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The Swinging Sixty
Written by ElephantintheRoom on Friday, 14th Jan 2022 16:30

Sixty years ago this year Town won the top division, so if you look upon your relationship with Ipswich Town as some sort of marriage this year marks the diamond jubilee of that remarkable achievement.

I suppose there will be celebrations of a sort, possibly a bit different from those of club skipper Andy Nelson, who saw fit after picking up his medal to top up his wages that year by labouring on the North Stand redevelopment.

This year also marks the 60th anniversary of another band of brothers, The Rolling Stones, who have graduated from the bad boys of rock and roll to having a set of stamps in their honour.

It says much for the restorative powers of copious amounts of sex, drugs and rock and roll that the surviving members of the Stones look quite a bit more healthy than the surviving members of Alf Ramsey’s team.

I went to a few games that unforgettable season, but I have to say I have forgotten all about them. My early memories of supporting Town are of being perched precariously on a milk crate in Churchman’s with a view of somebody’s back or sitting in the clunky seats of the wooden East Stand, quietly reading my brother’s copy of The Eagle.

Of the matches themselves I have very little recall. And being brought up on the heroic and understated achievements of Dan Dare, I suppose it is understandable that Town’s title win made little impression on my eight-year-old mind.

If you look at the crowds attracted to Portman Road back then, they don’t seem impressive – averaging around 23,000. But the ground was often full to heaving and crowds felt huge, especially if you were rather small. You had to queue to get in and hand over your cash and then push past those already inside to find a space of sorts, with other people soon pushing in front of you. It paid dividends to be tall, but in 1961 I wasn’t.

Relegation was on most pundits' minds for the country cousins that season. It didn’t help that Town’s season started with difficult away trips to Bolton and Burnley, which yielded just one point. Their first home game against Manchester City was also a chastening experience too, Town losing 4-2.

But then something of a miracle – Town played Burnley at Portman Road and thrashed one of the division’s powerhouse clubs 6-2. Another feature of those far off times is the unlikely nature of some of the journos. The Observer’s sage commentator on hand was the rather sanguine Clement Freud, who solemnly intoned that Town had found their first division feet. Cricketing doyen John Arlott was also to be found in the press box back then. Town ended September by moving up to 12th.

This was an era when you could name the team. And luckily for Alf Ramsey he could name the same team, almost every week. Of the 11 names soon to be etched into Town’s history, a staggering nine played every game or missed just one or two.

Of the outfield players, only John Compton missed three games and Roy Bailey in goal missed five. When Sticks Leadbetter missed a game it was his first absence from the teamsheet in almost four years. Think about that for a moment, in an era when on-pitch medical treatment consisted of a bucket of cold water and a sponge plus the St John’s Ambulance running on if things looked bad.

The pitches were often a sea of mud, or frozen rock solid and tackles could be somewhat rudimentary. Even the heavy leather ball could do some serious damage, as Ted Phillips found to his cost when scoring off his face after a misplaced punch by the Blackburn goalie.

Photos from that time very much illustrate a different era. Times were hard and in 1961/62 rationing had not long ended. I can vouch that life was as yet far from groovy baby and very few people owned a car, least of all us, or the players.

Even the clubs at the sharp end of the league seem a trifle odd. Bolton, Burnley, Blackpool all finished comfortably ahead of Manchester United. Town came top, Burnley came second, Spurs (who started the season as ‘double-winning Spurs the best team of all time’) came third, then Everton, followed by Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday. Sheffield United had come up with Town the previous season, which kind of illustrated the state of flux football was in during this austere era

Ah, Spurs. I tend to disagree with Clement Freud. The time Town found their feet in the First Division was surely when they humbled the best team ever on 21st October 1961. I may not remember the match, but I remember the excitement and belief that game generated. From now on anything seemed possible. Later that season Town won at White Hart Lane to complete a memorable double over the glamorous double winners

Just as victors write their own history in war, so it happens in football. Ipswich supporters still seethe at injustices visited on Town by referees such as Roy Capey or Clive Thomas. Or league title wins by Aston Villa. History merely recalls goals by Alan Hudson, West Ham winning the 1975 FA Cup and Villa rubbing salt into Town’s wounds by also winning the European Cup.

And so it was with Town’s less than all-conquering team of 1961/62. Few recall the important part played by the FA Cup that year.

Burnley were in truth the better team that season. It was the FA Cup that came to Town’s rescue. Blues supporters fail to remember the FA Cup in 1961/62, largely because as per usual, Town’s interest was but fleeting, knocked out by Norwich in a fourth round replay at Portman Road – shades of Scotland becoming 'world champions' by beating Ramsey’s England at Wembley.

But I digress, Burnley’s much more impressive cup run took them all the way to the final via a semi-final replay against Bobby Robson’s Fulham and created a draining fixture congestion. Amazingly, Burnley only won one of their last 10 league fixtures – and promptly lost the FA Cup final too. Their conquerors? Spurs.

So whilst their two main title contenders had their eyes on a competition that in that far-off era was the season’s glamorous showpiece, Town quietly chugged along to the title, winning it with a less than impressive 56 points after a 2-0 home win against Aston Villa.

This year also marks the diamond jubilee of the Rolling Stones. Back then they were just an unknown bunch of kids copying Howling Wolf and other American blues players. The charts were dominated by a curious mix of establishment figures such as Acker Bilk playing Stranger on the Shore with his clarinet, Russ Conway tinkling the ivories, Frank Ifield yodelling his way through the Lovesick Blues, Ronnie Carroll crooning Roses are Red My Love, Rolf Harris singing Sun Arise – and more lively artists such as The Tornados strumming Telstar, The Shadows, with and without Cliff Richard, some American bloke called Elvis Presley fronting the The Jordanaires, Chubby Checker doing The Twist.

