James Lawton: Football can learn from politically incorrect Cobbold

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The Independent Football

The ghost of the old misogynist chairman of Ipswich Town, John Cobbold, was legitimately tweaked this week with the news that the club had finally admitted a women director to the boardroom.

The ghost of the old misogynist chairman of Ipswich Town, John Cobbold, was legitimately tweaked this week with the news that the club had finally admitted a women director to the boardroom.

However, if Cobbold wasn't politically correct, or often sober, around the football field, his instincts for the game were in many ways much sounder than many of today's denizens of the directors' box.

He understood the value of having a good football man like Bobby Robson in charge and then letting him get on with the job. Tottenham's Daniel Levy and Portsmouth's Milan Mandaric could usefully learn some vital lessons from the Cobbold reign.

One of the advantages of letting the professionals get on with the job was that it gave Cobbold, scion of the Suffolk brewery family, more time to enjoy himself. Once, when Ipswich were playing a European tie in Rome, a rather bossy Italian guide insisted that Cobbold hurry along to the Sistine Chapel. "Really, I'd rather find a bar," said the Ipswich chairman.

"Signor Cobbold, the Sistine chapel is one of the glories of Europe, it has stood for hundreds of years," said the guide.

Cobbold replied: "In that case there's every chance it will standing tomorrow, so get me a bloody drink."

One of Cobbold's most engaging contempories was the Stoke City chairman, Albert Henshall, who also liked a drink. When Stoke toured Africa, one member of the party reported a visit to his hotel room by a green lizard with red staring eyes. Someone remarked: "Are you sure it wasn't the chairman? He was giving it a bit of a lash last night."

Henshall also understood the value of a good manager given his head. Tony Waddington was able to provide the Stoke fans a parade of great old names - ranging from Sir Stanley Matthews to Gordon Banks - and winning football.

Henshall signed the cheques and, looking into the future, advocated a 10 per cent levy on all transfer fees, the fund to be equally distributed around the league at the end of the season. Naturally, it was voted down by a huge margin.

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