Determined defender is natural leader
TONY Humes may not be a household name. He may be a managerial rookie. But to former Wrexham boss Brian Flynn, the defender will always be the most important player of his career. Cash-strapped and struggling, the Welsh minnows finished the 1990-91 season rock bottom of the entire Football League. Only Football League expansion prevented relegation to the Conference.
But then came that FA Cup match against Arsenal, that screamer from Mickey Thomas and, with the proceeds of that magical run, a hopeful £40,000 bid for a man who should have been way out of Wrexham’s league.
“It was hard work,” said Flynn. “You’ve got to remember as well that we were in the Fourth Division, and Ipswich were on their way to the top flight. Tony was 25, at the peak of his career and I was asking him to drop down three leagues.
“It took a lot of persuading, especially because he was uprooting a young family. But I’d watched him a lot of times, knew what he was capable of and I tried everything I could to make him sign.”
It worked and, with Humes forming an impenetrable barrier alongside Brian Carey at centrehalf, Wrexham won promotion to the third tier in 1993. There they would remain, with Humes going on to play over 250 times before injury forced his retirement in 1999. To this day, he is a regular in any Dragons all-time XI.
“Tony was hugely influential for us and, without doubt, the best signing I’ve ever made,” added Flynn,who also managed Swansea and Doncaster.“He was the catalyst for the good times we had.
“He was a model professional,a perfect club captain and a born winner on the pitch. As soon as he came to Wrexham I felt he was captaincy material – he’s definitely a leader of men.My only regret is that I never got my hands on him when he was younger.”
Despite the Portman Road pedigree, there was no silk to Humes’ game. He was no lower league Rio Ferdinand. Yet what the big Geordie lacked in raw ability and technique, he made up for with tenacity, commitment and bloodyminded determination.
“He led by example,” said Gareth Owen, a team-mate at Wrexham.“He worked so hard at his game and was always encouraging everybody when he played. He’s also got an ‘over-my-deadbody’ attitude which is great to have as a defender.”
Yet if Humes’ approach to the game was all blood and thunder, his approach to coaching would prove far more progressive.
After a spell at Wrexham’s academy, he rejoined Ipswich in 2001 as an understudy to youth development maestro Bryan Klug – the man who had masterminded the emergence of Kieron Dyer, Darren Bent, Titus Bramble and Darren Ambrose.
And when Klug stepped up to become assistant to Jim Magilton in 2006,he handed Humes the keys to the factory. His methods, then cutting edge, are now an industry standard.
He emphasised technique over size and speed, warned parents not to put pressure on their children or place undue importance on results.
“We don’t believe that those young teams have to win,” he said. “Rather, that they learn from what they have been doing and the importance of developing.”
The results, though not up to Klug’s standards, were nevertheless impressive; Jordan Rhodes and Connor Wickham both rolled off the production line, the latter eventually going to Sunderland for a club-record £8m.
That, though, was not enough for the Tractor Boys. Humes was sacked as part of a backroom clearout in January 2009 and subsequently moved his entire operation down the road to Colchester United.
Again, it bore fruit with the likes of Alex Gilbey and Drey Wright now first-team regulars. As, at last, is Humes himself, promoted to manager in September following the sacking of manager Joey Dunne and currently battling to save the U’s from relegation to League Two.
“I was delighted for Tony when he got the Colchester job,” said Flynn. “It was the pathway he’d been looking to go down. I think Tony has all the attributes needed to be a success as a manager. He understands things tactically and he is very astute. And as I know well, he’s a natural-born leader who commands respect.”
ASTUTE: Colchester boss Tony Humes has the right attributes