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Mühren, Thijssen and Williams on Life's a Pitch
Friday, 17th Feb 2017 13:15

Arnold Mühren, Frans Thijssen and Jonny Williams are the star guests on Saturday's Life’s a Pitch, which comes live from the FanZone on BBC Radio Suffolk (midday to 2pm). Host Mark Murphy will also be joined by legend-in-residence Kevin Beattie, New Tractorboy and TWTD’s Phil Ham.

The two Dutchmen will be in Planet Blue from 11am-midday and then the FanZone signing copies of Game Changers, Tom van Hulsen’s new book about the duo and their time with the Blues and in Legends after the match. Unsigned copies of the book are available from TWTD here. You can read an extract at the bottom of this page.

On-loan Palace man Williams is on the way back from a shoulder injury and has been pencilled in for a return to action with the U23s on March 6th when Gerard Nash’s side face Bristol City at Playford Road.

Can Town continue their excellent February form against Leeds? Who will replace the suspended Tom Lawrence? Give us your thoughts on those questions or anything else via email, Mark’s Twitter or during the show by phone on 01473 212121 or text to 81333 starting your message with SFK.

The show can be heard on 95.5FM, 95.9FM, 103.9FM and 104.6FM, and also now on DAB, or online via a widget on this page by clicking here.

You can read a preview of one of the first chapters of Game Changers
about Arnold Mühren's arrival in Ipswich below.





‘Look over there,’ Bobby Robson says, ‘there is Portman Road.’ Arnold Mühren and his wife Geerie are looking down from the small, private aeroplane. They see innumerable blocks of houses, a small harbour, a railway line and a train station along the side of a river. And yes, a bit further away, the unmistakable outline of a football stadium looms. There it is: the floodlights, the roofs over the stands and, when they fly right above the ground, a field as green as the baize atop a snooker table. ‘Nice!’ Arnold calls out, feeling somewhat uncomfortable.

It is August 15 1978. Arnold, together with his wife, has agreed to the flight, mainly to not disappoint Bobby Robson. The manager of Ipswich Town had come to his home town of Volendam one day earlier, especially for him. Arnold feels greatly honoured by this. After disagreements with FC Twente and a departure that left him feeling quite upset, he is without a club. Now he is faced with the possibility of playing his football in England, which he knows would represent a huge step for him and his family.

The night before Arnold had looked up the final First Division standings in the previous season, 1977-78, where he finds Ipswich fifth from the bottom and a mere three points away from relegation. The champions, Nottingham Forest, gained 29 points more and they had quite a reputation by now, alongside the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United, as giants of the English game. But Ipswich Town? He once played over there with FC Twente, in a testimonial match for Ipswich skipper Mick Mills, but he can remember little of the occasion. The fact that Ipswich Town had won the FA Cup a few months earlier, he thought, had probably been no more than an occasional peak.

When journalist Jaap de Groot of Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf had called him to ask about the rumour that he could be moving to Ipswich, Mühren had said in all fairness that he did not know yet. Privately, he was far from certain that it would be a good idea. ‘I kind of dread it a wee bit,’ he had said on the phone. ‘But, on the other hand, it might be a possibility to get a new start in professional football.’ Geerie, anxious to pinpoint the location of Ipswich, had taken along a world atlas. After some searching she had pointed it out: there, in the south east of England.

Next to the Ipswich Town stadium a group of footballers are on the training pitch. Bobby Robson’s assistant, Bobby Ferguson, has instructed the players well: today Robson will come to the club in the company of a big player and the manager wants to do everything he can to persuade him to sign a contract. The group of players are instructed to wave for a few moments when the small plane appears overhead, by way of a special welcome to the big player on board. It’s a Dutchman, they are told. Captain Mick Mills, who is regularly being asked by Bobby Robson about his opinion on players, briefs his team-mates. He recalls the time, three years earlier in 1975, when Ipswich were invited to take part in a preseason tournament hosted by FC Twente. ‘Afterwards everyone talked about only one player,’ Mills says. ‘He played an exceptional game in midfield. Well, that was Arnold Mühren. He has also played football at Ajax along with Johan Cruyff and Gerrie Mühren happens to be his brother.’ Right on cue, the Ipswich Town players start waving frantically to the plane as it buzzes overhead.

‘Well, look at that,’ gasps Geerie Mühren, Arnold’s wife, who finds the flight to be quite exciting. She is not unsympathetic towards a new adventure, but she has no idea what to expect of Ipswich. It’s all been like a roller coaster. There has been no time to let things sink in. Less than a day ago the doorbell rang at their Volendam home. Ton van Dalen, the manager of FC Twente, the club with whom her husband was in conflict, was standing on the doorstep along with a man she didn’t know or recognise. The stranger spoke in English to introduce himself as ‘Bobby Robson, manager of Ipswich Town.’ Was Arnold at home? No, she explained, he was on the training pitch at FC Volendam, where he has been working out ever since he decided he would never play football again for FC Twente of Enschede.

Geerie couldn’t possibly leave the men alone in the house and called brother-in-law Albert Tuijp. ‘Could you please call Arnold in from the field and tell him there’s an Englishman at our kitchen table to see him,’ she asked. Fifteen minutes later a sweaty Arnold entered the house and introduced himself. Ton van Dalen had told him that Ipswich Town were interested and that Bobby Robson had come to the Netherlands especially to meet him. On August 4, during a pre-season tournament in Bruges in which his Ipswich team participated, Robson had been tipped off by Hans Kraay, the manager of AZ ’67 Alkmaar, about Muhren’s availability. Robson had told him that he was an admirer of Dutch football and that he was looking for a left-footed midfield player. Without any hesitation Kraay mentioned the name Arnold Mühren. And, he added, in case Mühren isn’t interested, then perhaps he could try for Jan van Dijk of FC Groningen.

