'A twinkle in the eye that could quickly solidify to steel' – thoughts on Paul Hurst's first press conference
PUBLISHED: 06:00 13 June 2018 | UPDATED: 07:46 13 June 2018
© Copyright Stephen Waller
Yesterday, Paul Hurst spoke to the media for the first time since being appointed Ipswich Town boss. Stuart Watson gives his thoughts on the new man’s display.
First impressions are so important – and Paul Hurst certainly made a good one yesterday.
Just 18 days ago he was dealing with the disappointment of his Shrewsbury Town side losing in the League One Play-Off Final. Since then he has been appointed Blues boss, gone away on a truncated holiday and then immediately started a week-long League Managers’ Association course in London.
You’d have forgiven him for being somewhat discombobulated. Instead, he looked like a man ready for business.
He’s been making phone calls. He’s been watching games. Already he’s got a pretty firm grip on what he has and hasn’t got in this squad. And he clearly knows what supporters wanted to hear and see going forwards.
When it came to discussions on history, youth, style of play, entertainment and budget all of the buzz words and sound bites were ticked off one by one. And the best thing about it was it never felt contrived or insincere.
It was – and I mean this as the highest possible compliment – understatedly impressive.
The dressing rooms and media room are at the very opposite ends of the East of England Co-op Stand. To get from one to the other, you have to walk up a flight of stairs and down a long narrow corridor. Every inch of the walls are covered by framed and fading pictures/articles from the past.
I won’t name names, because I wasn’t meant to be party to the conversation, but I once heard an opposition manager proclaim ‘the first thing I’d do if I was appointed here is rip all that down’. Hurst made that walk for the first time yesterday and soaked it all up. And then he defused a question about the club’s rich heritage with some refreshing self-deprecation.
“The goal is to try and create our own bit of history here,” he replied. “I’m not saying a statue – albeit it wouldn’t cost a lot to make a life size one of myself! But we want to be fondly remembered here in years to come.
“Our vision, while being respectful of the past, is very much about the future.”
Hurst feels like the perfect bridge between the past and future. Not just the distant past, but the recent past too. Does he share certain qualities with predecessor Mick McCarthy? Yes, he admits (and that’s no bad thing). But he was quick to stress much will change too.
He himself says he combines ‘old school’ and ‘new school’ methods. He just feels like the right fit at the right time for this football club. He just feels – and I’d find it hard to put my finger on why – very Ipswich Town.
Maybe it’s because I’ve just watched the poignant and inspiring new film on the life of Sir Bobby Robson. In that his boundless enthusiasm for the game shone through. He was playful, fun, accessible and relatable. He never became detached from what the game meant to the fans. And yet that dancing twinkle in the eye could quickly solidify to steel when needed.
There’s a scene that shows him being interviewed on his first day in the job outside Portman Road in 1969. Young, very aware that he had everything to prove, but also clearly full of an inner self-belief.
I saw that in Hurst yesterday too. It’s clear he is ready to shake things up a little if he feels anyone has, even if subconsciously, slipped into some sort of comfort zone here. It’s the same with assistant Chris Doig – someone who has his own burning personal ambitions.
In a casual chat with the latter, a tall and chiselled Scotsman that strikers once feared and the ladies will love, I brought up the fact he once played alongside Luke Chambers at Northampton Town. ‘We get on well he said,’ before dramatically pausing. ‘It might not be that way in a few weeks though’.
It was a line delivered with a grin, but also, you sense, only semi tongue-in-cheek.
I like the fact that Hurst is already challenging owner Marcus Evans. He wants to cancel the pre-season training camp in Ireland and, it’s understood, take the team to Portugal instead. His disdain for the friendly programme at the likes of Braintree, Barnet and Crawley was barely hidden.
Yes, he’ll spend money as if it’s his own. And yes, he’s prepared to work on a shoestring budget. But maybe he’ll be prepared to push his boss for more funds when the moment is right.
Derby and Rangers can have the media circus that will surround Frank Lampard and Steve Gerrard. Ipswich have got just what they needed. Someone grateful of the opportunity to become only the 16th permanent manager in this club’s 82-year professional history, someone clearly proud and excited to wear the badge, and someone with serious fire in the belly.
‘Let’s go on a journey together,’ was his message to the fans. I think we’re all on board.