Why Mowbray fits the bill for Ipswich

WHILE it can never be a forgone conclusion that a person will get a certain job, rarely have a club and a manager been so suited to each other.From the day George Burley signed Mowbray for a bargain £300,000 from Celtic the love affair began.

By Derek Davis

WHILE it can never be a forgone conclusion that a person will get a certain job, rarely have a club and a manager been so suited to each other.

From the day George Burley signed Mowbray for a bargain £300,000 from Celtic the love affair began.

Mowbray was suffering deep personal heartache after his first wife Bernadette died from cancer. His football had been affected and although the Parkhead faithful adored him, as Middlesbrough fans had before them, it was too painful to continue to play for the Bhoys and live in Glasgow.

Blues supporters took Mowbray to their bosom and the person, as well as the player, responded.

Despite struggling with injury for the first couple of seasons, which restricted appearances to a mere dozen starts in his second season, Mowbray's no-nonsense and effective defending, and his partnership with Mark Venus saw him established in the first team.

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It was not long before he was made skipper and for four of his five playing seasons Mowbray helped Town to the play-offs. But it was in his final playing season that Mowbray cemented his legendary status.

Originally Burley had wanted Mowbray to move on to the coaching side and play less.

But Manu Thetis's erratic form and behind-closed-doors bust-up with the manager, saw Mowbray once more don the No. 5 shirt to be at at the heart of a record-breaking defence that helped secure third place, and the play-offs once more.

The final at Wembley proved a dream send-off for Mowbray, who scored in the win over Barnsley and Town were back in the Premiership.

Although that really was the end of his playing career, Mowbray remained as president of the Ipswich Town Supporters' Club and was an outstanding ambassador for Ipswich Town.

Much of his work was unseen and unheralded, as is his way.

I can recall an incident when Mowbray was on a coaching course at Five Lakes in Essex. A girl working in reception, now long gone, was going through a difficult time and was depressed. She opened her heart to a sympathetic Mowbray who offered not just words of wisdom and support but a simple gift.

It was a pin of a guardian angel.

A couple of years later the girl, who, having failed to contact Mowbray through the usual means, found out that I knew him and asked me to give him a similar pin and to tell him how much happier she was and to thank him.

It shows what effect a kind word and deed can have and shows the basic decency which coarses through the man.

It was also while in Ipswich that Mowbray met his second wife, Amber, a hairdresser who has strong family ties to the town.

Although they currently live in Edinburgh, and have an 18-month-old son, it is clear a return to the Suffolk/Essex border where they used to live would be ideal.

But Mowbray the manager can also be ruthless when he needs to be. When he took over at Hibs, Mowbray had to sort out the dressing-room and two players would not toe the line and were shown the door.

Mowbray is a scholar of the game, and his intelligent and methodical approach is almost a paradox to the way he played.

The 42-year-old dipped out when the Ipswich vacancy arose in 2002 and although interviewed for the job while caretaker manager for four games, lost out to Joe Royle.

But the disappointment yielded many positives. Mowbray and Royle's trusted assistant Willie Donachie forged a friendship after finding they had much in common.

Mowbray absorbed the undoubted knowledge and experience from Donachie who in turn listened interestedly at the new ideas and concepts from the up-and-coming young manager.

In hindsight it was probably a good thing Mowbray did not take the reins first time around. He was too close to the dressing room. Although he sat on the coaches' table at lunch he was still one of the boys, especially among the older players.

Although he missed out on the Hartlepool and Blackpool jobs it was clear Mowbray was going to get his chance in the managerial hot seat and Hibs chairman Rod Petrie was more than suitably impressed when he visited the Town coach at his home.

Typically Mowbray, and Hibs, wanted to do things right by Ipswich and did not announce the appointment until after Ipswich had finished their season.

The size of the task at Easter Road became apparent as soon as Mowbray and Mark Venus arrived to find a decimated squad, and their season starting earlier than anyone else's, as they were in the early stages of the InterToto Cup.

The duo's arrival stunned the green half of Edinburgh and Mowbray's assertion that come hell or high water Hibs would play attacking football with flair, brought sniggers from their critics. They did, and not only did Hibs reach the Scottish Cup semi-final but qualified for the UEFA Cup by right after finishing behind the Old Firm of Celtic and Rangers.

Given the money in Scotland that was equivalent of winning the league within the SPL.

Mowbray and Venus did it with young players nurtured from the Academy bolstered by waifs and strays.

Their whole philosophy, so close to that established over decades at Ipswich Town, won many fans at home and beyond Edinburgh but even with the mini-football miracle they worked, competing against the sort of finances enjoyed by Celtic, Rangers and this season, Hearts, means they are banging their heads against the old stone walls of Edinburgh Castle. Working with young players, and blending them with old to produce a side that plays attractive, free-flowing but effective football is a philosophy ingrained in Mowbray and Ipswich Town.

They just go together like white wine and fair play in the Portman Road boardroom.