North Stander: The day Burley called me after we revealed Wright’s £1m deal
?Seven managers occupied the hot seat at Portman Road during my 23 years as editor of either the EADT or Ipswich Star – and I have no problem with naming my favourite. I’ll come to that in a moment, writes North Stander Terry Hunt.
I tried very hard to convince all the bosses of the same thing: The newspaper wants the club to be successful, but has to be critical when necessary, otherwise it will have no credibility.
Mostly they understood and accepted the situation, but on occasions the going got rather rocky. In the early days, managers would call me to voice their displeasure personally. Later, as barriers went up, the message would come via an intermediary. Shame - I always prefer to deal with these things face to face.
Oh yes - my favourite? George Burley, without a shadow of doubt. I’m biased, I suppose. Firstly, George had been part of the Robson glory years as a player, so he always had a head start with fans, and the local media.
Secondly, his teams played attractive, attacking football, and improved year on year, culminating in long-awaited promotion to the Premier League. That day at Wembley 20 years ago remains my best as an Ipswich fan.
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Yes, I know we won the FA Cup and a European trophy with Robson, and I was there both times. But back then I was still young, and rather took things for granted.
By the time of George’s team’s Wembley triumph, I’d realised such days were to be enjoyed and appreciated to the full. My wife Jane and I were invited back to the club celebration at the Suffolk Showground - and what a party it was!
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Jim Magilton held court as entertainer in chief, “interviewing” each player on stage. I remember quiet youngsters like Richard Wright and James Scowcroft not enjoying the experience very much!
I went back to the office to collect a print-out of the next day’s special celebratory front page - dominated by a photo of George and Martijn Reuser with the play-off trophy. All the players and coaching staff enjoyed their sneak preview.
Under George, the newspaper and club had a very close relationship. I can only recall upsetting him once. It was when we reported on the front page that Richard Wright’s new contract was paying him £20,000 a week, or £1 million a year.
George called me personally, to voice his concerns that he would very soon have a queue of players outside his office demanding the same money! I could see his point, but I did try to explain that a Town player – a local lad at that – earning a million a year was a very strong story. Remember, this is 20 years ago.
There were no hard feelings, we both respected we had our jobs to do, and George remained the open, friendly and accessible person he had always been. I remember being really gutted when he was sacked a couple of years later, when it was becoming painfully obvious that we weren’t going to bounce back to the top division at the first attempt.
After a rich and varied managerial career, George has made his home in Ipswich, and attends home games. He remains passionate about all things Ipswich Town, and would have loved another crack at managing the club. He would certainly have done better than most of Marcus Evans’ appointments, but I’m pretty sure that moment has passed now.
I only met George’s predecessor, the late John Lyall, once. I had just been appointed editor of the Evening Star in 1994, and I met him in the Portman Road boardroom to ask him to write a weekly column.
I pointed out it would be his opportunity to put across the club’s messages, publicise activities, and answer any criticism. My negotiating skills were somewhat lacking. Mr. Lyall made it very clear that he had no intention of writing a column for the local paper. It all ended rather awkwardly, I seem to recall.
Joe Royle was charming in his dealings with our football reporters. Each morning, the sports team on the Evening Star would call him for a chat, and from that conversation would invariably come the story for that day’s back page. Joe also wrote a weekly column. I was glad at least one manager saw the benefit!
By being helpful to us, Joe was always helping himself and the club. He was in charge of the messages. Smart man.
Recent managers have been more distant. The corporate wisdom now says that managers hold media conferences before matches, and immediately after games. That’s pretty much the only access media have. No special treatment – everyone is treated the same. Local football reporters have to work very hard for their exclusives.
I didn’t meet Roy Keane, I met Paul Jewell once, on the day he was appointed. I never met Mick McCarthy. Perhaps I should have made more effort, but I got the feeling that forging a relationship with the local newspaper editor wasn’t exactly high on their list of priorities. Shame - but that’s one of the realities of modern football.