Guy Bates: From learning in Belgium to becoming a legend in Ireland

Guy Bates grew up dreaming of playing for the Newcastle first team, which he achieved at the age of 19, except the Newcastle he played for was over 10,000 miles away from home.

Now 33, Bates has played across the world but he started off at the academy of his local club, Newcastle United. Having joined the side as an eight-year-old, he grew up in the academy and had success at youth level as part of the under-17 side which won the the Premier Academy League in the 2001-02.

“Before I went professional we were crowned champions of England,” he says. “We beat Man United over two legs, playing at Old Trafford and at St. James’ Park and that was an outstanding achievement for us as a team. I was only 15 or 16 at the time so playing regularly for under-17s and winning that was special.”

He continued to be a prolific scorer throughout his time with the club, making it all the way through to the reserve side, where he continued to score. Unfortunately for the forward, he had a certain trio blocking his path into the first team; Shola Ameobi, Patrick Kluivert and of course, Alan Shearer. This would eventually see him choose to leave the club in February 2005.

“Yeah I was very disappointed [not to get a chance in the first team],” he says. “I left the club at the end of February that year and still finished as the top scorer for the reserves so that was extremely disappointing. 

“However, I had a great education from the club, working with managers such as Alan Irvine, Peter Beardsley, Ken Wharton and Tommy Craig. They were so diverse in approach and training and that really helped develop me into a more complete player.”

 The fact he still finished as the reserves’s top scorer despite leaving the club early in the season showed that Bates had goals in him but his chance to prove that at senior level would not come in the north-west. Fortunately for the forward, his chance would come soon after.

During his time of release, Australia was gearing up for the first ever season of the A-League. Already signed up was Dwight Yorke who would be joining Sydney and one of its other founding clubs were taking a keen interest in Bates. It would be Newcastle who made the move, this time the Jets from New South Wales and not United from the north-east.

In action for Newcastle Jets

The forward started off well, appearing for the Jets in pre-season regularly after signing a two-year deal but ultimately, the move did not provide the game time he craved and despite having secured a long-term deal, it was minutes on the pitch he really wanted.

“I spoke with my agent, and he said they were interested in me and I was on a flight the next week to go and look at the team and set up. I got on really well with CEO and management. I returned home, finalised the contract and moved out within a few weeks.

“I loved my time in Australia but unfortunately two weeks before the season started, we changed managers and that was the writing for me. I still had two years to run on my contract but at 20-years-old I wanted to play.

“It was a beautiful place and I was making good money but ultimately I was there to play so I packed the bags and moved on.”

So after three league appearances, the former Magpie left Australia to return to his native north-east to finish the season with Darlington who were in League Two at the time. The move brought him his first senior goal in a 4-2 win over Lincoln City but he would leave the club at the end of the season to venture overseas once more, this time closer to home.

Before joining Darlington, Bates had trialled at Belgian side Mechelen and although he turned down the move at the time, he decided to return to the country in the summer of 2006 to join Second Division side Oostende. The club were managed by a former Belgium international and the Geordie would learn plenty working under his experienced boss.

“Belgium was brilliant for me, I learnt a lot in my first period there,” he says. “My manager Willy Wellens was a former international striker and I played as a lone striker or on the left of a three. I had predominantly up until then always played with two up top so it really developed my game. I found myself being less selfish in regards to goal scoring and being more team oriented.

“The standard was very strong and also very technical, it suited my game well as I was never the quickest and made me work more on my movement and link up play.”

The following season he would join League of Ireland side Drogheda United, helping them win the league title for the first time in their history in 2007, scoring the winning goal in a victory over Cork City which secured the title. He then headed back to Belgium to play for third-tier side La Louvière before rejoining Drogheda once more. He then moved north of the border to Northern Ireland where he would find a second home, becoming a regular goal scorer and leading his teams to cup finals.

“In Northern Ireland I played for two fantastic clubs, Glenavon who I won the Irish Cup with, and Linfield where we were runners up in the league and reached the final of the County Antrim Shield and the Irish Cup.

“I think as I got older, I learned how to handle my body correctly in games and training, I also played to my strengths, holding up the ball, scoring and creating chances. I really concentrated on my recovery from games and training and that way I stopped picking up as many silly knocks and injuries.”

Bates scoring the second goal in Drogheda’s 2-1 win over Cork City in October 2007 which secured them the league title

His new approach to the game paid off as not only did he have success alongside his teammates, he also took his own game to a new level, scoring 25 goals in his first two seasons with Glenavon. He also got his first taste of European action, having been an unused substitute in the Champions League qualifiers during his time with Drogheda. He scored home and away against Faroese side NSÍ to help Linfield progress through the Europa League first qualifying round in 2015.

His five year spell in Northern Ireland was split in the middle by a spell playing in the Australian regional leagues but at the end of the 2016/17 season, after a second spell with Glenavon had come to an end, the forward decided to call time on his playing career at the age of 31.

The forward states his league win with Drogheda and cup victory with Glenavon as his highest achievements during his playing days but now has a new profession to focus on.

“Unfortunately at 33, the pre-seasons were just taking its toll on the body. The games and training were no problem but the recovery was just taking too long and I therefore couldn’t prepare like I used to.

“I could have continued playing but ultimately not being able to give it my all, week in and week out, just didn’t sit right with me so that’s why I called it a day. 

“I now work in a gym now and I train people for a living. I have tried to stay involved in sports and may go back into coaching in some capacity down the line.”

Having played in Australia, Belgium and across the UK, Bates has had a career he can look back on with great fondness and his achievements in Ireland will forever life on in the memories of Drogheda and Glenavon fans.

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