North Stander: I loved Magilton as a player, but I still think I was right to call for his head as Town boss – here’s why
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It’s 21 years ago this month since Jim Magilton joined Ipswich Town. The charismatic Irishman was a hugely important player in George Burley’s promotion-winning team, and during that fantastic first season in the Premier League, writes North Stander Terry Hunt.
But what about Magilton as a manager? He was appointed in the summer of 2006 after Joe Royle’s departure, and had three seasons in the Portman Road hot seat before being unceremoniously sacked - ironically the day after his side beat Norwich. We haven’t managed to do that since!
With Town in constant decline during recent years, some supporters now look back at Magilton’s managerial era as some kind of golden age, and suggest that Marcus Evans should never have got rid of him.
There’s been quite a bit of chatter on social media, some involving Magilton himself. I have a personal interest in this, because two months before he eventually departed, I used my position as Editor of the EADT to call for Jim to go. I’ve been called a “muppet” on Twitter for doing what I did.
So, let’s look at the evidence. Was Marcus Evans right to sack an Ipswich Town icon? Was I justified in calling for Magilton to leave? And did my story have any influence whatsoever on the owner’s eventual decision to replace Jim with Roy Keane?
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We have to forget about Jim’s extraordinarily powerful influence as a player, and as a massively positive force in the dressing room, and on the pitch. This is only about Magilton the manager.
Frankly, his three-season spell was distinctly underwhelming. Remember, back then, the expectation was that Town should make the Championship play-offs, as they had twice under Royle.
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But in Magilton’s first season, we finished a lowly 14th, a huge 13 points adrift of the play-off places. There was an improvement the following year - 8th place, a single point from the top six. But in Jim’s final season, we fell back, finishing ninth.
Of course, these days we’d be thrilled to finish in the top half of the Championship. But those were different times. Magilton had been allowed to recruit quality players such as David Norris, Gareth McAuley and Jonathan Walters. But he failed to deliver a play-off place.
People forget that, by the beginning of 2009, as it became clear the season was going to end in disappointment once again, there was quite a bit of supporter dissatisfaction. Nothing compared to what we’ve experienced in the last, crushing three or four years, but there was a fair amount of grumbling.
As a newspaper, the EADT tries to reflect the views of the fans. To have credibility, newspapers have to be truly independent, and objective, when it comes to reporting on their football team.
As I tried to explain to the hierarchy at Portman Road many times during my 20-plus years as editor, this newspaper really, really wants Ipswich Town to succeed. It’s good for the town, it’s good for the county. And it makes life easier for everyone!
But when things are going wrong, we need to say so. That’s how I felt in February 2009, when I called for Magilton to go. I said I did this with a heavy heart, and that was so true.
I admired Jim. As a fan, I loved him as a player, recognising how important and influential he had been. I liked him as a person. He was good company.
But, as a manager, he failed at Ipswich Town, and three years was long enough. I wanted Jim to resign rather than be sacked. I suppose that was rather unrealistic. Most of all, I didn’t want his status as a Town legend to be clouded by an underwhelming spell as manager. Happily, that didn’t happen.
Did my intervention play any part in Marcus Evans’ decision two months later? I really don’t believe it did. I have met Evans on three or four occasions, and he certainly doesn’t strike me as the kind of man who makes knee-jerk decisions. His record in building up a business empire worth hundreds of millions of pounds suggests the same.
So I don’t think Evans read the paper that day and instantly decided he needed to get rid of Magilton. It would have been a gradual process, eventually reaching a tipping point when he decided to start the search for a new manager.
I still believe his decision to sack Jim was justified, and absolutely the right decision. It was what happened next that was the fateful turning point for Ipswich Town. We were all excited when Roy Keane arrived, but he was the first in a series of poor managerial appointments.
Keane, Jewell, Hurst, and, I have to say, Lambert on current evidence have all disappointed. Only McCarthy’s first two and a half seasons are exempt from criticism. He just stayed too long.
I’m sure some will continue to look back at Magilton’s time as manager through rose-tinted glasses. Bluntly, he failed as our boss, and deserved the sack. I don’t regret calling for his head.
But I’m delighted that as a fantastic, iconic player, Jim remains very much a Town legend.