One of management’s nearly men

MICK Mills can lay claim to being one of football management's nearly men.He left Ipswich in November 1982 - 18 months after the UEFA Cup success - and joined Southampton for £50,000 after so nearly signing for Sunderland.

Nick Garnham

MICK Mills can lay claim to being one of football management's nearly men.

He left Ipswich in November 1982 - 18 months after the UEFA Cup success - and joined Southampton for £50,000 after so nearly signing for Sunderland.

“I didn't want to go, but I was forced out of the club which disappointed me at the time. Ipswich thought my time was up and they had a replacement.

“It was important to me to choose the right club to go to. I so nearly went to Sunderland but changed my mind at the last minute. They had a press conference arranged for two o'clock in the afternoon and I had to ring Alan Durban [the manager] that morning and tell him I was not coming.

“The reason was Southampton had phoned me that morning and they felt more the right choice.

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“Whenever I went to Sunderland I was always known as 'The Traitor' by their fans. Supporters can say what they like, but it was not a case of money - the terms were absolutely the same.

“I had three good years in a good team at Southampton. We were runners-up in 1983/1984, qualified twice for Europe and reached an FA Cup semi-final.”

Mills said that Lawrie McMenemy, who had signed him for Southampton, was also instrumental in getting him the post of player-manager at Stoke City in the summer of 1985.

“I enjoyed it at Stoke. It was a good club and I enjoyed my introduction to management and thought I was on the way to being a success on the managerial merry-go-round.”

It was in 1987 when Ipswich boss Bobby Ferguson's contract was not renewed that Mills was linked with a return to Portman Road as manager.

“Patrick Cobbold [the Ipswich chairman] approached Stoke chairman Peter Coates, who I got on with very well, and he said they had received a telephone call from Ipswich but they were adamant I could not go.

“If I was a different type of person I would have dug in my heels, but I was not that type of person and also I didn't think Patrick would have appreciated me doing that without speaking to him.”

Ipswich opted to appoint John Duncan and the opportunity to manage the club he had served so admirably as a player passed by.

He was sacked by Stoke in November 1989 and the following year took over as manager of Colchester United.

“I made two bad decisions - one was becoming the manager of Colchester and the other was four months later deciding not to be the manager of Colchester!

“I was still hung up about being sacked at Stoke because it was the first time since I was 15 that I had not felt wanted, but I took the Colchester job and took over the worst team in the Fourth Division, who had 10 points at Christmas!

“I only decided to take the job because I knew the chairman [Jonathan Crisp] but could not keep them in the Football League. I didn't want to manage a non-league side, but in hindsight it was stupid of me because I would then have had the best team in the league!”

There then followed a short and not very successful spell as assistant to former Ipswich team-mate Terry Butcher at Coventry, before he joined forces with ex-England colleague Trevor Francis, who was manager at Sheffield Wednesday and employed Mills as his chief scout.

When Francis was appointed as boss at Birmingham City he installed Mills as his assistant, and they took the Midlands side to the Worthington Cup final at Cardiff in 2000/01, beating Ipswich in a two-legged semi-final, before drawing 1-1 with Liverpool after extra time in Cardiff only to lose 5-4 on penalties.

When Francis subsequently left by mutual consent in October 2001 Mills was appointed caretaker manager for around a dozen matches while The Blues searched for a successor, which resulted in a long drawn-out saga as they tried to lure former St Andrew's favourite Steve Bruce to the club from Crystal Palace.

Mills recalled: “I came to watch Ipswich in a midweek match and was sat in a car park near the ground when I got a phone call from David Gold [the Birmingham chairman] who said they were having trouble getting Steve Bruce to come from Palace. He talked about arranging a package for me to the end of the season and I said I thought I could get Birmingham promoted.

“The following week I was preparing for a home game, ironically against Palace, when Karren Brady [Birmingham's managing director] rang to say Palace had agreed to Steve Bruce's release.

“I could have stayed on, but it would have been in a lesser role than I had and I didn't wish to. Five months later Birmingham were promoted to the Premiership after beating Norwich on penalties in the play-off final of 2002.”

Mills, who has owned a property in Framsden since 1995, moved back to Suffolk permanently and became self-employed, doing some media work, corporate hospitality with the Football Association and taking on the role of consultant with Galaxy Sports Management.

He still works for the agency, regularly evaluating players by watching live games and also DVDs, and attends the majority of Ipswich Town home games in his capacity as an expert analyst for the website.

He and wife Sue have three sons - Damian, Julien and Luke - and two grandchildren.

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