Gary Howlett is probably the least well remembered player of Brighton’s 1983 FA Cup Final side.
There were plenty of other characters, goalscorers and headline makers to detract from the contribution of a quiet lad from Dublin who almost sneaked into the side under the radar.
That Wembley appearance was only his 11th senior appearance in the Albion first team. Can you imagine?
And as the history books now tell us, he actually only made 26 more appearances for the Seagulls before being transferred to Bournemouth.
Born in Dublin on 2 April 1963, Howlett’s football career began at the famous Dublin-based Home Farm club, which produced dozens of footballers who went on to make names for themselves in England and Ireland; players like Paddy Mulligan, Mick Martin and Ronnie Whelan.
Howlett followed suit and was a junior at Coventry City until financial issues forced them to release him.
In May 1982, he was back home in Dublin watching the FA Cup Final between Spurs and QPR on TV.
Not in his wildest dreams did he imagine just a year later he would be playing in what was then a showpiece occasion watched by a worldwide audience.
But Jimmy Melia was Brighton’s chief scout in 1982 and he persuaded the Albion to give Howlett a chance to resurrect his career.
By the spring of 1983, Melia had taken over the managerial reigns from Mike Bailey, and, with injuries taking their toll on a team battling for survival at the same time as progressing in the cup, he had no hesitation in giving Howlett his big breakthrough.
After a couple of non-playing appearances as a substitute for the first team in early March, he made his full debut on 22 March at home to Liverpool. And what a dream debut it was, as he headed one of the Albion’s goals in a 2-2 draw.
Melia didn’t get too carried away, though, and he eased the youngster’s progress by resting him for a couple of games.
However, with Gerry Ryan not 100 per cent fit, it was Howlett who got the nod for the semi final match against Sheffield Wednesday, then retained his place for the remaining six league games before being picked for the Cup Final itself.
That momentous match on 23 May 1983 was only 13 minutes old when the young Dubliner made a telling contribution to the game.
It was his chipped diagonal pass over Manchester United centre back Kevin Moran that found Gordon Smith, who arched a header past Gary Bailey to put the Seagulls in dreamland.
Howlett told the press after the match: “I saw Gordon at the back of the goal and just dipped it over Moran.
“I was dying to do something good out there and when the goal came I couldn’t believe it.”
Howlett told the Argus he wasn’t overawed by the occasion but had felt nervous when the national anthem was played.
“Until then all the lads were laughing and joking. It was a great atmosphere beforehand – very relaxed,” he said.
With Albion snatching a replay, Howlett, aged just 20, got to play on the hallowed turf a second time five days later, thus getting the sort of opportunity that eludes the vast majority of players throughout their entire careers.
He was subbed off on 74 minutes (fellow countryman Gerry Ryan replacing him) but the game was dead and buried by then anyway.
For Gary Stevens, that Cup Final was the stepping stone to a glittering career. Unfortunately for Howlett, it was the pinnacle and his career never subsequently reached such heights.
Only five years later he was turning out in front of 2,500 crowds at York City’s Bootham Crescent.
There was one brief bright spot following his Wembley appearance and that came when he represented his country.
On 3 June 1984, he earned a full international cap as a 55th minute substitute in a 1-0 win against China.
That Republic of Ireland team also included Brighton teammates Tony Grealish and Gerry Ryan. Mick McCarthy was in central defence and the side was captained by Frank Stapleton.
In the season leading up to that, Howlett managed just 17 appearances, plus two as sub, and in the first part of the 1984-85 season just six times.
In December 1984, Melia’s replacement, Chris Cattlin, sold Howlett for £15,000 to the then Division 3 Bournemouth, where Harry Redknapp was the manager.
Among his teammates at Dean Court were current West Brom boss Tony Pulis and the much-travelled striker Steve Claridge.
Howlett spent four years with the Cherries, making 60 appearances, although in his final year was sent out on loan to Aldershot and Chester City. At Aldershot, former Seagull Michael Ring was among his temporary teammates.
In January 1988, he made a permanent move to York City, and in three years playing in Division Four with the Minstermen, Howlett played a total of 119 games and contributed 13 goals.
He left them in 1991 and went back to Ireland to play for Shelbourne. He also played for Crusaders and was on the coaching staff of Bohemian FC.
Howlett spent nine seasons as manager of Drumcondra in the Leinster Senior League, before switching to their rivals Killester United in 2016.
- Pictures show Gary Howlett’s entry in the Cup Final programme, on a matchday programme cover, Tony Norman’s shot of him cooking at home and a screen grab of him following a recent managerial appointment. Also, a montage of other headlines and action pictures.