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History Boys and Renaissance Men
Written by Stowmarket on Sunday, 29th Sep 2019 15:49

How many of us who were fortunate enough to have followed ITFC back in 1980 realised at the time that we were indeed blessed to be around to witness the greatest ever Ipswich Town side?

For kids my age – 14 – we knew that it was something special, but presumed that this was the norm, and that it would somehow last for ever.

You could justifiably argue that Alf Ramsey’s achievement 20 years earlier was greater, winning back-to-back second tier and top tier titles.

However, Bobby Robson’s 1980/81 side was clearly the most talented in the history of the club. In theory, Robson had a squad of 21 but, without wishing to disrespect the fringe players who occasionally filled in, the team picked itself: Cooper; Burley, Osman, Butcher, Mills; Thijssen, Wark, Mühren; Gates; Mariner, Brazil.

A perfectionist might argue that this team lacked a genuinely left-footed left-back and that there were no wingers. In reality, it was an unrivalled line-up which only fell short of winning the domestic title because of the extraordinary marathon campaign.

Reaching the League Cup last 16, the FA Cup semi-final and winning the UEFA Cup meant that a small squad had to cope with a mammoth sixty-six competitive fixtures.

Yes, it was an incredible season which added that iconic third star to the shirt. However, the fact that Aston Villa – who ITFC beat three times during the season – pipped Town to the title, still irks ex-players and fans alike.

Seven defeats in the final 10 league games was the result of fatigue and injury as the club was fighting for honours on three fronts. It is remarkable that the players had any gas left in the tank when they travelled to Holland on 20th May for the second leg of their European final. It would have been a footballing tragedy if that golden generation had failed to gain a single trophy in a campaign which fully merited a domestic and European double.

Fast forward a year, and having finished runners-up again, Robson had left for the England job and – shades of Ramsey – a slump began as the crown jewels were sold off one by one.

You could argue that, Burley’s 2000/01 season aside, there has been a hangover ever since. That golden history has become a burden for managers, players and fans, those three stars a proud but painful reminder of glory days from a vanished age. Kids do not want to hear about glory; they want to live it.

The 17-year stay in the Championship between 2002-2019 became, in my eyes, increasingly painful to watch. It was becoming a Groundhog Day scenario of sterile survival, without even a decent FA Cup run to cheer us up.

The atmosphere inside Portman Road ranged from apathetic to toxic. East Anglian derbies took on unhealthy significance and resulted in disappointment almost every time.

I was genuinely relieved when ITFC were relegated. I was sick and tired of the non-existent entertainment and the club’s struggles in the Championship.

Paul Lambert’s arrival at Portman Road changed nothing on the pitch last season. However, for the first time in many years, the club had a manager who was happy to observe and criticise the state of the club: the rundown nature of the stadium and the training ground; the disconnect between the fans and the club; the disconnect between the club and its community; the disconnect between the club and its past.

Lambert did not want to look back with nostalgia but reconnect with it. I genuinely believe that what Lambert achieved last season was quite remarkable. A former Norwich manager who managed to bring back a sense of belonging, despite the club slipping into the third tier of English football for the first time since 1957.

That openly critical stance has continued this summer, resulting in a pressure on the club’s owner to improve facilities, bolster the squad and create a positive presence within the community.

The 19,875 who turned up for the 4-1 win against Tranmere – which solidified ITFC’s place at the top of the table – was only a thousand short of the crowd back in August 1980 when I saw Town defeat Everton in that gloriously frustrating season. Town are attracting bigger crowds in the third tier than they did in some of their top-tier campaigns.

Mick Mills – who knows a thing or two about the club’s rich history – has suggested that the atmosphere and noise is currently better than anything he has ever experienced at Portman Road. The sound generated by Kayden Jackson’s stoppage-time winner against Wimbledon was louder than anything I can remember.

There is a long way to go this season. And promotion when/if it happens has to represent the springboard for a far more ambitious, forward-thinking ITFC in the Championship.

