Football Statues No 34 and 35 (in a series of several): Jackie Milburn (1924-1988)
Jackie Milburn, was Ipswich Town manager from May 1963 to September 1964, although he’s much more likely to be remembered for his exploits as a player in his native North East where “Wor Jackie” is a footballing legend.
He played for Newcastle United from 1943 to 1957 and over that fourteen year period scored a staggering 199 goals in 395 league and cup appearances. He was an FA Cup winner on three occasions, set the record for the fastest ever goal in a Wembley final, when he scored after just 45 seconds in 1955 (see footnote 1), and was capped thirteen times by England.
A surprise selection by the Town board as successor to manager Alf Ramsey, Milburn inherited a side that just twelve months earlier had been crowned Champions of England. In October 1962 Ramsey had been appointed England manager and keen to break into League football management Milburn was one of sixty applicants for the Town job. After a spell as manager of Irish side Linfield he had moved to Southern League Yiewsley as Player/Manager and must have been as surprised as anyone when he was first short-listed and then appointed manager elect at Portman Road in January, 1963 eventually taking over the role officially in May.
Inheriting an ageing squad, and operating on very limited resources, it was never going to be easy for Milburn to recapture the spirit of those heady Championship days. The 1963-64 season was his first and only full season in charge but started positively enough with a pre-season tournament victory in Switzerland and a 3-1 home victory over Burnley on the opening day of the league season. But injuries and player unrest soon heralded a downward spiral and Town were quickly made favourites for the drop.
Town picked up just four points away from Portman Road and suffered some real hammerings, particularly in the capital, where they lost 6-0 at Arsenal, 6-3 at Spurs, 4-0 at Chelsea and 10-1 at Fulham (Towns record league defeat). The departure during the season of Town’s dynamic duo of Ray Crawford and Ted Phillips, who had scored more than sixty goals between them in the Championship season, was neither popular with the fans or likely to instil confidence in the dressing room. The campaign concluded with Town firmly entrenched at the base of the table with their worst playing record ever as a professional club.
Despite being relegated in such humiliating style Milburn was confident that Town could bounce straight back but the 1964-65 league season got off to the worst possible of starts with two straight home defeats at the hands of Coventry and Preston. The stress and strain began to affect Milburn’s health, and with Town next to bottom in Division Two, he resigned on September 4th.
Milburn was as disappointed as anybody about his failure to make a success of his short career at Town: “I am sorry to be leaving Ipswich but after a great deal of thought I have decided that it is in the best interest of the Club – and the Club must come first. The Board have been very good to me – they are the best in England – but all of us knew the problems and could do nothing about them,” he told the Press.
After leaving Suffolk he returned to Tyneside, initially as an area representative for the Sun newspaper before becoming a much respected reporter for the News of the World where he covered Newcastle United’s fortunes for more than 20 years.
When he died aged just 64 from cancer in 1988 his funeral brought the whole of Newcastle to a standstill as the funeral cortage travelled from his home town of Ashington to the centre of the city. His ashes were later scattered over the Gallowgate end of the pitch at St James’ Park where so many of his goals had been scored.
His legacy at Ipswich was the youth set-up, now the Academy, that he had instigated, a set-up that would later be built upon by the likes of Sir Bobby Robson and become the envy of so many clubs that it is today.
(1) The record remained intact until the 1997 Final when Chelsea’s Roberto Di Matteo scored after just 42 seconds.
(2) The statues pictured in this article are located in his home town of Ashington (top) and outside St James’ Park (bottom) (at least it was a few years back). A third statue of Jackie Milburn on Corporation Street, a few hundred yards from St James’ Park, featured earlier in my Football Statues series at No 2.