‘I told my concerns to Marcus’ – Ian Milne opens up on messy McCarthy exit and ill-fated Paul Hurst era
PUBLISHED: 06:00 30 March 2020 | UPDATED: 08:41 30 March 2020
Ian Milne was managing director of Ipswich Town for nearly six years. In part one of an interview with STUART WATSON, he opens up about Mick McCarthy’s messy exit, Paul Hurst’s short tenure and players being able to go above the manager’s head.
The year 2018 was certainly an eventful one for Ipswich Town.
As we currently face weeks, likely months, without any football due to the coronavirus crisis it’s worth remembering just how much happened from this stage of the calendar onwards back then.
There were just 211 days between the announcement that Mick McCarthy would be leaving (March 29) and the appointment of Paul Lambert (October 27). In between we saw Paul Hurst’s protracted arrival, a crazy transfer window, speedy sacking and the die being cast for Championship relegation.
Off the back of all that it was suddenly announced that Ian Milne would be stepping down as managing director following five-and-a-half years in the role. Today, the 67-year-old legal specialist reflects on how events unfolded back then.
Our conversation starts with me putting to him a recent story I’d heard about McCarthy taking a member of staff out for a drink ahead of his sixth and final season at the club. The Yorkshireman, I’m told, apologised in advance about any hassle he might be about to cause because ‘he wasn’t going to take any more stick off anybody anymore’. That was the backdrop to the general messy break-up of a long-term relationship.
“Clearly he was unhappy,” admits Milne. “Look, I have the absolute highest regard for Mick. He tried very, very hard to keep within budget and did a really good job, but I think it just came to a natural end.
“He was trying to tie things together within the budget he was given and it became difficult for him to meet the expectations of the fans and the media regarding entertainment while also keeping the club in the Championship.
“Mick and (owner) Marcus (Evans) were talking the whole time, there was never any animosity there.
“Everyone has to take responsibility for that period. We weren’t producing the entertainment. The attendances were dropping. There was a clear shift in the mood at that stage.
“I’ve seen people are now starting to say ‘maybe Mick didn’t get it so wrong’, but that doesn’t change how things were at that time. Hopefully people look back on his era fondly, but, as I say, it had come to a natural end.”
Less than a fortnight after it had been announced McCarthy would be leaving the club when his contract expired, the fed-up Yorkshireman delivered his dramatic ‘I’m out of here’ speech following a 1-0 home win against Barnsley.
Everyone had their say about what sort of route the Blues should go down when appointing only their 16th permanent manager in the club’s history. It wasn’t until May 30, three days after Shrewsbury had lost the League One Play-Off Final, that Hurst was appointed.
“We spent a lot of time finding the next manager,” said Milne. “I’ve still got a list of the candidates – it was huge, it was fantastic. I won’t mention names because that wouldn’t be fair. We must have had around 90-100 applicants, many of whom weren’t appropriate, but many who were. We got it down to a nucleus of 10 and Marcus talked with all of them.
“He took a lot of advice from people in the game and did a lot of research. And he listened to fans who were saying they wanted a young, up-and-coming manager.
“If you’re asking ‘how good a search was it?’, the answer is ‘very good’. Paul Hurst had a good record and ticked a lot of the boxes.”
Asked if Hurst went through an interview process, given that he was still in a job with Shrewsbury at the time, Milne said: “Oh yes, Marcus wouldn’t appoint anyone without seeing them. Just like he did with (Roy) Keane, (Paul) Jewell and McCarthy, he would have met him and grilled him. He’s a tough interviewer, very polite, but my God he asks thousands of questions.
“I’ve seen it myself. There was a time Marcus went to speak to Ross Brawn when Honda were looking to sell their F1 team. I’ll never forget that meeting. He asked fantastic questions.
“So with Paul Hurst he did his homework.”
Hurst, of course, lasted just 149 days in the job. He was sacked after overseeing just one win in 15 games.
“Getting rid of Waggy (Martyn Waghorn), David McGoldrick and Adam Webster and not replacing them properly was the wrong thing to do,” said Milne. “I had my thoughts at the time. I was concerned and had discussions with Marcus, but he said to me ‘we’ve appointed this manager because we believe in him and we have to back his judgement’.
“He did listen to me and others, he let us air our thoughts, but ultimately he has the final decision. You have to respect that because he’s the boss and he’s putting the money in.
“I worked with him for 20 years. I could give him my thoughts and he always took them very seriously. Sometimes I managed to persuade him, sometimes I didn’t, but at the end of the day I always respected his decisions and his reasons for them. Look, we can all be very wise with 20/20 hindsight can’t we?”
Milne then adds: “And maybe it might have helped if Paul Hurst had a more experienced assistant...” I ask him if, therefore, the rumours are true that Hurst’s number two, Chris Doig, had ruffled a few feathers in the dressing room. “I think that’s fair to say,” is the diplomatic reply.
“We all had great hopes for Paul Hurst, but unfortunately it just didn’t work out,” he continues. “It didn’t work out for Paul, it didn’t work out for the players and it didn’t work out for the club. That’s the biggest regret of my time there. That it ended like that.”
As we reflect on his time at the club (more to come in part two of this interview), Milne mentions how he’s kept in contact with several players, name checking Tyrone Mings, Tommy Smith and ‘wonderful man’ Luke Chambers.
It acts as a prompt for me to put another story I’ve heard to the former Blues chief – that Chambers went directly to Evans to voice concerns about Hurst. Is that right?
“I’m fully of the view that you should talk to the manager if you’ve got a gripe with anything,” says Milne. “But there comes a point where if you have a problem with your boss, and you weren’t getting any further with it, when you feel you have got to go above their head.
“Sometimes you have to say ‘he’s not listening to me and I know a lot of people are having the same problems’. That’s an exception to the rule though. It’s a last resort for only when you feel a manager is doing something fatal.”
We then look back on the appointment of Lambert. I recall our exchange of text messages, in the early hours of the morning following defeat at Leeds (Hurst’s last game), in which Milne was keen to discuss what the supporters’ reaction might be to the club turning to a former Norwich boss.
“We obviously had that to consider,” he says. “But I thought it was the right thing to do. I think it was inspired to bring in a very grounded, very good manager in.
“He and Marcus have struck up a very close relationship. I’m sure Paul would like a lot more money to put into players, but he’s got on with what he’s got. They challenge each other well.”
– See tomorrow’s paper for part two of this interview.
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