|Boxing Days to Remember|
Written by LegendRay on Sunday, 2nd Jan 2022 19:25
I was there on December 28th 1963 when the taxi driver emerged from the fog, moving in an ungainly way, speeding towards me.
It was amazing that he could stay upright at all let alone run at that speed but this was Joe Broadfoot, winger and London cabbie, at his best.
Fog had obliterated everything beyond the halfway line; the only way us lot in the North Stand knew Fulham had scored at Churchman’s was because we saw Town kicking off again.
It had been their second equaliser, but now on 80 minutes there was Joe hurtling down the right wing, cutting inside and hammering an unstoppable shot past the Fulham keeper. Gerry Baker would add another on 84 minutes to complete a remarkable victory.
And, of course, what made it even more remarkable was that the match was two days after the reverse fixture at Craven Cottage when Town recorded their highest loss of 10-1 - four goals for Graham Leggat and one for a certain Bobby Robson.
I read on the 58th anniversary of that Boxing Day that 66 goals were scored in Division One, then the top flight, and many of the reverse fixtures reversed their results two days later. We were not alone! Bottom of the division, but not alone!
And by the end of the season what looked inevitable at Christmas was inevitable. Back in Division Two just two seasons after being champions of the league. A championship team that grew old together, new recruits (mainly Scottish) who needed time, a younger raw manager allegedly given no help by his legendary predecessor – Jackie Milburn released from his contract because of results and performances.
In 2021 "performances and results" were quoted as the reason for our recent change too and of course they matter, but they’re often not the whole story. They are often the final straw for something changing behind the scenes. What might that have been?
On 19th October at Portsmouth and November 2nd at Wycombe, Town had turned in brilliant performances against rated teams with the entertaining football Paul Cook had promised, rising towards the playoffs. By December 4th, Cook had gone. What happened?
Could the clues lie in the type of manager now appointed and the timing of the change?
Look at the manager now coming in: "Meticulous and detailed and adaptable", according to Jim Magilton. And Mark Ashton said that Kieran McKenna has the qualities of "integrity, work ethic, energy, high intelligence" that fit our club’s values.
How did the likeable Cook and his team of coaches match up with those descriptions? And, importantly, how did they match up to the specs of the US owners?
When they took over, the new owners, of course, said, "Cook would have been our choice". As Mandy Rice-Davies famously said, "They would say that, wouldn’t they?" What else could they have said? They hadn’t been able to travel to actually meet him and the team due to Covid
After the highs of Portsmouth and Wycombe, results start to slide, the playing style gets more defensive, more rigid and we are no longer entertaining, "Our inconsistency is our consistency" becomes a message.
Confidence seems to evaporate. Ashton can no longer say to the owners, "Yes, I know that they are distinctive personalities, but just look at the results". Perhaps instead the owners began to use that line.
The timetable must have looked ominous to the CEO. Potential lack of confidence between the owners and coaching staff, results beginning to disappear, Pack Out Portman Road successfully sold and the US owners coming across for the Sunderland match.
As with the transfers over the summer, Ashton proved to be what the owners would have expected: determined, detailed and decisive. He acted surprisingly quickly to exit Cook, even before apparently having a new manager in place.
In McKenna and his assistant Martyn Pert he delivered two people who no one had suspected, apart from insiders, and who no one could object to… especially the owners!
Good pedigree in the Premier League, the right attributes, the right style. Ashton and the Americans who made the trip must have been relieved to see a new start happening just as their planes touched down and find a Packed Out Portman Road not booing as might have been expected after the previous two weeks, but filled with renewed optimism for the team, manager and his assistant, and the owners.
How would we fans have enjoyed Christmas and New Year without the change being made?
Happy New Year to all with a diamond anniversary of winning the 1961/62 title to come, legend Ray scoring the two vital goals.
And to finish on a Boxing Day footnote. December 26th was the birthday of my brother, who died in 2001. A lifelong Town fan and journalist, he kept a scrapbook from 1958-mid-90s of every Town game and news story, handwriting for hours every Sunday with a fountain pen.
In January 2012 I delivered a large box of those meticulous records to Pat Godbold for the archives and, thanks to Pat, when the players of 1962 came to Portman Road to celebrate 50 years of their great achievement, they took time to have a look through my brother’s writings. He would have been well chuffed!
Happy ending to that story, happy new year and hopefully a happy ending to this season!
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