduced to no more than a couple of lines.

This can be an egalitarian process though, with trophies, awards and wealth less essential currencies.

So to Gary Twynham – where to start?

How about the teenage prospect who defied Alex Ferguson’s pleas, and walked out on the Man United youth set-up that produced Beckham, Scholes, Butt and the Nevilles?

Or the first convict to sign professional football terms?

Or the guy who started a season in a cell and ended it at Wembley?

**********

Twynham was born in Manchester but raised in North Wales. At 11, he started playing football relatively late, but that didn’t prevent his essential talent blooming.

An attacking midfielder, within two years he was selected for the Bobby Charlton Soccer School – the programme which also identified David Beckham – and impressed during a tournament in France to the extent that the country’s biggest clubs came calling.

He was brought to Liverpool’s School of Excellence, but his slated trial game was cancelled in the aftermath of the Hillsborough tragedy. Instead, he was invited to Manchester United by Brian Kidd and Nobby Stiles for a week-long trial.

Custom dictated that the best player would give a speech at the end of the week. Come Friday, that fell to Twynham. United gave him a Youth Team Scheme contract that ran for six years…all but one of which Twynham completed.

“I should have signed for Liverpool, I’d have had a better chance!” laughs Twynham to The42.

Initially, things went well.

He shared digs with David Beckham for a while, and the pair became close friends.

They went together to United’s FA Cup semi-final replay against Oldham in 1990, and embraced each other madly amid the euphoria of Mark Robins’ extra-time winner; his second critical goal of that cup run as it sent United to Wembley to win the first trophy of the Ferguson era.

Afterward, Twynham and Beckham found themselves in the United dressing room, with a jocular Ferguson telling them they reeked of hot dogs before sending them on their way home.

SOCCER David Beckham, pictured in 1995. Source: EMPICS Sport

“We were best mates”, recalls Twynham of Beckham. “I don’t know why he doesn’t mention that in his book, we were best mates for a while. Maybe somebody thought it wouldn’t be good to mention a con.

“I like him. Even though he is a humble guy now, and he is a good guy, he was a bit of a big-time Charlie back then.

But I think he’s great. I’m really fucking proud I knew him at some point. He’s a great guy, humble, still with his missus after all this time, he deserves everything he’s got.

“Nobody ever thought he was going to be what he became. But he wanted fame. He wanted it.

“He just had confidence. He grew. He had great technique and great stamina; he’d run all day. The coaches that say they knew he’d be so good are lying; they never expected him to be a superstar.

Twynham does get a mention in another former housemate’s book. “His sunbed partner!” laughs Twynham when The42 mentions Robbie Savage.

“Yeah, we were only on 40 pounds a week so we used to go the sunbeds together to save money, as he was a skinny little shit.

“We’d top and tail in the same sunbed at the same time!”

**********

And then he left.

“There’s not many people who would walk out on the biggest club in the world, but it wasn’t meant to be”, says Twynham plainly.

If few would walk out on Manchester United, fewer still would do so to the soundtrack of repeated pleas from Alex Ferguson to stay.

Twynham was 18 and had another year left on his contract, but resolved he needed to get away from it all. 

“I wasn’t happy. I had a good season the year before but it was becoming apparent I wasn’t going to make it.

“I was just homesick. I didn’t want to be there anymore. I didn’t feel comfortable, I didn’t feel confident.

I just didn’t want to play football anymore, I’d lost my desire.”

Although Manchester wasn’t exactly separated from his home in North Wales by wide oceans and sprawling lands, Twynham struggled to settle and made frequent trips home.

Everything came to a head after one such return.

“I went AWOL one weekend, and when I came back [youth team coach] Eric Harrison had a go at me and said, ‘Where were you?’ and I told him I just didn’t want to play for the club again.

“I then had to go through the channels, so I had to go see Alex Ferguson. He tried to talk me out of it, and told me I’d a future of making a living from the game.”

Ferguson sent him to Wrexham to train, in the hope that the ragged experience of lower-league football would convince him to stay with United, but Twynham’s mind was made up: he wanted to go home.

There were a few reasons behind his decision to get out of United and return home, among them his chafing amid the singular world of a football academy in which the dreamers were many and the dreams few.

“It’s quite hard”, reflects Twynham.

“There’s 40 of you on YTS, living in digs. There were fights, lads were always on the wind-up. It’s intense.”

Fights occasionally happened in the dressing room after training, with players engaging in boxing matches wearing nothing but towels. “And if the towels fell off, we’d keep on going” remembers Twynham.

Twynham was once in the middle of one of these fights, in which he scrapped with defender Ashley Westwood. The pair were caught, and sent to Alex Ferguson’s office.

Both made their way to Manchester’s kind of Mordor nervously, with Westwood’s eyes already discoloured and swelling up.

The amateur boxers were then hit with a profound bit of luck: Ferguson wasn’t around.

“We were with each other every day” says Twynham of the atmosphere among United’s youth ranks.

“We were seeing each other every day. If you are a weak person, it can feel a bit like being bullied at school.

