Friday’s Former Stags: Billy Ayre

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In the latest of our weekly series of Friday’s Former Stags we feature tough defender Billy Ayre, who found himself player and then caretaker manager during his two seasons at Field Mill.

An uncompromising centre half, he had a loyal career, playing for just three clubs over 16 years and racking up over 300 League appearances.

Ayre started out playing non-League football after having a go at refereeing during his teenage years and eventually combined playing for Scarborough with a job teaching art and PE

Having already had a spell at Hartlepool, the County Durham-born player appeared 42 times for Mansfield in 1982/83, scoring three goals, after arriving from Halifax Town, where he had been captain and player-coach.

He was one of six experienced players signed by Stags boss Stuart Boam in pre-season, along with Joe Laidlaw, John Dungworth, Keith Kennedy, Alan Waddle and John Matthews and he scored on his debut with a header against Northampton Town.

The season after Ayre played another 25 games, adding four goals and found himself acting as caretaker manager for a time after the sacking of Boam.

Ian Greaves was eventually appointed as the new manager and Ayre was released on a free transfer back to Halifax as coach and then manager.

Managerial spells followed at Blackpool, Lincoln, Scarborough and Southport.

He became a club legend at Blackpool where he gained promotion from Division Four via the play-offs in 1991/92, winning the Manager of the Month award during the first month.

His side had been beaten finalists the year before, though set two club records as between 10 November 1990 and 19 November 1991 they went 15 consecutive home League wins in what turned out to be a 24-game unbeaten run at Bloomfield Road.

Assistant manager jobs followed at Swansea and Cardiff, during which time he had a month-long break while having a benign tumor removed.

At that time, he said: “That wasn’t something which bothered me too much. “That may sound strange, but it was outside my control, so I got on with things. “I’m not at all frightened. I know the risks. The odds of people not even surviving the treatment are 20–1, but that doesn’t bother me. I’ve backed a few 20–1 winners in my time.

“One in four people get cancer, and I’m pleased it’s me and not somebody else in my family. I’d rather take it, because I think I can deal with it.”

Ayre’s final job in football came within weeks of leaving Cardiff.

He joined Division Two side Bury as assistant to Andy Preece, who played for him at Blackpool, but he suffered a bombshell in the spring of 2001 when it was found that the lymph node cancer had returned.

Graham Barrow was given the temporary job of assistant manager while Ayre received treatment and he appeared to be recovering.

However, he suffered a setback in early 2002 and was admitted to hospital.

Ayre died on April 16 2002, just under a month shy of his 50th birthday.

His wife, Elaine, and children, David and Rachel, were at his bedside at the family’s home in Ormskirk.

Ayre’s funeral took place on April 21 at St. Cuthbert’s Church in Halsall, near Ormskirk, where his final wish to have the Blackpool team with whom he won promotion in 1992 be present was granted.