Big John was an intimidation tactic at the very worst for the Cobblers. Rumours was rife that before some games Gayle would square up to opposition, throw footballs at their heads and generally put himself about before a ball had even been kicked!
The John Gayle story was a long one even before his arrival at Sixfields. Starting out at non-league Bromsgrove Rovers in 1988, Gayle progressed to play for Wimbledon after a £30,000 transfer took him into the big time. After just one season with the Dons, Birmingham City splashed out £175,000 for his services and Gayle remained at St Andrews for three years, scoring 14 goals during his time with the Blues.
After a short loan spell with fellow midland club Walsall, Gayle made the move to Coventry City, where despite a £100,000 move, he made just four appearances. His travel continued to Turf Moor as Burnley came calling and Gayle spent just four months at the Clarets before agreeing a move to Stoke City in January 1995. The big man made twenty one appearances, scoring four goals in his time there before hitting three in nine starts during a loan spell with Gillingham.
Ian Atkins brought Gayle to Sixfields in February 1997, just a few months before the Wembley showpiece, in a £25,000 deal. In those few months, Gayle earned himself cult status with the Town fans and his no nonsense approach was a key figure in getting out of English footballs’ basement division. Big John stayed with the Cobblers for another season and played in the second Wembley appearance against Grimsby Town in 1998.
Gayle was released at the end of that season and signed for Scunthorpe United on a free transfer. He returned to Wembley with Scunthorpe in his first season and helped them to victory over Leyton Orient in the Division Three (League Two) playoff final. In November of 1999, Gayle moved to Shrewsbury Town and played for a year at Gay Meadow, scoring twice in eighteen games. Following a short spell with Torquay United, Gayle settled at non-league Moor Green to see out his career.
John Gayle’s love affair with Wembley Stadium wasn’t just with the Cobblers and Scunthorpe United. Back in 1991, he struck what was once described by Bobby Charlton as “the two best goals ever scored at Wembley” for Birmingham City in the Leyland DAF Cup Final! (Leyland DAF’s modern equivilant being the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy).
Nowadays, Gayle travels to the USA every year to coach football at Clevedon University whilst also coaching unprivileged children in Birmingham.