After the best part of two years out with back-to-back cruciate ligament injuries, Dack – a hugely popular and influential member of the dressing room – is close to a first team return. And Mowbray, who has gone out of his way to ensure the player felt included and a regular part of team meetings during his rehabilitation, is hoping his return can give the team a significant boost during the run-in, another example of the manager’s personal touch.
Like the players, Mowbray and his staff are tight. Mowbray divides his time between Teesside, where his family still live, and Blackburn and shares an apartment with his assistant, Mark Venus, and the club’s head of recruitment John Park a stone’s throw from the training ground. Venus lost his wife to breast cancer just over three years ago and Mowbray, whose first wife Bernadette died of the disease in 1995, was a rock by his side throughout the ordeal.
Family and friends are a huge part of Mowbray’s life. He travels back to the north east after games on Saturday and Tuesday to spend cherished time with his wife Amber and three boys. It also affords him the chance to catch up with his former Middlesbrough team-mate, Gary Pallister. Mowbray will swing by a coffee shop in Yarm owned by a friend after the school run to chew the fat with Pallister for an hour over cappuccinos.
“He has beans on toast some mornings and I’m sat there thinking how can you eat beans on toast first thing in the morning,” Pallister says, chuckling. What’s the usual topic of conversation? “It’s always football!” Pallister adds. “Tony is one of those guys, like Sir Alex [Ferguson], who loves to talk football. It’s a big part of who he is. He talks about his passion for the game. He can’t see the day when he doesn’t want to be a manager because he loves the cut and thrust of it all.
“He’s always loved talking about the game, dissecting the game. I remember at Middlesbrough he would sit and talk to Bruce [Rioch, then manager] about being a manager, coaching and tactics while a lot of the lads were just happy to play and then go and enjoy themselves. Tony was a thinker. There are some players who are destined to be managers and Tony was one of them.”
Pallister has an invite from Mowbray to go to Ewood on Monday week to watch his boyhood Middlesbrough against Blackburn. “Obviously I’m a Boro fan and a Man United fan but I’m a Tony Mowbray fan, too. I was chatting with him and a couple of his mates this week and wondering who we are going to be cheering for. Blackburn up automatically and Middlesbrough via the play-offs would be perfect!”
It is all a far cry from the chaos and turmoil that marked the early years of Venky’s ownership. After going through eight managers in just over six years, Mowbray has brought the stability that the club’s owners craved. Anuradha Desai, the chairwoman, has not been back to Ewood since her husband Jitendra was hit in the face by a snowball thrown by fans before a game in January 2013 and her brothers, Venkatesh and Balaji Rao, have been absent for almost as long.
A wage-to-turnover ratio of almost 190 per cent is a reminder of past troubles and the impact of Covid on finances but the family said in an open letter before the start of the season that they planned to return and now seems as good a time as any with excitement building over what the coming months could bring.
Blackburn’s final game of the season on May 7 will be exactly 10 years to the day since the club was relegated from the Premier League. The fans will also hope it marks the start of a new chapter back in the promised land.