The times they were a changing. Alas for Ipswich Town, in the league it has never got quite so swinging as it was in 1962 – despite Bobby Robson’s best efforts.

Other teams have come close to Town’s achievement. Leicester recently won the Premier League in fairly miraculous circumstances and Brian Clough somehow took Nottingham Forest to the title straight after winning the Second Division. But only one other club has ever won the league at their very first attempt. And that was Preston in 1888/89 - the year the league was created.

I’ll admit I’m biased, but to my mind, winning the league at the very first time of asking is a diamond jubilee more worthy of a set of stamps than The Rolling Stones getting together.

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FrankfurtBlue added 17:01 - Jan 14
Good read.

Small correction: Forest were promoted in 3rd place. Town are the only ones to win the Second Division followed by the First Division.

ChrisFelix added 18:22 - Jan 14
Another brilliant blog. It's ironic we lost to Villa in 81 because of fixture congestion which caused injuries. Whereas in 62 the same thing happened to Burnley.
I always say Alf was a lucky manager where as Bobby was unlucky or the nearly manager. This also reoccurred as England boss


SanityBlue added 00:22 - Jan 15
A very enjoyable read, as usual. The 1961/62 season was before my time but memories of missing out on the league title in 1980/81 still hurt and my dislike of Aston Villa still persists. Something I didn't know about the 1961/62 team was that it had nine ever-presents or something close to it. It helps, or it did back then, if a team could use the same players consistently. I believe that in 1980/81 Aston Villa only used fourteen players and seven of them played all 42 league matches. You're right to bring up the parallels with Burnley. It was generally agreed they were the better team in 1961/62 just as we were the better team in 1980/81. The other parallel mentioned by you is that Burnley's FA Cup run undermined their quest for the title as it did us almost forty years later. In sport there are always preoccupations about what might have been. If a very average Aston Villa side could win the European Cup then it's reasonable to think Ipswich Town could have won it if they had been competing instead.

jabberjackson added 07:19 - Jan 15
Excellent piece
Not that much is written about the achievement these days, and this is a very balanced and illuminating read
Makes sense of the ying and yang of 81

SpiritOfJohn added 11:38 - Jan 15
An entertaining blog. It is always good to read a first hand account, but as you said "I went to a few games that unforgettable season, but I have to say I have forgotten all about them." Burnley and Spurs were the pre-season favourites, and you go on to say that Burnley were the best team in the league that season. In order to justify comparing Burnley and Ipswich (61/62) to Ipswich and Villa (80/81) Burnley would have had to beat Ipswich home and away, but that didn't happen. In fact, Ipswich played Burnley (champions in 59/60) away in their second fixture in Division 1 and lost 4-3 in a match that Alf Ramsey declared was the best Ipswich display he had witnessed. The return match was played just seven days later with Town running out 6-2 winners, giving Ipswich and incredible 9-6 win on aggregate over 2 games. Also, the claim that Ipswich had a "less than impressive" total of 56 points may seem correct by today's standards, but if you look at 'unlucky' Burnley's own title win from 2 years earlier you will find that they achieved a total of 55 points - one point ahead of Wolves, whereas 'lucky' Ipswich finished 3 points clear of second place.

SpiritOfJohn added 12:01 - Jan 15
@ChrisFelix I had to mark you down for calling Alf Ramsey a 'lucky' manager. The fact is that Ramsey inherited a team in Division 3 South in 1955 and won that league in 1957, followed by winning Division 2 in 1961 before becoming Champions of England in 1962. That is the equivalent of McKenna taking us to a Premier League title win by 2029! If McKenna achieves anything approaching that he will be rightly considered a football genius and that is how we should regard Sir Alf.

ElephantintheRoom added 12:48 - Jan 15
Thanks for the various comments and corrections - the blog was written from rose-tinted memory whilst isolating with Covid - but Forest winning the division after coming 3rd seems even more extraordinary.. I know what ChrisFelix means about Sir Alf being lucky - and Robson being unlucky - even John Cobbold intoned as much in a moment of presumably drunken exasperation. I suspect the reasons for the seemingly never ending injuries in Robson's teams go a bit deeper than just luck. Both Ramsey and Robson assembled teams rich in characters - but I suspect the players took fewer liberties with Ramsey - possibly they couldn't afford to as there's only so much you can get up to on a night out on a bicycle. Similarly those Villa players had to answer to the fearsome Ron Saunders - which might go some way to explainging their luck with injuries compared to Town. I also think the the effects of European ties were quite debilitating back in the day - another advantage for Alf Ramsey - at least in 61-62 - and Villa.

Kitman added 10:45 - Jan 17
Being of Georgian vintage, I am struggling with the claim that in '61 or '62 rationing had only just ended. This was 1954 as I recall. Not from a personal standpoint as I was a very small boy then, but '54 marked the end of it all. However, massive fan as I am of the Stones, I can't understand how they have managed to get their mugs on a set of stamps!!

Terrystowel added 05:22 - Jan 18
On holiday in the US at the moment and transported back to 61/62. I'd just left school and that season hitch-hiked twice to London to see the away wins against both Spurs and Arsenal. I can close my eyes and still remember in detail the 2 goals my hero, Ray Crawford, scored against Villa at Portman Road to clinch the title. I sometimes wonder if the more recent crop of players find our history and gallery of outstanding ex players and managers somewhat intimidating but let's hope McKenna's merry men can restore our former glories.

62WasBest added 17:45 - Jan 19
Are you sure FrankfurtBlue? I thought Liverpool, Spurs and Everton had too but none of them at their first attempt.

1psw1ch added 23:22 - Apr 13
Top man,, good luck Lee for the future and thanks for your services to the club, '👏
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