Blues prepare to honour stalwart Naylor

AS Richard Naylor's big day approaches, the popular Blues' veteran admits to waking up in a cold sweat after a recurring nightmare about no one else turning.

By Derek Davis

AS Richard Naylor's big day approaches, the popular Blues' veteran admits to waking up in a cold sweat after a recurring nightmare about no one else turning.

The 29-year-old should have no such problems on Saturday when all the team from Wembley 2000 play a current Ipswich side in his testimonial at Portman Road.

George Burley has agreed to lead out the side that will also include a sprinkling of other Town stars from over the past decade.

That has not stopped Naylor worrying though.

Naylor admitted: “I have woken up in the middle of the night a couple of times after dreaming that I'm going to be stood on the pitch with no one else there.

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“Hopefully that won't be the case. Most things are now in place. I have spoken to all of the Wembley 2000 side and they have all said they will play, apart from Johnno who has a back injury.

“He is still planning to come along and be involved even without playing.

“Tony Mowbray is going to pull on his boots for the first time in a while and possibly the last time. Veno is also coming along but I hear he is pretty fit because he has been training and playing a bit with Hibs.

“Jim Magilton is going to play and I get the impression he is looking forward to the chance of kicking a few of our team now.”

That glorious day at Wembley is the highlight of Naylor's 15-year stay at Portman Road, with a goal to cap his contribution in the 4-2 win over Barnsley and promotion to the Premiership.

Naylor also played a big part in Marcus Stewart's 21-goal season, 19 in the first season back in the Premiership that saw Town finish fifth and qualify for the UEFA Cup.

Naylor played five times in that European adventure and has enjoyed a rebirth at the club after being switched to centre-half by Joe Royle.

But the good days only came after a nightmare time off the pitch, when shin splints, a broken thigh-bone and four serious operations on a knee problem threatened to wreck his career before it had really got started.

Naylor recalls: “I was blighted with injuries. You just have to look at how many appearances I made as a sub because I could never hold down a position with the problems I was having with my knees.

“It got to the stage where I really felt I was not going to be able to make a proper career out of the game and I was going to have to stop.

“I was fortunate that we got to the bottom of it, that was the main contributing factor and, once I modified my boots by basically putting in a high heel on one, then that helped.”

Naylor still has to go through almost an hour of manipulation and stretching with physio Dave Williams and occasionally wears a support strapping on a knee.

He joked: “Willo will be glad when I eventually pack in.”

Personal problems also made life tough for the Naylor family, when their first-born Jessica was discovered to have been born with a hole in her heart and she was extremely ill for a while.

It was this period of his life, coupled with an increasing awareness of the work done for terminally ill children, that has prompted Naylor to promise a 'considerable contribution' of any testimonial profits to the East Anglian Children's Hospice.

“Jessica's illness was by far the worst time of my life. The first child for anyone is special but to have the problem we had was very traumatic. I appreciate other people have worse problems but, for us at the time, it was very stressful

“Over the years, I have spent pretty much each Christmas visiting the East Anglian Children's Hospice with the club to take presents. It has become something that has come close to me. I have seen children then pass away and it is heart-wrenching. The work the staff do is unbelievable and it is so important to the parents.

“For me, to be able to give something back, is important.

“I went through problems with my daughter but it puts it into perspective when you see some of the children in the hospices.”

In these days of telephone number earnings for the top players, it is increasingly rare that players get a testimonial, loyalty from both sides not being what it was.

Naylor said: “It is less common these days to be at the same club for 10 years. I have played under three different managers here and every one of them has offered me a contract.

“So I have been fortunate that I have had three managers who have liked me and shown faith in me. They have shown loyalty to me and, equally, there have been opportunities for me to leave but I have not wanted to take those options. I always wanted to stay, so it has worked out for both our benefits.

“Some players need to change, they need to break the mould and spark them off.

“It didn't look good for me towards the latter days under George (Burley) but Joe (Royle) came in and that was the spark that rekindled my career here.

“It has been an incredible time for me here. I signed schoolboy forms as a 14-year-old so I have been associated with the club for 15 years, 10 years since my debut and it has been a roller-coaster - mostly enjoyable.”

One of the things that had made Naylor's stay in East Anglia has been the warm relationship he has with Town fans.

Naylor said: “I have been lucky that the fans took to me from my early days and I can still remember the lift they gave me when I came on as a sub and the reception I received.

“Then they stood by me when I was having problems, and did not see as much of me as they could have done, and even more recently they have been patient with me as I moved to centre-half and was learning the position. Of course I made mistakes but they have stood by me absolutely fantastic.”

“All three children were born in Ipswich which give me an even greater affinity to the area, an extra bond.

“It is perfect now for me. You come down to a club as a kid and 15 years on you are settled in the area with your own family, playing for a club you love and for supporters who have always been absolutely fantastic to me.”

Saturday promises to be a terrific day, deserving of the man and top entertainment for the paying customers, and it is a testament to his enduring popularity, on and off the pitch, that so many ex-players are coming back - especially as, for tax reasons, Naylor has not been allowed to organise things himself and has had to rely on a committee.

He said: “The committee have been brilliant and I want to thank them. The Wembley 2000 team coming is a bit different but, for most Town fans, it is the highlight of recent years and, for many, the biggest one as supporters.

“So, this is a little reminder for them and a chance to see old favourites.

“George had such a big influence on me and my early career here so I'm delighted he has agreed to lead the team out.

“I hope to play for both sides, Fabian wants to do that as well but we will see, while Martijn Reuser will get a rare start so that will be fun.

“The Wembley side will also include a sprinkling of other players I have played alongside over the 10 years. People like Titus (Bramble), maybe Darren Ambrose and Darren Bent but they may be with England, which I would be delighted about.

“It would be interesting to see how little combinations would have looked, like Martijn Reuser and Benty, or Tommy Miller and Matt Holland, it would be interesting to see what could have been.”

Richard Naylor will also be in Planet Blue in the Buttermarket, Ipswich, to sign autographs for fans between 3.30pm and 4.30pm on Thursday.

Tickets are now on sale for Richard Naylor's Testimonial, which takes place on Saturday, kick off 1.30pm.

The match, which is also supporting East Anglia's Children's Hospices, will see the return of a number of fans' favourites as the current Ipswich Town squad take on the Wembley winning side from 2000.

Tickets are priced at £15 for adults, £5 concessions and £3 juniors. Tickets can be purchased from the ticket office by calling 0870 111 0 555 and are also available from Planet Blue stores.

To round off the day in style, Richard Naylor will be hosting “The Decade Dinner Dance”. Tickets are still available for the black-tie event, which includes live music, four-course meal and disco, at the Elizabeth Hotel Copdock on September 2.

For further details please contact Wolfe Powell on 07711 512876.

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