Former Ipswich Town boss Bobby Ferguson dies aged 80
- Credit: Archant
Bobby Ferguson, Ipswich Town’s first team coach under Bobby Robson in the club’s glory years and manager at Portman Road between 1982 and 1987, has died at the age of 80, writes Tony Garnett.
He was born at Dudley in county Durham and started his football career as a tough-tackling full back with Newcastle United in 1955.
His playing career took him to Derby County, Cardiff City, Barry Town and Newport County before being appointed to the back-room staff at Portman Road by Bobby Robson in 1970.
As reserve team coach he developed the early careers of many Ipswich Town stars like Terry Butcher, George Burley, Eric Gates, Russell Osman, Kevin Beattie, Jason Dozzell and Mark Brennan all of whom developed through the productive Ipswich youth scheme.
He remained reserve team coach until after the 1978 FA Cup final victory over Arsenal when played a crucial role in Town’s tactical build-up for their big day at Wembley.
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By the start of the following season he had taken over from Cyril Lea as first team coach.
He and Robson worked together to help Ipswich win the UEFA Cup in 1981 when the arrival of Dutch stars Arnold Muhren and Frans Thijssen helped transform Ipswich Town to becoming the best team in England and a power in Europe.
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But for fixture congestion they would surely have been First Division champions that season.
Ferguson was appointed Ipswich Town manager for the 1982-83 season after Robson became England manager.
Ferguson appointed Charlie Woods, with whom he had worked for so many years, as his deputy.
It was tough to follow Robson especially at a time when Ipswich Town developed financial problems brought about by the decision to develop the Pioneer Stand.
There were no wins in his first seven league matches but the team settled down to finish in a respectable ninth position.
Gradually some of the stars of the Robson era moved away and Ferguson could not use the transfer fees to buy quality replacements because the money was needed to pay escalating building costs.
In 1983-84 Ipswich were fighting a desperate battle against relegation. Survival in the top flight looked a lost cause until a spectacular recovery saw the club collect 17 points from their final seven games.
This included a 2-2 draw with champions Liverpool at Anfield and a memorable away win over Manchester United.
It was at Old Trafford that Ferguson, having met the referee, went into the Manchester United dressing room instead of his own.
He saw Reme Moses, thought it was Romeo Zondervan, and started his team talk. Then he spotted an amazed Ron Atkinson.
When he told his own players what had happened it lightened the mood, relieved pre-match pressure and almost certainly contributed to the victory.
Ferguson’s signings of Alan Sunderland on loan from Arsenal and Romeo Zondervan to add crucial experience could be compared to Robson signing Frank Clarke and Jimmy Robertson to stave off the threat of relegation 15 years earlier.
Ipswich finished in 12th place but were only five points clear of the drop.
The debut of Chantry schoolboy Jason Dozzell at the age of 16 years and 57 days against Coventry City was another of the memorable moments of that campaign.
In 1984-85 Ipswich ended in 17th place one point clear of relegation. They still had had Paul Cooper, Terry Butcher, Eric Gates and Russell Osman in the side together with emerging youngsters Mark Brennan, Jason Dozzell and Trevor Putney.
Escape acts could not last for ever. In 1985-86 Ipswich went down after 18 years at the top. It was close, Oxford United winning 3-0 against Arsenal in a rearranged match two days after Ipswich had finished their fixtures.
It was a nightmare defeat at Oxford at the end of November that proved crucial in the end. Ipswich were three up in 53 minutes at the Manor Ground.
They seemed to be coasting to victory. The ever-reliable Cooper was injured. Ferguson promoted young Jon Hallworth for his debut ahead of the more experienced reserve Mark Grew. Oxford scored four including a hat-trick from John Aldridge. As to whether Grew would have done any better than Hallworth, at fault for only one of the goals, is open to question.
Relegation and the Board’s need for money led to the departures of Burley, Gates and Osman.
Ferguson was given one chance to win promotion from Division Two. By now the team was a blend of experience and youngsters with Ian Atkins and Ian Cranson key men in defence in front of Cooper but they reached the play-offs.
Ipswich were forced to field injury-hit sides in the two-leg semi-final against Charlton Athletic.
They drew 0-0 at Portman Road and then lost 2-1 at The Valley. Ferguson’s contract was not renewed. It was a harsh decision.
He joined Dave Mackay as coach to Al Arabi in Kuwait and revived the fortunes of this sleeping giant.
He returned England where he was coach at Sunderland when Terry Butcher was manager and the had a spell with Birmingham City under Mackay.
He turned down the chance to return to club management and later scouted both for Butcher and for George Burley. While reserve team coach at Ipswich he had the chance to manage Millwall but was persuaded to stay at Portman Road.
During his playing career Ferguson made 11 appearances for Newcastle United. He was transferred to Derby County where he played 121 games between 1962 and 1965.
While at Cardiff City he helped the team to the semi-finals of the European Cup Winners’ Cup. They beat Shamrock Rovers, NAC Breda and Torpedo Moscow before losing to Hamburg. The away leg against Moscow was played in Tashkent,
Cardiff drew 1-1 in| Hamburg but lost 3-2 in the second leg at Ninian Park. After a brief spell with non-League Barry Town, Ferguson became player-manager of Newport County before joining Bobby Robson’s back room staff.
Ferguson bought a house in Wadhurst Road in Ipswich and, like many former Ipswich Town players, settled in Suffolk.
He was a member at Ipswich Golf Club playing off a single-figure handicap, and despite a troublesome knee kept fit by swimming and walking his dog.
He watched the present Ipswich Town play on a regular basis.
He was a keen follower of horse racing and was a friend of the late Newmarket trainer Geoff Wragg. For many years he had a season ticket at Newmarket. He was also a founder member of the East Anglian Daily Times Racing Club which had horses trained by Mark Tompkins at Newmarket.
He leaves his wife Ann, son Keith and daughter Kim who works in Bahamas but returned to Ipswich for his 80th birthday celebrations.