Ranking Ipswich Town’s top five right-backs of the last 40 years
PUBLISHED: 17:00 18 November 2020
In the second of this series, following on from his top five keepers, football writer Carl Marston compiles his top five Ipswich Town right-backs of the last 40 years
As always, it is very difficult to compare players from different eras, especially when it comes to the role of full-back.
Town have had their share of specialist right-backs, as well as versatile right or left-backs, midfielder-cum-full-backs, and more modern wing-backs.
But for this section, on right-backs, I have found it impossible to look beyond the two players who made such a big impression on me from the 1970s into this 40-year period, even though one of this pair, Mick Mills, admitted to me only last week that “right back was only my secondary position.”
One feels that his primary position, as a left-back, will yield another inclusion of the name ‘Mick Mills’ later in this series!
Players to have missed out on a top five accolade this time around include Gus Uhlenbeek, the flying Dutchman from the mid-to-late 1990s, plus the evergreen Mick Stockwell, such a steady influence at right-back though more renowned as a midfielder.
Then there was Gary Croft, Chris Makin and, of the current generation, captain Luke Chambers, one of those breed of defenders who is most at home in central defence, but can also be very effective on the right hand side of a back four.
Still, here’s my top five.
1 GEORGE BURLEY
Deservedly top of these charts, Burley arrived at Portman Road as an apprentice in 1972, and jumped in at the deep end when making his debut a year later at Old Trafford, up against Manchester United’s George Best.
The Scotsman made the right-back position his own, the model of consistency and reliability for a remarkable 500 first team games for Town, during one of the golden eras of the club.
He played in the FA Cup Final in 1978, and was a key figure in the successful 1980-81 campaign that yielded a second-placed finish behind Aston Villa, an FA Cup semi-final appearance and UEFA Cup glory, although injury caused him to miss the two-legged final.
To confirm Burley’s prowess, No. 2 on the list, Mick Mills, has always regarded Burley as his No. 1 choice in the right-back role.
2 MICK MILLS
Although best known as a left-back, former England and Town favourite Mills also played a good portion of his club record 591 league games (741 in all competitions) as a right-back.
Mills actually played most of his games for England as a right-back, and during the early 1970s was the regular right-back when Colin Harper played on the left.
Later, when Burley was injured, Mills would often shift across to the right.
Mills himself said: “In terms of European football, I began and ended my career as a right-back, but I was mostly left-back.”
3 FRANK YALLOP
A right-back with flair, not just a dour, effective defender, Yallop gave fine service to Ipswich over a 13-year period from 1983 to ‘96.
Spotted by a Town scout while playing in Canada during his teenage years, Yallop’s decision to try his luck in England proved a shrewd one. Having graduated from the youth team, he went on to rattle up close to 400 first-team appearances.
Always keen to get forward, and whip over a dangerous cross, Yallop started at the top – Town graced the top tier until relegation in 1986. He later became a vital cog in John Lyall’s successful squad of 1991-92 which clinched promotion to the new Premiership as second-tier champions.
The aforementioned Mills has a tale to tell about Yallop, and his own admiration for the Canadian.
Mills said: “When I was manager of Stoke City, my good friend Trevor Francis, who had just taken over as manager of QPR at the time (1988), asked me who I thought were the best four right-backs in the Second Division (current Championship).
“I remember my reply. The four I said were Lee Dixon, who I had at Stoke, Denis Irwin, who was at Oldham, David Bardsley (Oxford) and Frank Yallop at Ipswich.”
4 FABIAN WILNIS
The Dutchman, like Yallop, was a regular feature of Town’s set-up over many years although, unlike Yallop, he was already a proven professional long before his move to Portman Road for a £200,000 fee from De Graafschap in early 1999.
He was aged 28, and already had more than 200 league games under his belt in the Dutch league.
Like most full-backs, Wilnis could operate effectively on both the right and the left. He was renowned for his powerful runs, and was always a big hit with fans. He was the supporters’ player-of-the-year in 2005-06.
5 DAVID WRIGHT
Although he didn’t play as many games for Town as those above him (128 between 2007 and ‘10), or many of those missing out on this list, Wright was an old-fashioned, traditional right-back.
Comfortable on the ball, strong in the tackle, and tactically very aware, Wright was a model right-back who could also be effective in central midfield.
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