And so the English manager finds himself sitting at the kitchen table in Volendam. ‘It’s a nice village,’ he observes. In other circumstances, he adds, he would have been happy to take the opportunity to explore further. But his business is urgent and the Mührens, not just Arnold but the entire family, have to know straight away. Robson actually wants Arnold to put his signature on a contract before 12pm the next day, because that will make him eligible to play for Ipswich Town the following month, in the first stage of the European Cup Winners’ Cup tournament, coincidentally against none other than Kraay’s club, AZ ’67 Alkmaar. ‘I understand all of this must have taken you by surprise,’ Robson explains, ‘but I would like to invite you to fly with me from Schiphol Airport to Ipswich tomorrow, early in the morning, so I can show you our club.’

So here they are, high up in the sky, right above Ipswich, the four of them – the pilot, Bobby Robson, Arnold and Geerie – in a private plane the English manager has hired for £1,000 in the hope that it will enable him to conclude a deal. It’s a fine, clear summer’s day in Ipswich and once they have left Portman Road and the waving players behind they can see the local airport in the distance. As the plane comes into land Arnold expresses his surprise. ‘It seems to be pretty crowded’, he exclaims. ‘What are all those people doing out there?’ Bobby Robson tries to make him understand that they have come to catch a glimpse of him. But that must be a joke for sure, Arnold thinks. Who on earth would know him over here in England?

But as soon as the aircraft doors are opened, and Arnold and Geerie walk down the stairway, there is a loud cheer from hundreds of people, all of them adorned with Ipswich Town scarves and caps. ‘Now I really feel like I’m Paul McCartney,’ Arnold says to Geerie. ‘Incredible. After all, this is the country where football was invented. Or do they perhaps think that I am Johan Cruyff?’

It is just after 10 o’clock in the morning, less than two hours before the European registration deadline that Bobby Robson is so keen to beat. Bobby says he would like to show the Mühren family the accommodation they can move into temporarily once the contract has been signed: it’s a hotel suite. They like the sound of that. And indeed, the room appears to be particularly luxurious and Arnold and Geerie are really impressed. That is, until Bobby Robson puts his foot in it. He tells them: ‘An elderly lady lived in this suite but it’s vacant now, because she passed away here last week.’ Geerie turns to Arnold, terror-stricken, and he notices her doubt. She’s convinced that this is a bad sign. Arnold looks at his watch, paces slowly up and down the room, contemplating his next move. Then his mind is made up. ‘I am sorry, Mr Robson,' he says. ‘We think it’s all very impressive, but under these circumstances I can’t make the right decision.’

Bobby Robson is heavily disappointed and that affects Mühren. He feels that he is accountable to the man who has gone to so much trouble for him. In the car, on the way back to Portman Road, he shares his story. ‘I will try to explain to you why I can’t make any hasty decisions,’ says Mühren, who is perfectly capable of making himself understood in English. He talks about his transfer from Ajax to FC Twente in 1974. He has had a great time in Enschede but around a year ago Ajax wanted to re-sign him and take him back to Amsterdam. Mühren informed Ajax president Jaap van Praag that he would like to play football at FC Twente for one more season, but that he would want to rejoin them after that year. According to Arnold, he came to a mutual agreement with Ton van Dalen and president Ferry Fransen of FC Twente: they gave him their permission to leave the year after, in 1978, for 400,000 guilders. Mühren started playing even better football, was capped for the Dutch national team and also played in the semi-final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup with FC Twente.

Before the summer had begun Ajax stood on his doorstep again: the club confirmed their intention to buy him for the 400,000 guilders that was agreed upon. But suddenly FC Twente demanded double that amount and denied that any agreement was in place. ‘I was under the impression that we had a gentlemen’s agreement,’ Mühren says. ‘Then I said that I no longer wanted to play football for FC Twente and so I just started to work out by myself at my old club in Volendam. I had kept on my house in the village, so it was no problem moving back in there again right away. But what I mean to say, Mr Robson, is that all this has happened too quickly for us. If I was to sign for Ipswich Town permanently I would need an agent, because I would never want to experience such a thing ever again.’

Photo: TWTD

Please report offensive, libellous or inappropriate posts by using the links provided.

whosroundisitanyway added 13:49 - Feb 17
Pre-ordered a signed copy, not received yet.
Looks like I could have saved on postage & got it earlier?

PhilTWTD added 14:17 - Feb 17
The idea of pre-order was more to give an idea of how many copies needed to be printed and to guarantee gettingsigned copies rather than for earlier arrival. We've only just got them but they'll be with you early in the week.

JonB65 added 14:23 - Feb 17
Can you confirm that if I pre ordered on 2nd February I will get a signed copy please?

PhilTWTD added 15:22 - Feb 17

Yes, one winging its way to you.

Seasider added 18:33 - Feb 17
Like the above placed an order when first put on here(Order No.T 0083)Cost £18.59.

Not sure if it was for a signed copy;but as I havn't yet received book presumed that they would be signed by Arnold & Frans tomorrow,and then sent.

Sorry to trouble you Phil but can you confirm that my order will be winging its way to Essex shortly,signed or not?

itfchorry added 20:36 - Feb 17
Now there's a midfield !

PhilTWTD added 14:14 - Feb 18

Sorry, only just seen your post, all copies bought are on their way. Signed by Frans and Arnold in Holland earlier in the week and posted as soon as we got them!

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