|Wing Wonders (Part One)|
Written by ElephantintheRoom on Tuesday, 31st Dec 2019 10:05
It’s a curiosity of Town’s great years that the two big successes – winning the league under Alf Ramsey and the UEFA Cup under Bobby Robson were based on teams without true wingers.
Though I may be doing Rocky Stevenson an injustice, it was the withdrawn role given to Sticks Leadbetter which allegedly bamboozled everyone else at the time.
Similarly it was the slippery (and none-too-steady-on-his feet in the penalty area) wiles of Eric Gates which brought a new dimension to Robson’s near-all-conquering team.
Which is strange indeed. Because the 60s through to the 80s was an era absolutely peppered with great wingers. Misty-eyed fans of every club in the land will probably recall players from this era ranging from true greats to local cult heroes. Let me give you just a small flavour of the times.
Ramsey started his 1966 World Cup triumph with John Connelly, Terry Paine and Ian Callaghan before happening across Alan Ball. Man United at the time had a lad called George Best and Willie Morgan. Celtic a ball playing imp called Jimmy Johnstone, destined to do the seemingly impossible and unlock the McCarthyesque Catenaccio defending of Inter to so startlingly bring the European Cup back to Glasgow (in a team where every player was born within 25 miles of the ground – those were the days!).
I could go on – and on, Dave Wagstaffe at Wolves, Alan Woodward at Sheffield United, Cliff Jones, Geordie Armstrong, Ian Storey-Moore, Eddie Gray, Peter Lorimer, Mike Summerbee, Peter Thompson, these were all players all who defined their teams.
And Town? We had some of the best of them (with only a small degree of exaggeration). Some like Joe Broadfoot and Frank Brogan have disappeared over the horizon into the mists of time. Jimmy Robertson will forever be ‘on the wing, on the wing!’
One, Johnny Miller, made more of an impact for Norwich. Others like Mick Lambert and Clive Woods were there to share in the good times and are fondly remembered. Heck there is even a homemade ‘Woods Fries Rice’ banner still in my younger brother’s attic that the eagle-eyed viewer can spot in a certain video from 1978.
So in chronological order, let’s revisit some of the wing wonders who have graced Portman Road’s once-pristine turf. I think my own attachment to wingers came from early days being pinned to the wall of the West Stand. Wingers stayed out by the touchline arms, akimbo waiting for the ball. So for 45 minutes every game you were close enough to almost reach out and touch them.
Later in my Town-supporting career, a bit of wing wizardry could seemingly make the ground shake – particularly when jumping up and down in the less-than-solid Churchmans Stand.
If you want to know more you could do a lot worse than shell out £4.99 on Amazon for A Tale of Two Towns and Millwall Football Club by the great man’s son. It provides some amusing and sad insights into footballing life in those far off days. He was quite a cricketer too.
A speedy and tricky winger, Broadfoot provided a touch of excitement on the wing – and more than his fair share of goals too. His first stint lasted just two years from 1963-65 which saw Town tumble out of the top division and threaten to drop further before the arrival of the somewhat disciplinarian Bill McGarry.
Seventeen goals from the wing in 81 games was enough to secure his glamour transfer and a shot at the big time in the top division - with Northampton Town. The £22,000 fee perhaps reflecting his rising stature during his time at Town
He was to grace Northampton’s curious three-sided ground for just one season. Northampton have scarcely recovered even now from their one shot at the big time which saw them tumble through the divisions. An example from the past perhaps that ruinous, overreaching club ambitions did not start with the Premier League.
He was to briefly return to both Millwall and Ipswich before retirement beckoned. Any thoughts that his personality and lifestyle might be too much for McGarry were surely dispelled by his surprising (and even briefer) return for, wait for it… £5000 in 1967/68 which yielded just 20 games and two goals.
His final game was a 1-1 home draw with Birmingham City, when he came on as substitute for Frank Brogan. Sadly an untimely knee injury meant he just missed out on the return of the good times.
I didn’t know it at the time but Broadfoot was something of an entrepreneur. In his first Town spell he was allowed to combine playing for Town with being a London cabbie to supplement his wages. Different times indeed. Retirement saw him running an escort agency and ‘massage parlour’ in Lewisham, which brought him to the attentions of the Sunday tabloids – and the law. When last heard of he was running a car wash on the A140 and like so many ex-pros of that era was none to steady on his legs.
