Great year, but Joe wants more

THE office is large and has all the essentials - a big television, a couple of comfy chairs and a big desk under which Joe Royle's feet are firmly ensconsed.

THE office is large and has all the essentials - a big television, a couple of comfy chairs and a big desk under which Joe Royle's feet are firmly ensconsed, writes Derek Davis.

His cheery secretary brings him a cup of herbal tea as he reads his 'to do list' and chuckles at the notes.

Unbeaten throughout October, a perfectly civilised and enjoyable reunion with old Evertonians fresh in the memory, Royle is contented man.

We discuss his weekly column, which has proved popular in the EADT, and then we get round to talking about the past 52 weeks as Ipswich Town manager.

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There is no misty-eyed, nostalgic reminiscing. As much as he is at home at Portman Raod, Royle is on a mission with all the zeal and vim he had when he very first started out in management at Oldham.

Approaching 1,000 games as a manger, Royle can recall all with computer-like efficiency and he is swift to identify the highs and lows of his last 56 matches.

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“The home win over Sheffield United when we were two down with 10 men was a major memory, and also right up there was our 3-0 win over Portsmouth. Okay, they had already been promoted but the performance and showing of potential was special,” he recalls.

It takes less time to talk about the not-so-good moments.

He shrugs his shoulders and adds: “There have not been too many low points. You can look at individual results, for example Rotherham away, when we lost after putting ourselves in a good position to get into the final play-off places.

“That was a sweet and sour weekend, beating Portsmouth and then losing there in a game we should have won.”

Little point in reflecting too much with the task of promotion very much in hand.

He said: “Without sounding too cheesy but I hope the best is yet to come.

“Overall it has been good. We were fourth bottom when I came and we went to our highest position of fifth from top last week. And we are going forward.”

Going forward with a slowly-changing side with free signings Kelvin Davis, Georges Santos and Drissa Diallo joining in the summer and now joined by loanees Alan Mahon, Shekfi Kuqi and Chris Bart-Williams.

Royle said: “It is an all-change team. Unfortunately some of the crowd's heroes have gone, which is a shame, but it had to happen.

“Hopefully the supporters can look forward to a new batch of legends playing for them.

“The fans have already accepted the three new signings. Kelvin, Georges and Drissa have all made a big impact and have all shown their worth, particularly as they were all free signings.

“Six weeks ago it was hard to convince people we were better than our position when we were rock bottom but, without being wise after the event, I had seen seeds of recovery and even at West Brom we were better than the 4-1 suggested.”

And the Blues supporters can expect more comings and goings, probably on the loan market or free transfers when available.

Royle admits to still being in the building phase with the foundations still being footed.

He said: “It is a long, long away from the Joe Royle side I want. We are not in the Premier League and when we are we will set a whole new set of demands from the players around at that time. It is a constantly evolving process, just look at Manchester United.

“The challenge will be for the players who are there now to stay there when we get promotion, and for them to show they can play at the next level.”

When Royle took over from Burley on October 28, 2002, Ipswich were banking on a good cup run and being able to sell a couple of players in the January sales.

Only Jamie Capham went, a bargain for Birmingham City, but the £1.3m was not enough to stave off administration and suddenly Royle was seeing something that was not in the brochure.

He could have upped and left but instead rose to the challenge and adjusted the plans he and coach Willie Donachie had in mind accordingly.

“It is not what I expected. My mandate was ostensibly to lead the set of players who were here back into the Premiership but due to events it has not been possible. But I have thoroughly enjoyed it and the year has flown from that first league game against Palace, when we lost, so it was appropriate we should beat them last week,” added Royle.

“We have no regrets, my wife Janet and I love this area and have no regrets whatsoever.”

While Janet, and his sons, provide the family stability, Scotsman Willie Donachie is his footballing rock.

Joe admits: “Willie is vitally important to me. We have worked together four times, playing and managing at two clubs, Manchester City and those up the road.”

At Oldham the duo won promotion and reached the two FA Cup semi-finals and a Leauge Cup final.

At Everton they won the FA Cup in 1995 and at Manchester City they won successive promotions.

In between time he worked with England and was offered international jobs, so with such an impressive footballing CV it was hard to understand the initial resistance to Royle's appointment.

He said: “I have had success with all three clubs which is why I was a little puzzled why there were elements that didn't want me here. Perhaps it is because I have never had an agent who blasts my name over the back pages.”

Royle intends this to be his last job in football and took the job for one reason alone, to manage in the Premiership one more time.

He also knows Ipswich can not afford not to be in the top flight and is focused on achieving that single aim.

He said: “There is only the P word to talk about. All we are interested is promotion. I will gladly sacrifice a cup run if it means promotion.

“I would like to give the fans a cup run though, and I have seen both sides. At Everton a cup run coincided with a league run which took us away from trouble.

“But at Oldham we played 60-odd games in the season, got to a cup final and two semi-finals but just missed out on a play-off place.”

While things have not always gone quite the way he had envisaged Royle is delighted with the people he has found at the club and those he has brought in.

Rather than mark out of 10 his own performance he prefers instead to share the credit and gives a strong eight, or even nine.

He added: “If we were in this position with the squad I had when we came I would be disappointed we are not in top two.

“But if you bear in mind the turmoil, the changeovers, the fact we were rock bottom, I have got to give these players a high mark but say we must do better. A 10 means promotion.”

One great night for Royle whetted his appetite for more of the big match atmosphere and that was when England came to town.

He said: “That was a fantaistc night for Ipswich but we still focused on what we were doing and where we wanted to be.

“We have a Premier stadium we need a Premier team. When we are playing those stars from Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, here, then we know we are on the way.”

Royle knows he can not do it alone and praises the back-up he has had from chairman David Sheepshanks and the board.

He also paid tribute to his coaching staff.

He said: “I have a close relationship with Willie and Tony Mowbray. We have a good working team with Steve McCall and Malcolm Webster as well and everyone is playing their part in what we all want.”

And with a big grim he added: “It is the first time I have been older than the chairman, it is good to be able to give him advice.”

With that we are out of the office - there is a reserve team game to watch - and promotion to be won.

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