Today marks 20 years since Tony Mowbray made his last appearance as a professional footballer, a goalscoring one in a Wembley play-off final win. RICH SHARPE goes down memory lane with the Rovers boss.

Tony Mowbray is a great story-teller, and a teller of great stories.

From squeezing through the turnstiles with his dad at Ayresome Park, heading a football in his parents’ back garden, to marking Kevin Keegan on his senior debut as a 19-year-old, they have all played a part in shaping his life in football.

The Rovers boss regularly talks about his experiences from 50 years in the game, football is all he has known since leaving school at 16. But what about his transition from playing in to coaching?

A quick look through the history books will show that Mowbray’s final game came for Ipswich Town in the Championship play-off final win over Barnsley, on this day 20 years ago. A look at the scorers from that day and you’ll see netting the equaliser in a 4-2 win was one T. Mowbray.

Dig a little deeper and you’ll learn that this was his first appearance playing at Wembley, having been injured for Middlesbrough’s 1990 Zenith Data Systems Cup final, though he did lead the side out on that occasion.

So something of a fairytale end you would think? Well, not quite. It was never meant to be Mowbray’s final game, he still had a year left to run on his playing contract, having already taken up a player-coach role that season.

“It was nothing black and white. We’d got promoted to the Premier League, I was coming up 37 years old,” Mowbray takes up the story.

“Right through pre-season I was a player, keeping going. We’d signed Hermann Hreidarsson, but I was in the side in the practice match in the week building up to playing Tottenham away.

“I remember training on Portman Road, I’d come back from the summer, I was another year older, we’d been promoted to the Premier League and I was tired.

“I hadn’t recovered, I wasn’t sharp enough, and I remember saying to George ‘we should play Hermann’. He put him in the back three, but two days before we played Tottenham away I was playing, I was in the team.

“That season went so well for the team I never got an opportunity, fifth in the Premier League, the back three of McGreal, Venus, Hreidarsson, it worked so well.

“I loved my job I was doing, I was still getting a players’ salary, and it wasn’t until the year after when life changed when my playing contract ended and I became a coach.

“But there was no snap decision to say ‘this is the end of my career, we’ve got promoted, I’m going to retire’ because I didn’t retire.

“I still had a playing contract but I never played, I was just George’s assistant.”

George Burley’s right-hand man Dale Roberts had passed away from leukaemia in 1999, with Mowbray taking over the assistant manager’s job given his role as a senior player.

The plan was for that to continue in 2000/01, Mowbray continuing as a player-coach, but as things transpired, he transitioned in to more of the coaching side of things as Ipswich enjoyed a superb season in the Premier League, qualifying for Europe after a fifth-placed finish.

“I had a great start to my career, playing against Kevin Keegan against Newcastle United, and a great finish at Wembley,” Mowbray recalled. Not a bad way to start, or bow out.

As for the final itself, in what would be the last competitive match at the old Wembley, Ipswich finally secured their spot in the Premier League after three consecutive near-misses in the play-offs.

Barnsley took the lead through a Richard Wright own goal before Mowbray powered in a Jim Magilton cross to make it 1-1 at the break, just as he had practiced in his mum's back garden so many times.

Lancashire Telegraph:

Richard Naylor and Marcus Stewart put Ipswich 3-1 up by the hour mark, but a foul by Mowbray on Geoff Thomas allowed Hignett to reduce the arrears to 3-2 with just over 10 minutes remaining.

But the Tractor Boys made sure of their victory, Martijn Reuser coming off the bench to add a fourth late on.

“We had a really good team,” Mowbray said.

“I got man of the match and have got still a big bottle of champagne, the medal, the matchday programme, it was quite a day. I’ve got a picture in one of my rooms of me scoring the header, and it was a great day for everyone, for the fans, the people of Suffolk who’d suffered in three consecutive play-off defeats.

“It was great for George who’d put so much work in to the club to be able to take the team to the Premier League.

“To score at Wembley at such an age was amazing, one of the last games to be played at the Old Wembley, so it was amazing.

“The euphoria, it was a hot day, Hignett scored early, I equalised, then there was a penalty that Wright saved, I gave a penalty away, and going from 3-1 up thinking ‘we’ve done it‘ to 3-2 and with 15 minutes to go and thinking ‘wow, game on’.

“They were coming for us trying to get that equaliser, pushing men forward, and we managed to counter-attack away, Reuser scored a fourth and it was done.

“The elation, the game was so tight, there was so much at stake, it ebbed and flowed, and it was a great way to sign off my career.”

Mowbray’s career will largely be remembered for his days with Middlesbrough, a legend on his native Teesside, rising from a youngster on the terraces to captain by the age of 22.

Lancashire Telegraph:

He helped the club rebuild from the verge of extension to the top flight courtesy of back-to-back promotions that earned him a spot in Boro folklore. After 425 appearances, and a decade at the club, he moved on to Celtic.

“We all make our decisions in life. I remember saying to Lenny Lawrence that when I leave Middlesbrough it would be for a top six club,” Mowbray added.

“I remember saying it to him and he said that was fine.

“How on earth did I think I would move to a top six club in the Premier League? Well, my mate Pallister had not long moved to Manchester United though they weren’t a top six club really, in his second game they got pumped 5-1 at Man City.

“But Celtic phoned the next day and we did a deal. I got swept away with that huge crowd, amazing stadium and the colour and vibrancy of the place.

“I made that choice. I might have signed for an English team and might have been out there playing against the Suttons and Shearers of this world.”

However, his legendary status is assured in Middlesbrough.

“When I go to the petrol station there are dads who can’t believe it when they see me, and they stop me. It’s almost as if they know me, they call me ‘Mogga’ and want to shake my hand,” he said.

“That happens almost every day, and then the dad is trying to explain to the little lad who I am and that’s a generational thing. Because kids of that age will only know of Juninho and Ravanelli as the halcyon days.

“But men in their 50s will remember the days of going bust and the young team that had emerged with Mowbray, Pallister, Ripley and Slaven and got back-to-back promotions and got back to the top-flight.

“If you were a young guy in those days, it was playing in front of full crowds at Ayresome Park and watching amazing football matches, it’s a generational thing.”