“We were training close to the first-team, too, and among them you are almost like a fan, aren’t you?

“I had a run-in with Peter Schmeichel, and a run-in with Paul Ince.

“Ince was an absolute wanker.”

Soccer - Worthington Cup - Second Round Second Leg - Macclesfield Town v Middlesbrough Ince and Twynham clash while playing for Middlesbrough and Macclesfield respectively. Source: EMPICS Sport

Twynham says he could handle himself, but it had just become too wearying amid a wider disillusion that he wasn’t going to make the grade at United.

“I wanted to be at home, I felt I was just pissing in the wind. I thought that there’s more to life than this.

“I didn’t get on with Eric Harrison from day one. He was very important at the club. It was Eric Harrison who made those kids. He believed in them and he deserves a lot of credit. But I just didn’t see eye-to-eye with him.

“I was signed by Brian Kidd and Nobby Stiles, not him.”

The style of play didn’t help Twynham either. More comfortable running with the ball at his feet, Harrison drilled his players to “pass, pass, pass.”

His game-time was, admittedly, stymied by players who he says “went onto be the best players in the Premiership, some to be the best in the world.”

He ignored his father’s pleas to stay on for at least another six months, if not see out the final year of his contract.

“I just couldn’t get my head down.

“Looking back now, it probably was the biggest mistake of my life. It’s just one of those things, I can’t turn back the clock, can I?”

Ferguson ensured United paid up the rest of his contract, which the club were not obligated to do.

So Gary Twynham left United with £15,000 and returned home to Wales.

“He wanted to look after me”, says Twynham of Ferguson. “To make sure I looked after my life.”

**********

Less than a year later, Ferguson was looking out for Twynham again. This time he was writing a character reference as Twynham appeared in court.

“I got in a fight in Rhyl and got nicked for it”, says Twynham. He was charged with assault and sentenced to nine months in prison.

“Prison was great!”, laughs Twynham.“When I was coming in, it was on the radio that an ex-United player was being sent down. So they were all waiting for fucking Ryan Giggs or someone, so when I turned up they were fairly disappointed!”

 A prisoner who ran a cooking course in the prison enrolled Twynham before he had arrived.

“He was a United fan. It had been in the paper that Ferguson gave me a character reference, so he thought about using me to get to talk to his idol!”

The course was a success – Twynham ate what he cooked – but more successful was the football team.

Having impressed, the prison arranged him a trial with Darlington.

“They looked over the walls on massive ladders! No, that’s a joke.

“The prison go to football clubs so they got me a trial with Darlington. I had a worldie and they wanted me to sign at half-time.

“I think I was the first con to sign professional terms.

“They gave me a little wage. I got out of prison and they put me in digs, and I ended up in the play-off final.

“So I started the season in prison and ended it at Wembley.”

**********

That game was to decide who would be promoted to the second division, and Darlington lost 1-0 to a Plymouth team managed by Neil Warnock.

To Twynham’s frustration, he never managed to make a step up from the club.

“I had a good season. I was a strong and quick player. At Darlington we had Robbie Blake and Sean Gregan, and they went on to play in the Premiership.  

You look back, they all got moves but I was better than them.“I was getting man-of-the-match every week. We played Leeds at Elland Road in the Coca-Cola Cup. I was on right wing and Lee Sharpe came up to me, as I knew him from United.

“He asked, ‘You’re not playing right-wing are you? Oh no’.

“I got Man of the Match that night, I thought, ‘Now I’ll get my move’, but it never happened. I had a good season but fell out with the manager Dave Hodgson.”

From there Twynham dropped to non-league level, bouncing around with a number of clubs before spending a “disastrous season” with Hednesford Town.

“I went AWOL a couple of times. They gave me a couple of warnings but I fell out with the chairman.

“So I got sacked from the Conference and went back to the Football League.”

He went to Macclesfield and played nine times in the 2000/01 season, but then returned to Wales: playing with Haverfordwest County, Port Talbot, and finally, Barry Town, with whom he was relegated from the Welsh Premier League.

At the beginning of Twynham’s final season, Real Madrid paid Manchester United €37 million for David Beckham.

Everybody leaves eventually.

**********

Ironically, Twynham has now settled in Manchester, where he works as a mobile phone engineer.

“I’ve a good job now, I love it. I love it more than football. I make good money and you don’t get out of breath driving, do you?”

So how does he look back on it all, as the man who walked out on Manchester United?

“If I was going to make it, I’d have made it. I went to Darlington and it didn’t materialise.

I get a load of people saying I should have made it. You know, from the guys in the pub who say, ‘I had a trial with United or City but I didn’t make it as I was on the piss the night before’.

“I wasn’t good enough at the end of the day.”

Was it difficult realising he wasn’t good enough? Or, given that he had walked out on United, was it a slight relief?

“It’s a bit of both.”

Twynham remains a United fan, and is back watching them every week having stayed away for a while, although that wasn’t through any personal angst.

“I still love football, I still watch it. I’m a United fan, but I didn’t watch them while Mourinho was there as I just didn’t like him.

“But now Solskjaer is there, it’s great.”

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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