Butcher: After Such a Magnificent Season We Had to Win One Trophy
Wednesday, 20th May 2020 06:00
Today is the 39th anniversary of Town’s UEFA Cup final second leg triumph over Dutch side AZ 67 Alkmaar in Amsterdam, so TWTD asked Blues legend Terry Butcher what he remembered of the two games which saw the Blues to European glory at the end of what’s generally regarded as the club’s greatest ever season.
Town went into the second leg of the tie 3-0 up after a pulsating 3-0 victory in the first leg at Portman Road on May 6th - coincidentally the same date as the FA Cup final three years beforehand - with John Wark, from the penalty spot, Frans Thijssen and Paul Mariner grabbing the goals.
However, they had tasted bitter disappointment on the preceding Saturdays, first losing 1-0 to Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final, then losing 2-1 at Middlesbrough to hand the First Division title to Aston Villa.
Butcher, now 61 and back working at the club coaching in the academy and the legend-in-residence on BBC Radio Suffolk's Life's a Pitch, says the Blues' Dutch opponents were an unfamiliar side going into the first match.
“We didn’t know much about them, they weren’t Ajax, they weren’t PSV, they weren’t Feyenoord,” he said.
“But they were immaculate that year, they won the league, they won the cup, they could have won the treble. They were a strong, strong team.
“We’d been chasing the title and had gone out of the FA Cup and when you’re in the final of a competition you want to win it, and it was the last one of the three.
“I think we felt we’d come this far, we’d got to go and lift it and have something at the end of the season. I think everyone was worried that we weren’t going to win anything after such a magnificent season, we wanted to win at least one trophy.
“The first leg was one of our best games of the season, we had everybody back fit, everybody was pumped up and the crowd was absolutely jam-packed, what a noise, it was absolutely incredible.
“It was one of those nights that you play football for, you live for those nights. If you’re going to have a perfect football night, that was probably it.
“But then afterwards you’ve still got a second leg to go. However, after what we’d seen playing against them there was no way they were going to come back and get the goals necessary.
“Although to be fair to a lot of the boys who had played for Ipswich before, with a 3-0 lead going into second legs of UEFA Cup games, Ipswich didn’t have a particularly good record.”
Even if they had a mountain to climb, AZ certainly didn’t give up ahead of their home leg, which was played at the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam as their home ground wasn’t considered up to the required standard with 6,000 Blues making the trip across the North Sea.
“In the second leg Alkmaar played a 2-4-4, it was like Watford under Graham Taylor,” Butcher remembered. “They played the two centre-backs, Johnny Metgod - who later played for Nottingham Forest - and big Ronald Spelbos, he was a big lump of a guy.
“They just went man for man all over the pitch with the four up and the four in midfield. Very bold.
“But we scored first through Frans, they equalised, then we scored our second [Wark with his European record-equalling 14th of the campaign] and then they equalised again, and then they got two more. But they had to score another two to beat us because we’d got the away goals.
“My God after that game you’re thinking ‘Wow, what a game that was!'. You don’t ever want to play in one of those games again because they just had men everywhere. I thought they had about 30 men on the pitch, I couldn’t believe it.
“I’ve never seen a team so committed and so gung-ho and attack-minded and positive, it was phenomenal. Watford were strong but these guys were technically good, pressurised us, we could never pass the ball, we couldn’t get out.
“My goodness, it was an immense performance from them, they really did themselves proud to come back. For us it was a case of not caring how we won it, just win it.
“Afterwards we celebrated, we stayed overnight in Amsterdam, we had a meal afterwards but it wasn’t much of a big party like they had in 1978.
“In 1978 at the Royal Garden Hotel was a really good party, a really good night. A lot of the boys went their own way into Amsterdam and just had a very quiet one.”
Butcher admits it was a relief to win the UEFA Cup after a season which had promised to bring a treble until the final weeks.
“Yes, it was still a marvellous feat and what a marvellous season, 66 games,” he recalled. “If you’d said at the start of the season that we were going to play all those games, you’d have known we were going to have some season and hopefully we were going to win something, which was obviously the aim at the start.
“We didn’t know how good we could be until we started to get going. We were comfortable in our positions, we were comfortable with each other, very comfortable, we knew each other, there was just an incredible synergy in there, that understanding that you had with one another was unbelievable.
“The training, you worked on good things, we worked on what we wanted to do and we just blitzed a lot of teams, particularly in Europe. We blitzed a lot of teams and we got what we deserved by winning it, I think we were the best team in the competition but you’ve still got to go and win it.
“And in the league we beat Aston Villa twice, home and away, as well as once in the cup. But you’ve got to take your hat off to them because they got it right and we didn’t.
“The fixture list and the injuries brought us down and affected our momentum as we chased three trophies.
“It wouldn’t happen so much now because teams have bigger squads but in those days, it was still a good squad we had, big enough, but when some of the internationals got injured, the Mariners, the Thijssens and all those people, George Burley had a cruciate injury in January, once they took their toll it was always going to be more difficult for us.
“They were playing Saturday to Saturday, whereas at Easter we played Saturday, Monday, Wednesday, Saturday. That takes it out of you. There was only one sub in those days, you didn’t have the seven you have these days.
“We used a helluva lot more players than they did and the guys that came in did very well but sometimes as a team you get one or two players out and you’re definitely never going to be a strong as when they were in.
“Everybody had a go and was just proud to be part of that. You look at the final team and the players that had come through the youth system was very, very good. Brazil, Gates, Wark, McCall, me, Russell. That’s a lot. It was unbelievable to be a part of it because of the youthfulness of the team.”
Photo: Action Images
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