Sheepshanks leads tributes to Roberts
IPSWICH Town chairman David Sheepshanks last night led the tributes to Dale Roberts, a man he described as 'blue and white from head to toe'.
IPSWICH Town chairman David Sheepshanks last night led the tributes to Dale Roberts, a man he described as 'blue and white from head to toe', writes Derek Davis.
Sheepshanks said: “Dale was a totally devoted and sincere man and in many respects he was the unsung hero. He lived for his family and football, in that order, although at times his family must have thought it was a close-run thing.”
As a Town supporter Sheepshanks can remember the days when Roberts progressed from the youth team and into a side which was emerging as one of the best in Europe.
He said: “I can remember watching him as a player in the mid-70s where he was an understudy to Allan Hunter and Kevin Beattie. He was a top-quality centre-half but was also unfortunate to be at the club at a time when we had Russell Osman and Terry Butcher coming through behind him. Dale was a hard, totally determined and dedicated tough-tackling, no-nonsense player.”
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Sheepshanks was the club chairman in 1995 when he appointed Roberts assistant-manager to the newly-installed George Burley, so keeping the partnership together.
Sheepshanks recalls: “I only really got to know him when we appointed George Burley and Dale came with him in 1995. He was the perfect foil to George, someone who never sought the limelight but played an invaluable role.
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“I will always remember him dancing at Wembley and hugging George with delight when Martijn Reuser's goal went in.”
It was perhaps fitting that Roberts' last full season in football ended with silverware, and Sheepshanks was there to see his crowning moment.
He said: “There was his modest but clear delight at winning the Reserve League championship. He won the title during his illness and although he had to ask Ian Smith to run the bench for him at times he was at every game and was always in the stand. Dale Roberts' influence was there for all to see.”
Flags were flown at half-mast at Portman Road, a minute's silence was held at last night's reserve team game and another will be held before Saturday's Division One game at home to Sheffield United.
Sheepshanks added: “It is a terribly sad tragedy to lose a man who was blue and white from head to toe who has been cut short in his prime.
“He was the ultimate professional at whatever job he was given.
“It must have been hard for him when he missed out on training with the first team to take the reserves but Dale got on with it and did it to the very best of his ability. He helped to forge closer links between the professional staff and the Academy and worked closely with Bryan Klug and Ian Smith.”
The Town chairman saw Roberts on Friday and the visit left a vivid impression. He added: “My last memory of Dale is visiting him in hospital and I was left in total admiration at the courageous way he was dealing with his illness. I was left awestruck at how brave the man was.
“Speaking on behalf of the directors, management and staff, at Ipswich Town Football Club we share the tremendous sense of loss that his family and friends must feel and send our deepest condolences and best wishes to his wife Cheryl, sons Mark and Tom, and the rest of his family.”
DALE Roberts' astute sense of humour and positive outlook will linger long in the memory of the players he inspired at Portman Road.
South African Justin Miller was made reserve team skipper by Roberts, who wanted to bring the young centre-half out of his shell.
Miller remembers how the no-nonsense coaching style turned him from a shy youngster to a commanding centre-half who has now signed for Third Division Leyton Orient.
He said: “Dale is the reason I made it. I am what I am today because of him. I owe him a lot. He was such a great guy who put a smile on everyone's face whenever he was around.
“He had a great sense of humour and he would tell you straight, he was very honest, that is just the way he was. He treated me like family and we got on really well.”
The enduring picture of Miller and Roberts lifting the Premier Reserve League championship trophy captures the joy of a winner but hides the full extent of the illness the coach was battling.
Miller said: “I'm just glad we won that for him. He really deserved it and a lot more. Even when he was going through the toughest of times he was there for us. He used to come in and want to look after everyone else.”
Ipswich Town skipper Matt Holland added: “I can't speak highly enough of Dale.
“He was a terrific guy who always had a smile on his face and even though he had been ill for 12 months and must have been in a lot of pain during that time, he would never show it.
“That showed his strength of character. It was typical of Dale.
“My thoughts are with his family at this sad time. It's a big loss for them and a big loss for everyone who knew him.”
SIR BOBBY ROBSON
SIR BOBBY Robson was the man who brought Dale Roberts to Ipswich from his native Newcastle and gave him his debut against Birmingham in the old Division One in 1974.
Robson last night said: “I knew Dale was fighting for his life but this has still come as a shock because it was so sudden really.
“The news has left me very sad and distraught.
“I felt particularly close to Dale because he was a Geordie lad and I took him to Ipswich from the north-east along with Eric Gates, Tommy Parkin and David Geddis.
“He made his debut under me and although he was not the most skilful player he was a great competitor and quite a character.
“He was a great lad and a very loyal servant to Ipswich Town. I know he was very close to George Burley and he will be feeling particularly low just as I am.”
COLCHESTER United chairman Peter Heard once gave Dale Roberts the chance to manage a team in his own right but such was his loyalty to George Burley he politely declined.
Heard remembers when he first saw the fierce passion and enthusiasm which burned within Roberts.
He said: “George was concerned after losing some pre-season games and not starting the season too well. He approached the board about bringing Dale in from America and although there was some reluctance I managed to persuade the board to grant George's request.
“In his first game at Scarborough I remember Dale punching the Perspex top of a dug-out after a minor mistake. It showed his determination and encouragement and we won the game and as I recall we went on a fabulous run when we lost just once up until George left at Christmas.
“We asked Dale to stay on and take over but he was very gentlemanly about it and said no.
“He had great loyalty to George, who had brought him in and wanted to stay with him.
“Although it was a short period I felt he was very much the unsung person behind the amazing run. He certainly played a big part.”
ALTHOUGH best remembered for his two stints at Portman Road, Dale Roberts was also a popular Tiger.
He joined Hull City in 1980 and went on to make almost 200 appearances in Divisions Three and Four.
Brian Horton was the manager who took them up in his first season in charge and remembers Roberts fondly.
He said: “We won promotion in my first year and Dale was a very important part of that. He was always a very pleasant lad and popular at Hull City.
“I can remember him being a very enthusiastic footballer, a real player's player.
“He went off to do a great job with George Burley and I was delighted with the success they had.
“I have seen Dale around now and then and he is always a terrific guy to meet up with. He will be missed and I want to pass on my condolences to his family.”