Gillies, who was born in the Parish of Glassary, Argyllshire, on 15th September 1869 was
a dour Scot, who in 1901 was employed as a printer's compositor, but he had spent most of
his working life as a Football Club Manager and Football League referee, but had also worked
as a journalist.
His appearance was typical of a Secretary-Manager, with a huge moustache and sober three
piece suit with high stiff collar, and he considered his job as being in charge of the
administration of the club and the day to day playing matters, even though it was the
Director’s responsibilities to find the money to run the club and usually comprised the
majority of the Selection Committee.
Gillies became connected with the Chesterfield club in 1894, while they were still in the
Sheffield League and was appointed Secretary-Manager in the summer of 1895. He had
instigated their election to the Midland League in 1896 and the push to join the Football
League which they achieved by being elected to the Second Division in 1899. The club was on
a sound financial footing and they were able to finish seventh in a League of eighteen clubs
in their first year. Gillies stepped down from his position at the ends of 1900 and by the
end of the season Chesterfield had slumped to fourteenth position. The club had to seek
re-election at the end of the 1901-02 season and Gillies was brought back by the Directors
to assist with their re-election campaign, in which they were successful. With his object
achieved Gillies stood down and continued with his career as a journalist.
On 13th February 1905, Leeds City advertised for a new Manager and from many applicants
Gillies was appointed on 7th March 1905. His status and references had persuaded the Leeds
City sub-committee to offer him the post, and he accepted a three-year contract worth £156
per annum. Leeds City were duly elected to the Second Division of the Football League for
the 1905-06 season and George Swift was appointed as the Trainer. Swift had represented the
Football League and seen good service with Wolverhampton Wanderers and Loughborough Town as
a left back before retiring in 1902. The two worked together and quickly assembled a squad
from many different clubs for the new season and Gillies returned to his former club and
signed full-back Dick Ray, to become Captain and add experience and reliability to the team.
Understandable the collection of strangers kicked off their League career on 2nd September
1905 with a 1-0 defeat at Bradford City’s Valley Parade. However the team began to gel and
finished a creditable sixth at the end of the first season. Prospects had looked good when
City bolstered their attack by signing David ‘Soldier’ Wilson for £120 from Hull City and
despite bad luck with injuries had scored thirteen goals in fifteen games.
Tragedy struck the club on 27th October 1906 with ‘Soldier’ Wilson’s untimely death in
the home game against Burnley. Gillies replaced him by signing Billy McLeod who turned out
to be City’s finest player, but the club slipped to tenth by the end of the second season
and questions were being asked about Gillies’ Management skills and comparisons were made to
the successful Managers of neighbours Bradford City and Hull City. There were others who
wanted Fred Spiksley, the English International who had played a few games for Leeds prior
to their Football League days and was well respected for his Coaching abilities.
Gillies strengthened the side for the 1907-08 season, bringing in Tom Hynds from Woolwich
Arsenal as Captain and another fine player and servant of the club in Fred Croot. His team
responded by winning three and drawing one of their first four games and led the Division,
but it was short-lived and they slipped rapidly down the ladder. He brought in goalkeeper
Tom Naisby from Sunderland and former Sunderland stalwart Jimmy Gemmell from Stoke but they
failed to stop the rot. With failure inevitable and suspecting that the Directors would not
be renewing his contract, Gillies resigned in February 1908. His unpredictable team gave him
a rousing send off by turning on their best display of the season to beat top-of-the-table
Derby County 5-1 at Elland Road on 15th February 1908, but although they had a spirited
finish to the season, could do no better than finish twelfth.
Gillies did not have to wait long for a new employer, as in less than three months he was
appointed Secretary-Manager of Bradford Park Avenue. Although they failed in an application
to join the Second Division of the Football League in May 1907, they were, with the help of
Gillies, successful the following year. In his first season with Park Avenue in the Second
Division, the club limped into sixteenth spot, just two points clear of Gillies’ old club
Chesterfield who were relegated to the Midland League and Leeds City again struggled to
finish once more twelfth.
Park Avenue finished tenth in the following season of 1909-10, seven places above Leeds
City, who almost had to apply for re-election. In 1910-11 Park Avenue were twelfth, just
behind Leeds City on goal average, but Gillies had left the club in February 1911. He left
football and ran a Hotel in Matlock.
Gilbert Gillies was a man of exceptional organisational and administrative abilities, who
was never reluctant to ring the changes, but he never achieved the success he sought with
any of the clubs he managed. He did have the knowledge and contacts, as he proved with
Chesterfield, Leeds City and Bradford Park Avenue, to have the answer to securing Football
League status. His presence at the helm was a key factor in getting Leeds City's life off to
a good start and he did manage to attract a host of good players to Elland Road, even though
he was unable to blend them into a successful team.