Tony Mowbray: former clubs’ fans give their verdict

Image: Новикова Юлия,
Image: Новикова Юлия,

After a load of speculation and some protracted negotiations, it has finally been confirmed that Tony Mowbray will be the new Coventry City manager. His first and most important task will be to secure safety for the Sky Blues, and to avoid the unthinkable: relegation to the fourth tier. I’m too superstitious to even contemplate any aspirations beyond that, and retaining our place in League One is by no means a given. There has already been speculation about Mowbray’s summer transfer budget, but quite frankly it’s not worth looking beyond Sunday 3 May 2015: a potentially decisive away trip to Crawley on the final day of the season.

Before his reign gets underway, I wanted to find out more about Mowbray’s efforts in his previous roles. So, like a compliant HR Assistant, I decided to get some references. Here, five supporters representing Hibs, West Brom, Celtic and Middlesbrough very kindly reflect on the job that the new Coventry boss did at their club:


24 May 2004 – 13 October 2006
Win percentage: 48.15%
Scottish Football Writers’ Association Manager of the Year 2004-05

Matty Fairnie is a Hibs supporter and blogs here. Follow him on Twitter at @mattyfairnie.

Matty: I remember watching the press conference when Hibs announced Tony Mowbray as our new manager back in May, 2004. It would be fair to say that my initial reaction was “Tony who?”.

I recognised the name and the face, and remembered the player from his Celtic days, but couldn’t really fathom what he was doing at a press conference held to announce the new Hibernian manager.

However, as soon as Mowbray started speaking I had a good feeling about him. He talked of ‘free flowing football with a cutting edge’, and ‘an upwards spiral’. There was a charisma and charm about the softly spoken Englishman, which, when married with talk of attacking and attractive football, seemed to fit perfectly with the wants and needs of the Hibs support.

Mowbray followed hard on the heels of Bobby “if you want entertainment, go to the cinema” Williamson, and Hibs fans had been treated to some dire football until Williamson’s departure to Plymouth Argyle, leaving the vacancy for Mowbray.

Mowbray was everything that Williamson wasn’t – imaginative and astute with signings, a great people manager, and a genuine leader. Mowbray managed the support’s expectations well – which was essential given the inconsistency that is usually associated with sides as young as the one Mowbray inherited.

Mowbray used his knowledge of the English youth teams (where he had been coaching) to sign some great players, David Murphy being the pick of the bunch, and he moulded a team that was an absolute joy to watch. Mowbray’ Hibs attacked with guile and verve and won plenty of plaudits in Scottish football circles.

He wasn’t without fault – he had a poor eye for goalkeepers, and was often found wanting in the big games (consecutive Scottish Cup Semi-Final defeats stand out, as do a few heavy Edinburgh derby losses), however the over-riding memory of Mowbray’s time is one of fondness. It was mostly Mowbray’s team that won the League Cup under John Collins shortly after Mowbray left in 2007.

I’ve been surprised that he hasn’t done well at his subsequent clubs. My view was that with better players, he would have produced teams with an almost Arsenal-esque style. It hasn’t quite happened for him. It does make me wonder whether he was just fortunate to have had some real quality youngsters at Hibs (Scott Brown, Steven Whittaker, Kevin Thomson, Derek Riordan, Garry O’Connor, and Steven Fletcher were all at Hibs prior to Mowbray’s arrival).

I hope he does well at Coventry if he’s appointed there, and I hope he manages to land his attacking philosophy at that level better than he did at the likes of Boro and Celtic. He remains my favourite Hibs manager of my lifetime (although Alan Stubbs is looking like he could challenge for that mantle soon!).

West_Bromwich_Albion.svgWest Bromwich Albion

18 October 2006 – 16 June 2009
Win percentage: 40.71%
League Managers Association Manager of the Year 2007-08; Championship Manager of the Month September 2007

Andrew Benbow is a West Brom season ticket-holder and blogs for the Birmingham Mail and Baggies Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @WBABenbow.

