I is for Inspiration!

I is for Inspiration! These next three Legends were a tonic to their teammates

By John Harding  March 05, 2004
Paul Ince celebrates with trophy after the Nationwide Division One Playoff Final
Paul Ince celebrates with trophy after the Nationwide Division One Playoff Final

I is for Inspiration! These next three Legends were a tonic to their teammatesMy 3-i's are Denis Irwin, Albert Iremonger and Paul Ince.

Denis Irwin

Denis was born in October 1965 in Cork, Ireland and became Manchester United's 'Mr Dependable' during their greatest decade. Irwin started his career with Leeds United before joining Joe Royle's Oldham Athletic in 1986. There he helped the unfashionable 'Latics' to a League Cup Final and an FA Cup semi final against Manchester United in 1990. Having caught Sir Alex Ferguson's eye, he was signed by the Reds for £625,000 in June 1990.

Reliable and versatile, he was a regular at club and international level for nearly a decade, the epitome of consistency, turning in superb performance after superb performance, so much so that he was usually only ever noticed when he had a rare off-day! At Old Trafford he was initially deployed at right back but was moved to left back within a season. For many this would have called for too great an adjustment to their game but, equally confident with both feet, Irwin slotted into the position without a complaint and, until the emergence of Phil Neville, was one of the first names down in every United line-up. Apart from being a textbook defender, he was also a highly accomplished attacking full-back with his swerving crosses a nightmare to deal with for goalkeepers and defenders alike.

Both feet were also loaded with one of the most powerful shots in the game which took him well into double figures, goalscoring-wise. Like a number of other Premiership full backs, Irwin was also the master of the dead ball, a free kick specialist nurtured and coached by Alex Ferguson into one of the most feared in the Premiership. Although United then had a plethora of free kick experts - Cantona, Giggs or Beckham were capable of scoring from 25 yards or less - United skippers regularly turned to Irwin when searching for salvation. His opener in the FA Cup semi-final against Crystal Palace and another against Liverpool in a classic 3-3 draw stand out. Four goals made him United's leading FA Cup scorer in 1994-95 as they reached Wembley.

United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel was an admirer of Irwin's technique: "Andrei Kanchelskis had the hardest shot at United and Paul Ince really improved but Denis was the best striker of a dead-ball because he could spin the ball. He could bend it better than Ryan Giggs."

Howard Wilkinson's initial enquiry about taking Irwin back to Elland Road led to Eric Cantona's reverse transfer in 1992 and United fans were relieved to hear that Irwin had signed a three-year contract in April 1995 just as other stars were leaving the club.
Manager Alex Ferguson said at the time: "Denis is the one player I just would not sell. We have some great players at the club but if someone had to vote for pure consistency in every game of a season then Denis would be our player of the year."

Denis was capped more than 50 times for the Republic of Ireland, appearing in both the 1990 and 1994 FIFA World Cups.

Albert Iremonger

Albert Iremonger was, according to football writer Ivan Sharpe 'seventy-six inches of elasticity, electricity and eccentricity'. He was born on the 15th June 1884 in Wilford, Nottinghamshire and clocked up 564 appearances in 22 seasons for Notts County, a club record. His high-class performances in goal eventually earned Albert a Football League cap in 1912, his only representative honour.
He was extremely consistent, however, making 222 consecutive appearances for Notts from 1907-12! The run ended with suspension - Albert had frequent brushes with officialdom. His exceptional height of 6 ft 6 inches meant he had a tremendous reach which thwarted many potential goals. He was lean and generally bedecked with woollen gloves and the longest, loosest jersey. Arch striker Steve Bloomer once said that 'Albert's head reached up to the crossbar and his arms reached up to heaven'.

But coolness was not part of his make-up: indeed, he was outspokenly temperamental. If there was an argument about a decision, Albert was prone to leave his goal and join in, even to following the referee to the centre of the field. Sharpe recalled: "I seem to remember there was a bit of bother about a woman with an umbrella at Notts County's promotion-deciding match at West Ham's ground in 1923." His only other team was Lincoln City for whom, at the age of 42 years, he made 35 appearances between 1926-27. He was so well respected in Nottingham that they named a road behind County's Meadow Lane ground after him.

Paul Ince

Paul Ince was born in Ilford, London in October 1967 and made his professional debut for West Ham in 1986. After three years and 93 appearances, he joined Manchester United for £1million and became a favourite of the Old Trafford fans during his time with the club, playing a crucial part in helping Alex Ferguson's men end a 26-year championship drought in 1993. Paul went on to win another Premiership title in 1994, as well as two FA Cups, one European Cup Winners' Cup and one League Cup.
He moved from Manchester United to Inter Milan for £7m in 1995, a then record fee received by United. The move followed the Eric Cantana fracas following which Paul had been charged with common assault on a Crystal Palace fan. On his day, the self-styled Guvnor's all-action style, strong tackling and one hundred per cent commitment regularly unsettled the opposition. However, although his crunching challenges won him the ball the majority of the time, there were times when his hot-headedness left him as an easy target for those who dared to wind him up.

He was equally effective going forward, however, and scored many a crucial goal. He captained at both club and international level - in fact, he was the first black player to captain England, in a 1-1 draw with Brazil in 1993. He joined Liverpool from Inter Milan for £4.2 million in 1997, signed for Middlesbrough from Liverpool for £1m in 1999 and, in 2002, moved once more, to Wolverhampton Wanderers.

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