A colourful player from more colourful times who is still with us apparently. If you look him up on Google you’ll find a player fondly remembered by his ‘home’ club Millwall – but largely forgotten at his adopted home of Ipswich.
Photos mix a rather tough-looking, short-haired individual with a dubious Jack The Lad ‘Keegan Perm’ in later life. He played 113 games and scored 21 goals for Town – and a left a lasting legacy of fond and hazy memories to those who were there at the time.
He was much more than a creator of chances and chipped in with double figure goals too in each of his first four seasons - 15, 12, 17 and 18 goal a season was an excellent return from out wide in a developing team.
Frank was something of a penalty king as well – I’m not sure he ever missed one. And his direct running led to many memorable assists. Firstly for Gerry Baker, latterly for Ray Crawford. He also had a penchant for a spectacular (and maybe accidental) assist. If you there at the time you’ll know what I mean.
Step into my Town Tardis and travel back to Portman Road for that unforgettable duel in the sun against QPR. Shut your eyes and you can probably still see Brogan cut inside his full back and fire in a cross (or shot), then up pops Crawford to thump a spectacular and unstoppable header firmly into the back of the net. Town were in the lead, promotion so close you could taste it. Even Les Allen’s untimely equaliser couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm. Or the memory of that pulverising goal.
Fast forward a few months for that night game against champions-to-be Leeds United. Town had leaked a couple of goals but were now going toe-to-toe with their more illustrious opponents.
I’m in my spot by the wall in the West Stand directly behind Brogan as he skips past Reaney and fires in another thumping cross shot. A stifled groan turns to shrieks of joy as Crawford again appears from nowhere, magically hanging in the air to thunder an unstoppable header home. Cue thunderous noise and alas, eventually shattered hope too, as a none-too-rare defensive lapse from Chopper Jefferson saw Leeds win 3-2. But what a game, what a night!
So you get my drift. After many years as a journeyman pro, Brogan was very much at home in the top division and very much played his part in a Town team that survived with some comfort, despite upheaval in the manager’s office and amongst what had been a tightly knit team.
Alas the end came with great suddenness, as it did back then with an untimely injury. He played 32 times in that first season back. 20 games the following season. And no more. The fact that he only got four goals in those two years perhaps suggests he wasn’t quite up to the First Division. But at his peak he was more than good enough.
Promotion came perhaps a little bit too late for Frank. A young home-grown player called Mick Lambert was starting to look quite useful which also hastened his departure through the exit door
If you have a Panini sticker album from this golden era you’ll see Frank glowering back at you sporting a somewhat ill-judged ‘Zapata’ moustache, looking every inch the baddie in a Clint Eastwood western. But I’m led to believe you couldn’t meet a nicer bloke.
Like so many players he met and married a local girl. And for many years long after his departure the Brogan family could be found each year having two weeks with the in-laws in Colchester.
He had a trial back in Scotland with Morton – then a £4,000 move to Halifax (every penny must have counted in those days). He scored on his debut but a catastrophic ankle injury shortly afterwards in his third match ended his career.
Frank must have noticed Broadfoot flashing the cash from his taxi days, because together with his younger brother Jim, the Brogan brothers had a chain of taxis back in Glasgow. And together they also ran a number of pubs. Not a great player perhaps and his career never reached the heights of his younger brother… but for me he was a great Ipswich player. Thanks for the memories, Frank.
For us provincial Town fans, still thinking of ourselves as country cousins, Jimmy Robertson was something very different. He’d recently played in and scored in a cup final for goodness sake! This back in an era when the entire nation seemed to stop and watch the final.
He was, at least to Town fans, a bona fide star. And here he was playing for Ipswich! A poorly-judged exchange deal with Arsenal saw him on the periphery of a team shortly to do the double. Needing a new challenge and a fresh start he came to Town for the princely sum of £55,000.
Robertson endeared himself to the Portman Road faithful from day one. A direct winger who could also score, he wrote himself into club folklore on 31st March 1970, an epic match known in my circles as ‘The Night the Gunners Came’ thanks to more hack journalism by Desmond Hackett in the Express.
Arsenal were mid-table back then, but on the threshold of immortality – this was a team destined to win the double the following year and already they were a formidable outfit. But Robertson had a point to prove.