Nevertheless, the current feelgood factor, in which Ed Sheeran plays an iconic role, is something very special. When I arrive at the packed train station on a Saturday and see the thousands flocking in from all over Suffolk and beyond, I now sense an almost tangible excitement and anticipation. It is no longer a tedious call of duty. It has once again become (in the words of a friend of mine) ‘a sense of pilgrimage, of going to a sacred place'.

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kozmik added 16:05 - Sep 29
Personally I reckon anything other than defeat at Fleetwood and we can start to believe again!

ITFCsince73 added 16:35 - Sep 29
We gave a football lesson to a St Etiaine side 80/81 led by Platini and full of French national players. The best side to never be English champions.
The best in Europe that season.


monty_radio added 17:01 - Sep 29
Those of us already adult by that time knew that it couldn't last, but, for more than a decade it often lead us to forget that. The decline was quite swift really. The real shame was that we blew the genuine success that Burley had only just started upon via our combination of large financial misjudgements.

BuckieBlue added 18:24 - Sep 29
Thanks for analysis and memory lane (I had forgotten we beat Villa 3 times that season). Amazing you mentioned the Everton 1980 game, the first and only league game I've ever attended at PR (sounds pathetic but I am up in NE Scotland and intend getting back down around the beginning of next season, 40th anniversary visit!). That was a pretty decent side we demolished 4-0 that day. Thanks again.

Stowmarket added 19:59 - Sep 29
With hindsight, BR probably needed two more quality squad players, but in those days with only one sub it would have been difficult to attract someone to sit on the bench or in the stands.

Stowmarket added 20:01 - Sep 29
BuckieBlue, if memory serves me correctly, Everton dominated possession in the pouring rain. Town carved out four opportunities and scored each one.

Bluespeed225 added 16:03 - Sep 30
As Stowmarket points out, the one sub era, no list of superstars willing to be sub( Liverpool had David Fairclough who filled that role!), and one of the saddest days was that Arsenal game after beating Villa four days before. Beattie and Thijssen sitting injured on the bench, Gates goes off after TEN minutes to be replaced by Tommy Parkin....
King Frans didn’t play again until the UEFA Final. Could be argued we were actually TOO good for our own good. Just going for a simple double might have been better!

trncbluearmy added 18:24 - Sep 30
First real memories of Town were Jimmy Robertson,Hammond, Bell, Belfit etc so been lucky to be a teenager or "young adult" during the great years which include the GB years.
But you know after all the crap, on and of the pitch, dished up over the last decade I am enjoying the rise again of Ipswich Town just as much, a different level sure, but winning games, playing some cracking football with a Town/County on side again feels great.

Alan_Essex added 13:39 - Oct 1
An amazing season - maybe we were the first team to seriously get close to the "treble". Things that irked me - should never have lost to Man City, and the thought of the two Dutchman vs the two Argentinians at Wembley for the cup final would just have been brilliant. The trip home from Villa Park after that semi - hideous... But more than anything, giving Manager of the Year to Ron Saunders!! Bobby Robson worked miracles, came close to the first ever modern day treble, how he was pipped by Saunders beggars belief... OK, I need to let this go now...Nope, still too soon.

ElephantintheRoom added 13:44 - Oct 1
Surely it's simply down to having something to identify with - be that Town players playing for Town, a manager who seems interested enough to care - and some easy wins against poor opposition. My own recollections from that era are that Town would and could have been a trophy-winning force in the land if only Robson have moved heaven and earth to sign Shilton when Stoke somewhat surprisingly did. I'm not sure newly promoted Nottingham Forest were a more attractive berth than Town when he went there a few years later. And to rub salt into the wound, Jennings would have signed if he felt wanted. It probably is that simple. And he time to get excited about the future is IF Town get promoted and can actually enjoy some upward momentum. Now they are not even at base camp 1 - we need to wait until they have played a few of the better teams perhaps.

u2itfc added 15:26 - Oct 1
I started going to Portman Road regularly as a teenager, in 1973/74 - and yes, I did think it would just carry on at that level indefinitely. Sadly, not...