Andrew: Not many managers have their last game at a club marked by fans wearing masks of their face. Such was the high regard and genuine affection Albion fans had for Tony Mowbray though, this was how his reign ended, as a sea of Mowbrays greeted the team before a highly unrepresentative 0-0 draw at Ewood Park. 
This is not to say fans weren’t happy to see him leave shortly after though – the move to Celtic felt right for both parties. While Mowbray’s brand of football was thrilling in the Championship it proved naive at the top level. 
Mowbray certainly does have a particular way of playing. An absolute belief in playing football on the ground, retaining the ball and attacking. The two seasons under him in the Championship saw innumerable goals, a still frustrating play off defeat, an even more frustrating FA Cup defeat to soon to be insolvent Portsmouth, and a memorable title win. 
The latter was most likely Mowbray’s finest achievement in management. He oversaw an overhaul of the squad, losing ‘star’ players but bringing in a nucleus that we have to this day, while winning the title with an avalanche of goals, playing the finest football Albion fans have seen since the Atkinson era. 
Sadly this was as good as it got. Kevin Phillips was absurdly moved on (not Mowbray’s choice) and summer signings failed to take us forward – Valero came in for record money but did not adapt to the Premier League, although his stellar career since shows the scouts were correct. Albion went down with a whimper – possession ceased to be threatening, defending was always an issue (especially at set pieces) and Mowbray would not change his principles to add the cynicism and organisation you need to succeed in the Premier League. 
This may be stubborn but it is admirable. Tony Mowbray is passionate, honest, loves the game and wants his team to entertain the fans. In the end, what more can you want?

Josh Bland
 contributes to the Metro and the Birmingham Mail as a freelance football writer. He is the editor of West Brom blog The Baggies Way. Follow him on Twitter at @J_Bland_Writer.

Josh: I can hand on heart say that in my time following football, I have rarely seen a team as exciting, attacking and effective as Tony Mowbray’s West Bromwich Albion in the Championship. As a supporter I would head to every home game, not expecting but almost knowing that we were going to sweep away the band of unfortunates that were set to rock up at the Hawthorns that afternoon with our unique brand of football. 

Mowbray provided Albion fans with great times at the Hawthorns. Something like 6 or 7 derby wins over Wolves in the space of two seasons. An FA Cup semi-final (that should have been a final if it wasn’t for a clear Milan Baros handball in the build-up to Portsmouth’s only goal). But most of all, a fantastic league winning season in the 07/08. For a team – as strong as our squad was – to win the Championship, playing the firebrand, exciting, gung-ho football that we did, was a remarkable achievement. 

In honesty, I am slightly surprised that Mowbray has appeared to take on the Coventry job, however I appreciate the attraction of managing a club that can only be described as a relative “sleeping giant” in League One. Given his fairly successful managerial history, I suspected he would eventually land himself a lower end Championship job – however, being the man who turned around Coventry’s fortunes looks excellent on the CV. You’ve clearly got the infrastructure and the support base (when successful) of a Championship club at worst, and it would appear Mowbray has brought into the task of “waking the giant”. 

I only have two fears about this appointment for you City fans, however they are pretty fat ones. Firstly, it goes without saying I am not sure how well Mowbray will be able to deal with “SISU” and the inherent instability that is choking your club. Secondly, I am not sure whether Mowbray’s footballing ideals (based off his time with Albion) are necessarily what it best for your club in the situation you are in. Granted, Mowbray won the league with us playing hugely attractive, edge of the seat football- comparable to the style that the recently departed Steven Pressley tried to implement back in the days of Leon Clarke, Callum Wilson and Sixfields (a disgrace by the way). It worked with Albion because we had an unbelievably technically strong squad at our level. Phillips, Kamara, Bednar, Greening, Koren, Brunt, Morrison, Gera and the likes bossed the Championship and had the ability to carry off Mowbray’s incredibly strong footballing identity of quick, passing, attacking football. Having watched your team three times in the flesh this season, once in the JPT at Wycombe, and twice at the Ricoh in the league against Swindon and Fleetwood – it is chronically obvious that your squad does not have the ability to carry that off. Indeed, when Mowbray tried to implement our passing game in the Premier League, when we were one of the weaker sides in the division- we finished bottom of the league comfortably, before he made off for Celtic that summer. If Mowbray does try and implement his “house style”, it could have disastrous consequences for Coventry.

