Stylish John McGreal could have played for England
IN the second of his monthly Where are they Now features, ex-Ipswich striker James Scowcroft catches up with former team-mate John McGreal, a key member of the Town side which won promotion and went on to finish fifth in the Premier League.
IN August 1999 George Burley put the final piece of his Ipswich jigsaw together.
We had cruelly lost out in the play-offs for the third season running. With some of the money from the sale of Kieron Dyer to spend, Burley made the calculated decision to sign 27-year-old Liverpudlian John McGreal from Tranmere.
McGreal recalled: “John Aldridge told me after training and told me the club had accepted a bid from Ipswich. I knew straight away it was right for me.
“It was on the Wednesday, three days before the start of the season that I made the long drive down to Ipswich. I followed my agent, Mark Wright, the former Liverpool player, down .
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“We stopped off at Birmingham and Mark received a phone call from Steve Bruce the-then Huddersfield manager. He said he was interested.
“But my mind was made up. I knew Ipswich was a good club after playing against them on several occasions”.
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John soon settled in at Ipswich and was very popular amongst the other players. He made his debut on the opening day of the season against Nottingham Forest.
He said: “The day before the Forest game we all had a meeting with sports psychologist Ken Way. The first thing he said was, ‘forget the play-offs, I need you all to believe in each other and think only of finishing in the top two.’
“My first thoughts were, wow, at Tranmere it was all about finishing above the bottom three. The team were excellent against Forest and it set the tune for the whole season.
“We had some excellent players in yourself, Matty, Jim, David Johnson, Wrighty in goal, Jamie Clapham, Bam Bam (Richard Naylor) and Mark Venus.
“Some of the football was the best I played in my career and to win promotion at Wembley just topped it all off”.
During a mid-season break to Tenerife, John became infamous for his passion for wearing Lacoste check shirts.
On the last night it was decided between the players that if he appeared at dinner wearing his trademark check shirt it was going to be ripped off. But word got back to John and he managed to find a plain white one instead.
He joked: “I had style Scowy, nobody else could see it.”
The following season the success story just continued for Ipswich and for John as the team took the Premiership by storm.
“It was a great season with so many highlights. The best one for me was scoring in the 3-0 win at Everton. On the day I had my Everton mates sitting in the Everton end and my Liverpool mates in with the Ipswich crowd.
“To be brought up on Merseyside and win at Goodison and Liverpool was special. In those two seasons we could change formations and tactics just like that because we had good players. To finish fifth was a great achievement.”
John left Ipswich in 2005 to join Burnley where he spent three happy years but he missed Ipswich and Suffolk so much he decided to to move his family back here.
He’s now back in football, working at the Colchester United academy.
“I always wanted to carry on in the game and give something back. I’m working to complete my A licence coaching badge and I’m virtually full time at Colchester.
“Colchester have a fantastic set- up and everybody from the chairman down is geared up to promote youth. For us it’s the only way the club can compete.
“With a new training ground set to open soon the club now have an academy to rival Ipswich. There’s a big Ipswich contingent at Colchester with myself, Tony Humes, Richard Hall, Fabian Wilnis and Sean Thacker all working at Colchester.
“I look after the under-16s and work closely with the youth team. I’ve got the bug for coaching and want to go as high up the ladder as I can one day.
“It’s hard work and there’s a lot of learning to take in but I thoroughly enjoy it. Kids often ask me what players I’ve played against and what stadiums I’ve played in.
“I’m proud to tell them of my Ipswich days and memories of playing against Inter Milan and other top sides will live with me forever.”
John hasn’t changed too much since he was a Town player. He was extremely popular with the other players in his playing days at Ipswich.
In all my time I’ve never seen a better ball-playing centre-half than John McGreal. I believe if Ipswich had survived in the Premiership he could have earned himself an England cap.
It was great to catch up with him and he’s someone I’ll try and keep in touch with for the rest of my life – maybe one day we might even see him back at Ipswich in a coaching capacity.