Shaped by passion and grief
Chief Sports Writer Hyder Jawad on how tragedy has left its mark on new Albion boss Tony Mowbray.
Tony Mowbray lived a lifetime in 24 hours. It was April, 1994, the River Tay was sparkling under the spring sunshine, and he scored one of the goals for Celtic as they defeated Dundee United 3-1 at Tannadice.
The day after, he married his young fiancée, Bernadette, in Glasgow.
There was no prouder man in Scotland. There was no braver woman.
At the cinema, Shadow-lands, starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger, was performing well at the box office. The film was about how CS Lewis, the author of the Narnia series, fell in love with an American poet.
After the poet, Joy Davidson, was diagnosed with cancer in 1957, they married in an Oxfordshire hospital. She died three years later.
At the end of the film, CS Lewis, played by Hopkins, rhetorically asks, "why love if losing hurts so much?"
Mowbray might have asked himself the same question.
At the time of his marriage, Bernadette was suffering with breast cancer and was given only months to live. Their relationship united a divided city and put the vagaries of football, which can be exaggerated in a place like Glasgow, firmly into perspective.
When Bernadette died, on January 1, 1995, Mowbray felt as if his heart had been ripped out. "I was as low as any human being can get," he said.
She was 26.
Mowbray aroused respect for the way in which he handled his grief. Instead of going under, as many men might have done, he continued to represent Celtic with passion and he also helped to set up the Breast Cure Scotland charity.
But people who knew Mow-bray could see it in his eyes that he was consumed by a mental torture that only the grieving can understand. Footballers are just not supposed to suffer that way. But, then, Mowbray knew he was different.
He knew it when, at aged 22, he was offered the captaincy of Middlesbrough. He knew it when he learnt that he was born on November 22, 1963 - the day that John F Kennedy, CS Lewis, and Aldous Huxley died; the day that Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as the 36th United States president.
Celtic supporters knew it when, just after Mowbray left the club to join Ipswich Town in October 1995, they received an open letter from the player.
"The feeling of being as one with the supporters could not have been highlighted more than when I was to lose my wife to cancer on New Year's day, 1995," he wrote.
"At a time when my life was decimated, the love and warmth I will never forget. Words of support poured in from Celtic folk, from all over the world; and at a time when my life was empty, they helped fill that void with their compassion."
The words are simple but the meaning conveys emotion on a deep level.
Only Mowbray really knows how he was able to deal with his anguish. Much of his stoicism no doubt comes from his background in Saltburn, just to the south of Middlesbrough, where winters are cold and where men learn early about the values of hard work and leadership.
The son of a steel worker and scaffolder, he became a professional footballer with Middlesbrough at 16. It was at Ayresome Park that Mowbray first met a man who was to have a profound effect on his life.
Bruce Rioch had been a distinguished midfield player, first with Aston Villa, then Derby County, and was also the first English-born player to become the captain of Scotland.
It was Rioch who said: "If you were on a rocket ship flying to the moon, the man you would want sitting next to you would be Tony Mowbray. He is a magnificent man."
Even today, despite living in Denmark as the manager of BK Odense, Rioch keeps in touch with his former pupil. Rioch is not surprised that West Bromwich Albion are so keen to appoint Mowbray as their manager. Rioch wishes he could employ him. The mutual respect is obvious.
"I remember when Tony's wife passed away, I rang him up and asked if he would like to come and join me at Bolton Wanderers," Rioch said. "He said 'no', which I understood. He said he owed it to Bernadette's family to stay in Scotland.
"To my mind, that said everything about Tony and what kind of person he is. For him to have gone through such tragic circumstances, and for him to have carried himself so magnificently ... But I was never surprised because he always carried himself in an impeccable way. That is Tony for you."
Mowbray has since remarried. He met Amber while he was playing for Ipswich. She is a Suffolk girl and helped Mowbray to enter a new phase of his life.
Now he has two families, one that will remain in Glasgow; one that will be moving with him from Edinburgh, where he lived as the manager of Hibernian, to the West Midlands, where he will work as the manager of West Bromwich Albion.
"They [the two families] have handled it very well," Mowbray said. "Bernadette was a very important part of my life and Amber knows that, while my family in Glasgow, with whom I keep in touch almost on a daily basis, accept that my life had to move on."
Life has always moved on for Mowbray, which is why he has the knack of being in the right job at the right time - for the right reasons.
Playing for a Middlesbrough club that was flirting with bankruptcy taught him valuable lessons, as did playing for Celtic at a time when they were under pressure and still in the shadow of Rangers.
He was a good player - inspirational, with the ability to motivate those around him -but he has the attributes that are sure to make him a better manager. Bruce Rioch knew that even when Mow-bray was 22 and barely needing to shave. "I always knew Tony would be a success at management," Rioch said. "It was obvious. I knew he was something special about him, from the first moment we met. "I remember taking over as manager of Middlesbrough. It was 1986, a bad year for us."
The club went into liquidation, with all kinds of big-name players leaving, and I named Tony as my captain because it seemed the right thing to do.
"Tony was just 22, but a very mature man for his age. He was a decent player, too; competitive and fierce, but he was also great at handling the dressing room, even at such a young age. He knows how to look after players and get the best out of them. That was true as a player and, now, as a manager."
Realistically, Mowbray had taken Hibernian as far as he could. They were short of money and never likely to challenge Celtic, Rangers or Hearts in the battle to win trophies. A place in the Uefa InterToto Cup, which provides sanctuary for anonymous clubs all over Europe, is as good as it gets.
Albion provide a different challenge, for they are deemed to be a Premiership club in all but name. They are richer than Hibernian, have a larger fan base, and they can help Mowbray fulfil his ambition: that of managing a club in the Premiership.
"Some people have a way about them, a manner, and Tony Mowbray has that," Rioch told the Sunday Herald in Scotland this year. "He is a special person. An absolutely outstanding human being who has a feel for people. I never had any doubts he would be successful in life at whatever he chose to do. Hibs are very lucky to have him."
And now it is Albion who are lucky to have him. If his ritual with Hibernian is anything to go by, he will rise at 7.30am each day, dash to the training ground, and make his players believe that they are privileged to play football for a living. He will also make them believe that they work, no so much for the club, but for the Albion supporters.
Expect new ideas. Expect humility in victory. Expect stoicism in defeat.
He knows all about glory and all about tragedy.
Three days after Bernadette died, Celtic played Rangers at Ibrox. It was January 4 and typically cold. Mowbray was numb with grief but he wanted to turn an emotional obstacle into an opportunity.
That was when he had an idea. He asked that, prior to the match, the Celtic players form a huddle as a show of solidarity. In those days, such a spectacle was rarely seen, but here it seemed appropriate. The Celtic players now form a huddle before every match. It is an integral part of the club, just as Mowbray is an integral part of its history.
His attributes transcend his sport and arouse admiration from all walks of life. When, in 1999, Dorothy-Grace Elder stood up in the Scottish Parliament to talk about breast cancer, she cast her mind back to the time she wept for the Celtic footballer who lost a young wife.
"At an age when Bernadette and Tony should have been out shopping for furniture for their first home," the politician said, "poor Tony Mowbray was out shopping for that young woman's coffin."