But let’s leave it on a positive. Whilst I have my doubts that your playing squad currently lacks the ability to play the “Mowbray style”, I would back you to stay in the division under his tenure, and provided that you get the recruitment right in the summer, I really think that Mowbray could be the man to finally bring to an end Coventry’s tragic decline, and hopefully (like he did at Albion) bring some much needed excitement back to the Ricoh.


16 June 2009 – 25 March 2010
Win percentage: 51.11%

Brod Sutherland is a football editor for Last Word on Sports. He is a contributor to the Bleacher Report and blogs on Celtic FC for Shoot magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @BrodSutherland.

Brod: If one were to summarise Tony Mowbray’s reign as Celtic manager in a single word then it would be dismal. Despite being a former captain and defender for the Bhoys, Mowbray’s appointment at the top of the helm was a disappointing move by the club’s board. Why? Basically, before he moved to Glasgow, he was the manager of West Brom, who finished bottom of the Premier League when he was in charge.

Still many were ready to give him the benefit of the doubt as he proved his leadership skills when he was captain of the side. After all, he was the originator of the Celtic huddle, uniting the side in what was a difficult time for Mowbray both on and off the pitch.

Unfortunately, things just didn’t turn out well for Mowbray. While many claim that John Barnes was the worst Celtic manager in the last twenty years, Mowbray’s winning record was significantly worse. About 14% worse.

He constantly threw jibes at rivals Rangers by claiming that their football was negative. Yet they scored more. And by trying to play attacking football, Celtic were made to look vulnerable defensively. When looking into his last game in charge—the historic 4-0 defeat to St Mirren—the game finished with Celtic having six strikers on the pitch and Aiden McGeady at left back. Not good.

And if one were to also factor in that he had more money to spend than Rangers, then he really had no excuses.

It also says a lot about how bad he was at managing Celtic, when his inexperienced successor Neil Lennon guided them to a 100% winning record in the remaining eight league games of the season.

Nobody likes seeing a manager fail badly, but when you are worse than John Barnes, he just had to go.


26 October 2010 – 21 October 2013
Win percentage: 39.87%
BBC North East Sports Personality of the Year 2011; Championship Manager of the Month October 2012

Dom Brown is an aspiring sports journalist and the creator of Middlesbrough blog There’s Only One Steve GibsonFollow him on Twitter at @onestevegibson.

Dom: Tony came to Boro after Gordon Strachan had been sacked. The Scot had spent a lot of money on players to coax them South of the border. Unfortunately none of them made a lasting impact at the Riverside so it was left to Boro legend Mowbray to pick up the pieces. He managed to balance the books, whilst also creating a strong team and bringing in players who have been integral to this season’s promotion push, two years after he left. He was unfortunate in that he had such a big task in terms of financial fair play coming in. All Boro fans will remember the time we went top just before the turn of the year, and then won only 2 games for the rest of that season. But don’t let that put Coventry fans off as he is a top manager, one who saw the potential in Lukas Jutkiewicz and purchased him from the Sky Blues for Boro. Everyone in Middlesbrough is wishing him all the best, as he is a club legend and we are still sad that his managerial endeavours didn’t succeed at his home club.


One thought on “Tony Mowbray: former clubs’ fans give their verdict

  1. well he’s our manager now so lets hope he can save our season and push us on from there. hopefully sisu has promised him money to spend so we can do better next season

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