I often ask myself the question as to whether if they had their time again, the club would/could have done anything different to stop the decline post SBR. Unfortunately I think the seeds were unknowingly sown by Sir Bobby himself a couple of years earlier, when he had to offer Arnold a free transfer at the end of his contract, to get him to renew. Even in SBR's time, he had to sell in order to buy, so when Arnold then went to Man U, the club had no funds to use to buy a suitable replacement. The supply line to Alan Brazil disappeared, and so he became unhappy and had his head turned elsewhere. From that point, the rot had set in, and the others left one by one.

Of course, the club had the debt of the new Pioneer Stand, and that was often suggested as the reason that players had to be sold - and that it should never have been built. It's easy in hindsight to query the building of the stand, but I remember, in the last couple of SBR's years in particular, how often, as we walked to the ground (season tickets safely in our pockets), we'd see hundreds of disappointed fans walking away from the stadium because 'the gates have been closed - it's full'. It seemed obvious at that point that the club needed more capacity.

I stopped going regularly in the mid 80's - and on the odd occasion I went to a match in the McCarthy era, I came away feeling cheated of the money I had spent on a ticket, vowing never to return. I must admit though, PL and his team have got me wondering again, for the first time in MANY years, whether it's time to go back to PR. Trouble is, I was spoiled by the team of 80/81...

u2itfc added 15:38 - Oct 1
URL for that 4-0 thrashing of Everton in 1980 (membership of Facebook group may be required):


floridablue added 11:37 - Oct 2
Enjoyable read Stowmarket, thanks for jogging my memory. I was working overseas for the second half of that season but managed to time my home leave to be back for the second leg of the final in Amsterdam. Thanks also to u2itfc for the link to that Everton game.

RegencyBlue added 17:21 - Oct 6
I distinctly remember turning to my mate at some point during the 1980/81 season and saying “We need to enjoy this because it just can’t get any better”.

Unfortunately I was right!

Kitman added 12:21 - Oct 9
Moved to Ipswich in'77 and lived there until '83. Caught the best of the SBR years eh?

(biggest regret since has been moving away....)

allezlesbleus added 19:28 - Oct 12
They were amazing days. I was 10 when we lifted the FA Cup and that was one of my greatest ever days.

We literally feared no-one. I remember feeling robbed when we only got a point against Liverpool. Sir Bobby was an absolute legend and done incredibly well to not only replace most of the 78 cup winning team, but better it. It is such a travesty that he didn't win one league title with us. Like the earlier poster, I am still haunted that we beat Villa 3 times in the season that they won the league and even more so, that we beat them at theirs, just a few days after our extra-time cup semi defeat, also at Villa Park.

bicesterblue4 added 18:16 - Oct 29
A great blog and set of replies, highly evocative.

A fantastic era for the club, great times. But painful too, and the agony of not winning the league in 81 will never be matched for me. I had a feeling that Arsenal (Talbot had a blinder) would beat Villa and away at Middlesbrough we were one half from doing it (felt as though we would have beaten Southampton at home if the league were on the line).

Villa had their share of good fortune with injuries and the stat I remember is they only used 14 players, I think they played something like 46 games all season.

I genuinely feel that we were the best team in Europe that season year and each year when you look at the teams that would line up in the Champions League and Uefa Cup if the qualifying criteria were still the same, it is clear what an achievement winning the Uefa Cup was at that time.

I would dispute that the noise is louder now than for the Mariner header at the Churchmans end at home to Liverpool (77?), or the Muhren volley in front of the North Stand in the 6th round replay at home to Forest in 81, just a couple of standouts from so many.

But in fairness, it is all seater now and I do agree with the blog, it is more fun again and long may it continue. A long way to go but I like to think we have turned the corner.
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