Chairman's anguish

EMBATTLED Ipswich Town chairman David Sheepshanks wears his heart on his sleeve like no other football club boss in the land. Today he has told friends of the desperate hours in which he had to make the hardest decision of his life.

By Paul Geater

EMBATTLED Ipswich Town chairman David Sheepshanks wears his heart on his sleeve like no other football club boss in the land. Today he has told friends of the desperate hours in which he had to make the hardest decision of his life. PAUL GEATER reports.

WHEN David Sheepshanks told George Burley the game was up, the sense of sadness was all-encompassing.

The Town chairman's eyes moistened as the board's decision was relayed to a manager who has been a Portman Road legend for much of his life.


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Privately, he has told close confidantes, the George Burley saga has put him through the mangle - and many a lonely night of anguish has been spent, often on his own.

One of the hardest parts of this has been that George Burley and David Sheepshanks had become close friends.

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Soon after he arrived at Portman Road, Burley was invited to take part in directors' meetings – not as an official member of the board but it gave him a role in every aspect of the club's operation.

In that respect, his role echoed that of the great Town managers of the past – both Bobby Robson and Sir Alf Ramsey effectively ran every aspect of the club.

In the high-finance driven years of the 1990s and now, many clubs don't involve their managers in anything other than team affairs.

But that is not the case at Ipswich – and Burley was consulted on major decisions involving all aspects of the club.

Mr Sheepshanks is a very different character to the "Mr John" and "Mr Patrick" Cobbold brothers who headed the board during the Ramsey and Robson eras.

He has a much closer day-to-day role in running the club – until this season he was effectively chief executive as well as executive chairman.

As such, David Sheepshanks and George Burley were effectively a partnership – a partnership which forged a strong bond of friendship.

The chairman knew things had not been going well for a year – it was this time last year that the club's decline ceased to be a dip in form and turned into a matter of deep concern.

Throughout the relegation season the board remained loyal to the boss who had lifted the "Manager of the Season" trophy a few months earlier.

Rumours that Burley was living on borrowed time first circulated at the World Cup – Town legend Alan Brazil said today that pundits working in Japan and Korea heard that Burley had been warned that if things were not looking good by Christmas, he would not survive.

It's unlikely that the chairman would have put the situation in such stark terms to his friend – but both were well aware of the acute position at the club.

Over the last few weeks Mr Sheepshanks has seemed increasingly nervous and edgy about the club's position.

Now that the board has made its decision and the fate of their manager is known, he seemed calmer, more relaxed.

Whether the friendship between the two men survives is uncertain – but today's announcement marks the end of an enduring partnership.

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