Ex-Town manager Bobby Ferguson: ‘We are lucky to have Marcus Evans’
Former Town striker James Scowcroft meets ex-Blues manager and Sir Bobby Robson’s right hand man Bobby Ferguson in the first of a two-part special.
I WALK nervously through the foyer of the David Lloyd health club towards their restaurant and bar area. Sitting in the far corner is one of the most recognisable faces of the golden era of Ipswich Town’s history.
Aged 74, Bobby Ferguson looks as fit as ever. Carrying his Adidas sports bag – he still likes to train three times a week – he greets me with a warm hand shake and smile that instantly makes me feel very welcome.
I’ve heard a lot about him (never a bad word) but now was my chance to sit down one to one and listen to the man who had a major influence in turning Ipswich Town into one of the finest clubs in Europe in the 1970s and early 80s.
After spending 40 years living in Suffolk, Bobby still retains his strong Geordie accent and his passion for football has never left, nor has his passion for Ipswich Town.
He said: “I still go down to the club every other week and hardly miss a game. I’m delighted that Paul Jewell has got things going and recently they’ve played some super football.”
We quickly got straight down to talking football and when I asked him what he thought was the difference recently he quickly pointed out that the team was developing partnerships all over the pitch.
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“From what I can see the front three are all playing together and the midfield two have got a terrific understanding,” he told me. “It’s so important in a football team that you develop partnerships and understandings all over the pitch. Be it your two central defenders, your strikers or midfield, everybody has to have an understanding on the pitch. Remember it’s a team game.”
Up until last year Bobby was a scout for George Burley while he was manager of Crystal Palace. One of the players he picked out, whilst watching games every week, was current Town player Jay Emmanuel-Thomas.
He recalled: “I saw Jay play for Cardiff whilst he was on loan from Arsenal, and I thought he was a terrific player. I’ve been telling Ipswich people all season he’ll come good, just mark my words.
“Paul’s managed to get the best out of him by moving him further up the pitch and getting him to play more down the middle. The lad has got a very powerful shot on him and anywhere near goal he should just have a go. “
Bobby still genuinely cares for the club which is not surprising, considering he’s held every position going, from youth team coach to reserve team coach followed by being first team coach, then eventually becoming manager when Sir Bobby handed over the reins.
He said: “James, I get so frustrated when the supporters and people in the media criticise the owner Marcus Evans and Chief Executive Simon Clegg.
“They do not realise how lucky we are to have an owner like we do in Marcus Evans. I just wish when I was manager I would have had a chairman and board to work with like Paul Jewell has got now.
“To back a manager like he has done with both Paul Jewell and Roy Keane then step back and let them get on with the football side of things is a manager’s dream.
“Simon Clegg deserves credit as well with dealing with all the contract stuff that can weigh a manager down. I think David Sheepshanks produced a miracle when he persuaded Marcus to buy the club.
“When I became manager I was told to sell, sell, sell – it was gut wrenching. The club had got itself in debt by building the then Pioneer stand (now Britannia) and underestimated the costs of building it.
“I just wish the club would have had someone around back then like Marcus Evans and Simon Clegg to handle all the contracts and just let me manage.
“First I had to sell Alan Brazil for �500,000 to Tottenham, then the likes of Muhren, Mariner, Wark, Butcher and so on to pay off the bills the club had built up.
“In total I sold 22 players, 11 of which were internationals. I managed to keep the club in the old first division by using mainly youngsters we’d nurtured from the youth team.
“The likes of Mark Brennan, Steve McCall, Frank Yallop, Ian Cranson, and Jason Dozzell were all good young players Bobby had brought through and I had no fear in playing them in the top flight of English football.
“We went to Manchester United with two games to go and beat them 2-1 and got a draw at Liverpool to keep us up.”
Eventually the club did drop down and Bobby had to sell stalwart Terry Butcher, whom he had personally coached from the age of 14.
He said: “When Butcher came to the club at a young age he would literally trip up over his own feet, but we virtually stripped him down and built him up both physically and mentally to become one of England’s finest defenders.
“Everybody talks about academies and the supporters want Marcus Evans to spent two-and-a-half million on building an academy, but it’s not money you need to throw at youngsters, it’s time you need to spend with young players to make a youth team set-up work.”
This coming from someone who produced 11 internationals at Ipswich, who would all go on to win trophies at the club.
Not only did he work hard on the training pitch, he only had one pitch to work on – not like some of the youth set-ups these days that have five or six pitches beautifully prepared for every training session.
“None of the youth players that came through in the 70s were world beaters when they first walked into Portman Road, but I spent hours with them working every day and trying to develop and improve them as footballers,” Bobby said.
“One of the biggest disappointments that I and Bobby Robson endured was seeing a young lad being released and not make the grade as a professional. We would be devastated to let lads go.”
The club proudly won the FA Youth Cup under Bobby’s and Charlie Woods’ guidance twice in the space of three years. One of the players to come through the Ipswich youth system at the time was current club scout Steve McCall.
Steve said: “Bobby Ferguson was way ahead of his time as a coach. He was forever coming up with new ideas and training methods that all the players would enjoy.
“The part he played in the club achieving what it did mustn’t be overlooked and at times he’s never got the credit which he so deserves.”
Bobby’s football career and wonderful time spent working with Sir Bobby Robson, producing the success that they both achieved is another fascinating story as well. Find out next week!