Ollie would have taken Town up

IAN Holloway would have led Ipswich Town to the Premier League this season.

That’s the firm belief of Ronnie Mauge, a friend and former player of the much-revered ‘Ollie’, after the larger-than-life Bristolian sensationally led Blackpool to the top-flight via the Championship play-off final at the weekend.

Ipswich-based Mauge was signed by Holloway at Bristol Rovers in 1999 and the duo quickly built up a close working relationship over their two years together at the club.

Describing him as a ‘second father’, former Whitton United manager and Trinidad & Tobago international Mauge, 41, remained a loyal and vocal supporter of Holloway long after hanging up his boots.

And even towards the end of the 2007/8 season, when Holloway’s managerial stock was at its lowest ebb following Leicester City’s relegation to League One and his subsequent sacking, Mauge urged Ipswich to consider him as a serious candidate if they were ever to part company with Jim Magilton.

Less than a season later Town did indeed sack the Northern Irishman, however, the job quickly went to Roy Keane. Blackpool were the ones to take a punt on Holloway and the rest, as they say, is history.

“I’m an Ipswich man through and through now and I can’t help but reflect on what could have been if Ollie had been appointed here,” said Mauge.

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“Whenever he was out of work he always told me he would love to manage Ipswich. He loves it up there (Blackpool) now, but I do constantly think what could have happened if he had been appointed down here at Ipswich.

“I’m not taking anything away from Roy Keane because I think he’s going to do some great things next season, but I did try desperately hard to get someone to listen that Ollie was the right man for the job.

“I honestly think, hand on heart, that he would have got Ipswich promoted this season.”

Now a sports coach for Ipswich Borough Council, midfielder Mauge was approaching 30 and considered a huge gamble in football circles in 1999 following a series of infamous off-field events at Plymouth Argyle.

Holloway snapped him up on a free transfer for Bristol Rovers though and the London-born midfielder went on to play a key role as a Pirates side containing the likes of Jason Roberts, Nathan Ellington and Jamie Cureton heartbreakingly missed out on a Division Two (now League One) play-off finish.

“He (Holloway) was like a second father to me,” said Mauge, who missed the dramatic finale to that season having broken his leg on his international debut against Mexico.

“I’d got into a bit of trouble at Plymouth, but as soon as I got under his wing that all stopped. He not only helped me be a good player, but he also taught me to be a responsible father and person. He would always be around my house or inviting me and my family to his.”

So just what is Holloway’s secret; this man-management ‘X-Factor’ which everyone is talking about following his fairytale success with a low-budget Blackpool side that had started the season tipped heavily for relegation?

“He just has a way of making you feel so good about yourself as a player. He made me feel like I really deserved to be playing in World Cups alongside the likes of Dwight Yorke and Shaka Hislop and I’m sure he’s made those Blackpool players feel as though they deserve to reach the Premier League.

“He has this ability to get the best out of mediocre players. His very nature makes players want to run through brick walls for him.

“Certain managers can only handle certain types of characters, but Ollie can handle them all.

“He wouldn’t be patronising or complement you all the time in a condescending way; he’d just say the right things at the right time. The affirmation he gave his players was paramount.

“He is always right in the thick of it with his players. You never felt he was detached, you felt like he was living every moment with you.

“When we failed to make the play-offs in my first season at Bristol Rovers we were all so gutted and it was mainly for Ollie. I’ve never seen a manager cry the way he cried that day. No one could console him, he just sat in the corner and cried his heart out.”

Mauge, who also played for Fulham and Bury, added: “In football he is my true hero. He’s had a fair few knock backs and I sometimes questioned whether he would go back into management again because he’d been hurt so badly. I always knew though that if he did go back then he would prove people wrong.”

– Ronnie Mauge has teamed up with current Ipswich Town player and fellow Trinidadian Carlos Edwards to run a children’s soccer camp at the start of next month. The three-day camp takes place from June 1-3 at Hanford Hall School, Ipswich and places are still available. To book a place, call Ronnie on: 07971360133.

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