Naylor emphasises Dale's influence

RICHARD Naylor has emphasised just how big an influence Dale Roberts had on Ipswich's success and how the decline coincided with his illness, writes Derek Davis.

RICHARD Naylor has emphasised just how big an influence Dale Roberts had on Ipswich's success and how the decline coincided with his illness, writes Derek Davis.

Roberts was George Burley's right-hand man throughout his days at Ayr United, Colchester United and then as the Blues rose from the ashes of relegation to four-play-off seasons, culminating in Wembley glory.

He played a big behind the scenes part in Town's successful first year back in the Premiership where they finished fifth and qualified for the UEFA Cup.

But as he was fought against non-Hodgkinson's disease and could not give the same support to George, so the team's fortunes also dipped. Although many other factors contributed, there is no doubt Roberts was being missed.

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Naylor, the club's longest-serving player, grew up with Roberts the coach and mentor for senior and junior players alike.

He said: "He and George were a double act and George missed him more than anyone.

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"George did things a certain way and Dale was slightly different so gave him balance. He was perfect for George and he got on really well with all the lads. And someone you could always turn to.

"It is difficult to put a finger on what exactly went wrong but losing Dale did not help. I'm not saying if Dale had been about more Ipswich would not have got relegated but there would have been a better feel to the place."

Burley and Roberts were close friends for 30 years and the former Town boss has played a key part in getting this game on as chairman of Dale's testimonial committee and misses Derby County's game at Macclesfield tonight to be at this match.

The game in Dale's memory is also a tribute to his widow Cheryl and their two sons. It is the family's wish that a lot of the money raised in the testimonial goes to various charities in the area to help sufferers.

Naylor remembers just how painful the 18 months were for Roberts and those close to him.

He said: "It was horrible to be honest. I went up to see him in hospital and it was not nice to see someone you care about in that situation. As high as Dale's spirits were it was horrible to see.

"When he would come in and see us and tell us about what he had gone through the previous week it brought tears to your eyes.

"A lot of people have to go through similar experiences and it is a horrible illness, it really destroys people and Dale fought right to the end."

A crowd of 25,000 is expected tonight, with 22,000 tickets sold up to last night, as Sir Bobby Robson brings a strong Premiership side to Portman Road.

Each player will be escorted on to the pitch by a mascot, many of whose parents have donated to the fund for the privilege, and two of the young children are from the Ipswich Hospice.

Naylor added: "It speaks volumes about how popular he was throughout the game that Sir Bobby is bringing such a strong team for this game.

"Of course people like Darren (Ambrose), Titus (Bramble) and Kieron (Dyer) were pleased to do this because they knew him but a lot of other people respected Dale too."

While it is a unique occasion, Naylor believes it will be a competitive match.

He said: "Usually testimonial games are low key games but as it is part of the pre-season build up I feel it will be more competitive than usual.

"Both sets of players will be out to impress the managers and it should be an exciting game which both teams want to win."

Naylor still uses tips passed on to him by Roberts and can remember how one particular piece of advice helped him score at Wembley.

He said: "In the build-up to the final at Wembley, Dale had noticed how I switched off sometimes if a ball didn't come to me when I made a run at set pieces.

"He made the point that if it didn't come off to go back and make the run again, and at Wembley I remembered what he told me.

"On the day I did exactly that Veno (Mark Venus) played a ball in, Marcus Stewart got a flick on and it came to me and I scored.

"It was little things like that which people didn't notice and probably would not have got mentioned but for Dale dying.

"He didn't get the credit he deserved at the time but he was fantastic with players here."

A souvenir programme is on sale today at £3 and is available at Planet Blue, WH Smith and from sellers around the ground.

Cash turnstiles will be open for the game tonight.

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