Charlie George gave Arsenal the lead early on. Desmond Hackett memorably intoned that had Mick Mills been one inch taller he would have cut the cross out. Alas he wasn’t and he didn’t. But no matter Robertson was playing like a man inspired. Again and again he had the crowd baying and roaring as he charged down the wing.
Eventually, in the second half he sent the near-26,000 crowd into raptures as yet another cross was met by a Frank Clarke sidefoot that took on a curious looping trajectory and arced, gloriously into the back of the net - 1-1!!
“We’ve got Jimmy, Jimmy Robertson on the wing, on the wing!!!” echoed round and round the ground as the former Arsenal man twisted the knife still further. By now the crowd was baying for more and Bill Baxter gloriously delivered – a towering header from a corner arrowing into the distant Churchmans net - 2-1!!
And so it stayed until the delirious crowd greeted the final whistle. Safety was not only beckoning with three matches to go –it was surely assured?
Well not quite. There was the small matter of a home match with mighty Leeds to negotiate. But first came a home game against fellow strugglers Southampton. Robertson scored a thumper at the North Stand end and Town won 2-0 at a canter. Town were almost there, thanks almost exclusively to Frank Clarke and Jimmy Robertson. Or so it seemed.
By now Leeds, en route to tossing away the double had imploded and were playing reserves in league fixtures Somewhat scandalously they played an entire reserve team at Portman Road gifting Town three points, albeit in a game where the Blues squeaked home 3-2 with Robertson again the star of the show.
Town hardly needed the gift. They ended the season in a dizzying 18th place – a comfortable five points clear of Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland who dropped through the relegation trapdoor.
In just seven games Robertson had scored three goals, electrified the crowd, energised the team – and seemingly transformed the club’s fortunes. If only it could last!
Season 1970/71 quickly dashed youthful optimism. It was to be six long matches before Town scored – and even then only in a 3-2 defeat. Clearly another attritional relegation battle was on the cards – and so it proved.
Fellow strugglers Burnley were smote 3-0 at Portman Road to give a bit of belief. Then on 19th September in the Portman Road sunshine came a match that will live forever more in club folklore…. Ipswich Town FOUR (this remember from a team that could barely score) Manchester United 0. It was a result as unlikely as the trajectory of another of those Clarke sidefoots that provided one of the goals. Any visiting alien would have though Robertson the global superstar, not the hungover and anonymous Best.
Robertson played 48 times that season, scoring six goals. Town had also embarked on what was for them a record cup run. Away draws against top division teams in all three rounds went to replays before Town made a pig’s ear of the home replay with Stoke City, contriving to lose 1-0.
Relegation was very much on the cards until Mick Hill got a winner at Blackpool but even then it was touch and go until a run of gritty 0-0s and equally gritty 1-0 and 2-0 wins over West Brom and Huddersfield saw Town stay up in a relatively comfortable 19th. Relative comfort and a cup run. Rarely had we had it so good.
Season 1971/72 was to prove Robertson’s swansong – but also the beginning of a steep upward curve as Town were never in danger, finishing an eventual 13th. It could have been better but club talisman Mick Mills was out for a while with a serious knee injury.
That period coincided with one of my worst football-supporting afternoons, standing on the terrace at Bramall Lane next to my chortling, by-now-Sheffield United supporting older brother as the newly-promoted and rampant Blades knocked in seven goals without reply. Alan Woodward got four and the old-fashioned scoreboard ran out of space. Still, look on the bright side - I’ve seen worse since. Just.
Robertson played 43 times that season scoring just three goals. And then he was gone. In just two and a bit seasons, 98 games and 12 goals, Jimmy Robertson had cemented himself into Ipswich Town folklore.
His was but a fleeting stay – but a vitally important one. In just two seasons he’d established himself as one of Town’s most important signings. And what memories he left behind.
He went to Stoke for £80,000, considerably more than Town paid for him. He played longer for Stoke than he did at Town, before a brief stint with Seattle Sounders then short stays at Walsall and Crewe in the late 70s.
If you were a Town fan in the early 70s Jimmy Robertson is almost certainly right up there in your list of favourite players. And rightly so. A truly inspired and inspirational signing who saw Town emerge from relegation strugglers to top division security in just two years.
Robertson’s departure left a gaping hole that a re-emerging Mick Lambert was asked to fill. Now a new era for Town was beginning. One with trophies, rather than relegation on the agenda... starting lest we forget with the Texaco Cup.
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