George Burley

Premier League Clubs Managed: Ipswich Town (1994-1995, 2000-2002)

George Burley’s club is most definitely Ipswich Town. A full-back during Sir Bobby Robson’s heyday at the club, Burley made nearly 400 league appearances for the Tractor Boys over 12 successful years which saw glory on both the domestic and European stage.

He then became the club’s manager in late 1994 and spearheaded them to their best-ever Premier League finish of fifth place in 2000-2001. Burley has managed several other clubs and also had a largely unsuccessful year as manager of the Scottish national side.

An FA Cup winner

Ipswich was not only Burley’s main club, it was his first team. Joining as an apprentice in 1972, his first job in his first senior game was to man-mark the great George Best at Old Trafford.

Six years later, he was a senior member of Robson’s squad that were the underdogs in the FA Cup final but continued the tradition in the 1970s of favourites being upset by the outsiders. Ipswich defeated Arsenal 1-0 in 1978 to win the famous trophy for the first time in their history.

In 1981, Ipswich enjoyed their best-ever top-flight campaign, finishing runners-up to Aston Villa in the First Division. They only missed out on the title on the last day of the season. There was glory in the UEFA Cup, as Robson’s side defeated AZ Alkmaar in the final. However, injury meant Burley missed out on the opportunity to play in the showpiece event.

Robson left in 1982 to take the England international job but Burley stayed for another three seasons before moving to Sunderland in 1985. He would experience both relegation and promotion on Wearside before finishing his playing days with Gillingham, Motherwell in two separate spells, Ayr United, Falkirk and Colchester United.

By this point though, he was firmly planted into a long and fairly useful coaching career.

Initial frustration

George’s first taste of management came in Scotland when he succeeded Ally MacLeod as player-manager of Ayr United in 1991. He took the team to two consecutive Scottish Challenge Cup finals but was unable to steer Ayr into the top-flight of Scottish football.

Dismissed in 1993, he resumed his playing career for a year before being appointed Colchester United boss in June 1994. He was only in-charge for 20 games, winning eight of them and was still registered as a player at the time.

In November 1994, John Lyall stepped down as manager of Ipswich with the club firmly rooted in the bottom four of the Premier League. Without Colchester knowing, he held talks with Ipswich and eventually, a compensation package was reluctantly agreed between the two East Anglian sides. Burley became Ipswich boss and once Colchester had sorted out their managerial vacancy, he took the late Dale Roberts with him as assistant manager. The pair had worked together at Ayr too.

There was early success with a fantastic 1-0 victory at Anfield over Liverpool FC with Adam Tanner scoring the only goal. However, there were few victories. The squad was ageing and relegation was confirmed to Division One in April 1995. Among the losses was a record-breaking Premier League 9-0 defeat to Manchester United.

Burley was already building for the future though but the Suffolk side’s stay in the second-tier of English football was to be much longer than hoped. Ipswich were always a promotion contender and never finished lower than seventh for five successive campaigns. There was agony in three play-off semi-finals before finally achieving promotion at the fourth attempt of asking. Barnsley were defeated 4-2 in the final at Wembley Stadium and Ipswich Town were returning to the top-flight.

A stellar return to the top-flight

Tipped by many to go straight back down to Division One after winning promotion, Ipswich quickly wowed the Premiership with an unlikely challenge for not just the top six, but the top three and a place in the UEFA Champions League.

There were impressive away victories along the way at Southampton, Everton, Leeds United and Liverpool FC and Marcus Stewart finished second to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in the race for the Golden Boot. In the end, a 2-1 defeat at Charlton Athletic in April meant a Champions League position would be just beyond Ipswich with two games left.

However, they finished a fine fifth and just four points adrift of Arsenal in second spot. It meant qualification for the UEFA Cup for the first time in 19 years. Burley’s fantastic effort saw him voted the LMA Manager of the Year by his fellow colleagues.

After the highs of 2000-2001, the 2001-2002 season was very disappointing. Only two wins were achieved before Christmas in the Premier League which meant this was going to be a completely different campaign and a battle against relegation. There was an upturn in fortunes with seven wins in eight games taking Ipswich clear of the bottom three. However, a 6-0 home defeat by Liverpool FC started another drastic slide down the table. Ultimately, a 5-0 beating by the Reds at Anfield on the final day saw Ipswich relegated back to the First Division.

Burley was sacked in October 2002 after a 3-0 defeat to Grimsby Town as Ipswich started poorly on their return to the second-tier. They haven’t been back in the Premier League since.

Burley took over at Derby County in 2003 after their manager, John Gregory had been suspended. He did take them to a fourth-place finish in 2005 before resigning after strained relations with the board following the sale of Tom Huddlestone to Tottenham Hotspur. He then went on to have spells with Hearts which did see them briefly threaten the Glasgow clubs dominance of the Scottish game, Southampton, Crystal Palace and Apollon Limassol where his 2012 reign ended there after just two games in control.

Between 2008 and 2009, he was given the honour of managing his country with the remit to try and take Scotland to the World Cup finals in 2010. It didn’t work out. He won just three of his 14 matches as manager and a 3-0 friendly defeat in Cardiff to Wales in November 2009 spelt the end of his difficult reign as an international manager.


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