Gary Hamilton has revealed how tough it was to see his sons get upset at criticism he received from supporters towards the end of his Glenavon reign.
Hamilton was sacked by the Lurgan Blues in September after almost 12 years in charge of the Irish Premiership club.
Speaking for the first time since his departure from Mourneview Park, Hamilton admitted that being out of football feels like part of his identity is gone, but that he is not sure if he will want to return to management
“It is tough,” Hamilton said when asked how toxic the criticism from supporters became before he lost his job as Glenavon manager.
“Anyone who knows me will know that it doesn’t bother me personally, but it is more the people around you – your family and friends, and especially my two boys.
“That was the hardest part for me because my two [teenage] kids are my world and they come before anything. It was a catch-22 situation, though, because it was my livelihood and how I provided for them.
“On one hand I couldn’t walk away – and I would never have walked away anyway because I am not a quitter – but on the flip side you were seeing your two boys suffering.
“They were going to games and they were putting their hoods up because they didn’t want people to see them there, but still wanted to be there to support their father.”
‘My youngest son had to be taken away from game in tears’
Hamilton recalled a particular match against Portadown at Shamrock Park last season during which his youngest son was reduced to tears.
The former Northern Ireland international also added that there was a further incident at home that evening that made him realise the impact the situation was having.
“My youngest son had to be taken away from the game in tears,” the 43-year-old continued.
“He got in the car after the match and he didn’t speak the whole way home. That was tough, I have to admit. That is a side of it that nobody else knows or sees.
“Supporters in the crowd have all got family or kids themselves and I don’t think they understand the effect it has on managers’ children or players’ children and families.
“Yes, part and parcel of football is that you are going to take abuse and criticism, but when you are going home and seeing your children suffer it is really difficult. Especially when he was 11 years of age at the time.
“There was a knock at the door that night and Corey came running into the kitchen for me and he was in pieces. He thought it was fans at the door for me. It gets to those levels and it just shows you the way children’s minds think. That bit is tough and I am sure other managers have suffered that.”
‘I scored six in a cup final and my father asked me about my misses’
Talking about how he personally coped with any criticism he has received during his football career, Hamilton said he believes he has his father to thank for his ability to not care about what anyone said about him.
“This is not a criticism of my father, but when I was younger he was always really hard on me,” he said.
“I had criticism right from I was a child. It was just the way it was. I was from a country background and that is the way I was brought up. To be honest, I thank my father for that because it made me mentally strong.”
Hamilton added: “I scored six in a cup final one day and I still came off and my father talked about the ones that I missed. That was the way he had me and I thank him for that, I really do, because looking back now and what I have had to endure in the game, and the abuse I have taken as a player and as a manager, it stood me in good stead.”
While reflecting on his playing and management career as a whole, Hamilton also spoke of the impact the late Mark Farren had on his outlook to the game – and particularly on how he coped with defeat.
Described by Hamilton as one of the best players he ever managed, Farren died aged 33 in February 2016 after receiving treatment for an aggressive brain tumour. He had joined Glenavon from Derry City in 2013 but was forced to quit the game because if his illness.
“I always remember going to visit Mark in one of his last days and remember coming away thinking ‘I’m never ever letting football get to me again’.
“Before that I would have taken things home with me at the weekend. My ex-wife would have told you from after a match on a Saturday until maybe Tuesday or Wednesday, I would have said ‘don’t speak to me’ because I knew I was going to take it out on a person that didn’t deserve it, and that is the way I was.
“From that day and that moment of visiting Mark up in his house in Donegal when he was lying in the bed, I came away from it and said that that I would never do that again.
“It used to be that me and my ex-wife or me and my partner had arranged a meal on a Saturday night or a Sunday, but if we got beaten there was no way I was going. It was very selfish but that is the way I was in those days.
“You look back now and see what somebody like Mark Farren and his wife went through, then I look back and think how I was being very selfish and being unfair on the people I was around. Even my kids, it was bad, and they were only youngsters.”
‘I’d have turned things around at Glenavon’
After being told at 20 that he would have to retire from football because of a stress fracture in his back, the former Blackburn Rovers striker went on to have a hugely successful playing career.
He won a league title and Irish Cup with Portadown before signing for Glentoran, where with his natural ability and goalscoring talent helped the east Belfast club to their most recent Gibson Cup success in 2009, as well as two League Cup and two County Antrim Shield wins.
He shocked the Irish League when, in December 2011, he became player-manager of boyhood club Glenavon, steering them off the bottom of the table and helping them avoid relegation during his first season in charge.
Through making a number astute signings of experienced players and focusing on developing young players, Hamilton soon revived the fortunes of the Mid-Ulster club, going on to lead them to two Irish Cup successes and four third-place finishes, and the European football that came with that.
With full-time professionalism changing the landscape of Irish League football, Glenavon found it more and more difficult to compete in the transfer market, but still finished seventh for the last three seasons to qualify for the European play-offs.
However, after a poor start to the 2023-24 campaign, Hamilton was sacked by the Lurgan Blues in mid-September with the side sitting 11th, and replaced by Stephen McDonnell.
Hamilton praised the job that his replacement has done – Glenavon moved up to seventh at the weekend – but is adamant he would have turned their fortunes around if he had been given more time.
“One hundred percent [he would have turned it around]. I have never doubted my ability and my record over the years proves that. Over the last 11 years, every realistic target that Glenavon could have set they have achieved. “
He added: “Glenavon are sitting one point better off now than they were last year but I think when we got our players back and got our defenders back, I have no doubts that we would have finished seventh again.”
‘I’m looking at other things’
With the financial investment that has come into the Irish League over the last five years, with Linfield following Larne and Glentoran in going full time, Hamilton said he would like the opportunity to manage a club with one of the biggest budgets.
However, asked if he will return to football management, Hamilton was non-committal, saying that while he misses the camaraderie of his coaching staff and players, he is considering other options.
“If I go back in I will be measured in my approach in terms of what jobs I take. Going into that bottom six again and going through losing your best players all the time [would be tough].
“I will never say never in life to anything, never have done, never will, but have certainly been looking at other avenues and at what else I could do. I have taken a break now, taken a couple of months out and charged the batteries again, and am just looking at other things.”