Town-Lazio - A Great Game
Friday, 14th Dec 2012 15:20
In issue seven of The Blizzard, Dominic Bliss looks back on both legs of Town’s UEFA Cup tie against Lazio in 1973 in their Greatest Games feature.
Below are excerpts from a longer piece which appears in issue seven of The Blizzard, the football quarterly. Available in both hard copy and digital formats on a pay-what-you-like basis, The Blizzard exists to allow the best football writers in the world to tell the football stories that matter to them, without editorial line or agenda. For more details, visit their website.
They say there are two sides to every story, but it isn’t often that you can identify precisely the dividing line between those two sides. When discussing the events that followed the UEFA Cup second round second leg between Lazio and Ipswich Town in November 1973, differing accounts come from either side of a locked changing-room door.
On one side, an army of Lazio supporters (including several players) raged, furious about perceived injustices during the tie, and fuming at the referee, the visiting supporters, the ambulance service and even their own stadium. Meanwhile, the victorious Ipswich team had locked themselves into their changing room and refused to come out until all fell silent in the corridor outside. As the Ipswich midfielder Bryan Hamilton put it, “We didn’t know what was going on outside, we just knew it was bad.”
When they finally did emerge into the tunnel of the Stadio Olimpico, there was a smell of tear gas in the air and the pitch outside was littered with broken glass. After all the anger, resentment and embarrassment of those moments that followed the second leg, it would be some time before people were able to reflect on the fact that these teams had just played out two classic football matches, ending in a 6-4 aggregate victory for the English club.
Over the course of 180 frenetic minutes, Ipswich had taken on a group of players that specialised in histrionics and put them through the wringer, in both a footballing and an emotional sense. The drama of a crazy second leg in Rome was so intense that, had a world-famous striker sworn into a television camera following the final whistle, it probably wouldn’t even have made the highlights.
From Ipswich’s perspective the tantrums of their vanquished Roman foes [after the first leg] were merely an amusing sideshow after a rout that left not just the East Anglian town but the whole country brimming with confidence and pride. “Whymark’s four goals against a panic-stricken Lazio defence sent a thrilling message racing through English football,” James Lawton wrote excitedly in the Daily Express the following day. “It proclaimed in every phase of this savage beating of a top Italian side that an English team can still take on a massed defence and cut it to pieces.”
Under the ownership of the eccentric John Cobbold, the club was renowned for its belief in putting the manager first and that was precisely what the future England and Barcelona boss needed as he looked to make his way in the coaching world. After traumatic experiences with Vancouver Royals and Fulham — both clubs in a state of disarray in the boardroom — Robson could have been forgiven for turning his back on management. What’s more, he was given the time to learn and build at Ipswich and the club ultimately reaped the rewards.
It was not a straightforward rise to prominence for Robson and Ipswich, though. In the four seasons before they claimed fourth spot in 1973, Ipswich had finished 12th, 18th, 19th and 13th, reaching their lowest ebb during the 1970-71 campaign, when Robson came to blows with two of his players after omitting them from the team. After the manager and his assistant, Cyril Lea, had gone toe-to-toe with the offending players — Tommy Carroll and Bill Baxter — the pair were eventually offloaded and the squad rallied around their beleaguered boss. Crucially, they were joined in that respect by the board.
“Our manager’s name is not written in chalk on his door with a wet sponge nailed by the side,” Cobbold said when Ipswich found themselves bottom of the table in the same campaign. He was vindicated in the years that followed, as Robson’s network of scouts began to come good with some bargain signings — Whymark and Kevin Beattie among them — while the club won the FA Youth Cup in 1973 (they would repeat the feat in 1975). As the new faces settled into Robson’s way of doing things, the club’s fortunes took off.
“All that stands between Ipswich and a place in the third round of the UEFA Cup is the unspoken threats of a violent second leg in Rome,” claimed Jeff Powell in the Daily Mail following the 4-0 victory at Portman Road. Hindsight tells us that he understood the situation well but the proposed threat from Lazio should not have been reduced to violence and petulance alone. This was a team, after all, who had lost out on the 1972-73 Scudetto following defeat on the last day of the season and who would go on to put that disappointment behind them with their first Serie A title success the following April. A 4-0 defeat away from home was bad, but Lazio, and the Italian press, refused to accept that it was terminal, particularly for a team who were so much more dangerous in their own stadium than they were on the road.
Ipswich’s players, meanwhile, had little idea of what lay in store for them. When they landed in Rome, Robson’s men were simply looking forward to seeing the sights in the ancient capital before playing out the second leg of a tie they had firmly under control. Hamilton remembers sitting with fellow Northern Ireland international Allan Hunter in Saint Peter’s Square, marvelling at the surroundings in Vatican City and planning to return with his wife. However, he also recalls the atmosphere in the build-up to the game turning on an incident at the Ipswich training base: “The whole situation was hyped up out of sight at some stage, somewhere. In my mind, it was from the moment we came off the plane, but there was a turning point at one of our training sessions in Italy when a group of men came with a trophy for Trevor Whymark.”
These men were representatives of an AS Roma supporters’ club — the 12° Club Giallorosso — and they had arrived, with a photographer, to stoke the fires of their own rivalry with Lazio (one the Giallorossi were undoubtedly losing on the pitch at the time). Their plan worked. Several Italian newspapers carried the same photo above their match preview articles the following day. In it, a rather bewildered looking Whymark could be seen accepting a gold plate from a smiling club president, Pietro Magliocchetti, who was decked out in a patterned suit jacket that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a Roger Moore-era Bond villain. A further detail acted as a twist of the knife, though: the plate was inscribed with a personal message incendiary enough to elevate the Ipswich striker to nemesis status.
“To Whymark, in recognition of Ipswich-Lazio 4-0
Il Roma Club F.C. “12° Giallorosso”, with affection and gratitude”
Affection and gratitude. Sparked by those words, the fuse on Lazio’s infamous Curva Nord was lit...
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