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Ipswich Town Sean Graham

 

Football has changed over the years, especially on the European scene.

I remember the days when I was growing up in the eighties when we used to have three European trophies to play for.

The big one was the European Cup (for the league winners) then there was the Cup Winners Cup, (for the winners of the Scottish Cup) and also the UEFA Cup (the League Cup and league placing’s got you a place in that).

But times have changed; football has gone money mad and look where that has got some clubs!

Now we only have two trophies to play for in Europe, the Champions League and the Europa League.

The Champions League, for example has the champions of the country and if you are in the English Premier League, you can have three other teams also going into the Champions League as up to fourth place will guarantee you maybe a couple of play-off matches before you get your chance of playing with the big boys.

Then we have the group stages also, which can through up some great teams playing each other.

More teams mean more matches on TV which means more money and these matches are spread over two nights, Tuesday and Wednesday which is fine if you have maybe two great semi-finals as we have had this year with the top two in Spain v the top two in Germany before you get to the final which is now a Saturday, this season we have seen the Scottish Cup final moved to the Sunday because UEFA want the Champions League as the stand alone match on the Saturday, which is fine but play it at the end of May or they could have brought the Scottish Cup forward.

I always refer to my days watching football as a child as the good old days, when there was more of a level playing field with teams and British clubs ruled the roost in Europe, for Chelsea this year in the Europa League, they still do !

The European adventure for Chelsea was a strange one, many thought that when they went out of the Champions League to drop in to the Europa League, this would be a mere distraction but as they reached Amsterdam, that could not be further from the truth.

After finishing third in their group, the least they could do was get to the final of the Europa League and try and win it, and with the resources they have it was no surprise that they did and congratulations to them.

Today especially, I am looking back on the anniversary of perhaps the finest moments in the history of Ipswich Town FC as on this day May 20th 1981, the club added a European trophy to their trophy room as they beat AZ 67 of Holland 5-4 over two legs to give them a famous victory.

After taking a 3-0 lead from the first match with goals from Wark, Thijssen and Mariner, then went to Holland in good spirits and although they started well, Thijssen scoring after only 4 minutes, they had to weather the storm a bit and eventually they lost 4-2 but they did come out 5-4 winners on aggregate, much to the delight of their travelling fans and the man who was to become a legend, the much loved and sadly missed, Sir Bobby Robson.

If you look back at the list of players they had in the great Ipswich era, Paul Cooper in goals, a defence of Steve McCall, captain Mick Mills, Russell Osman and Terry Butcher a midfield of Frans Thijssen, John Wark and Arnold Muhren with a front pairing of Paul Mariner, Alan Brazil and Eric Gates it was a fantastic side and this was a marvelous achievement, one which I don’t think we will see for a long, long time if ever again.

Sir Bobby Robson had a good mix of players in the team when he brought the Dutch duo of Muhren and Thijssen over and that could have been the final parts in the jigsaw to make this Ipswich Town team click at home and abroad.

One of the heroes of the 81 side, Dutch midfielder Frans Thijssen and he gave me his thoughts on joining the club, having Arnold Muhren in the side, winning the UEFA Cup and Sir Bobby Robson.

“Arnold was a great help for me in the beginning at Ipswich."

“Having two Dutch players in the midfield made it easier to change the style from long ball to the position game.”

Our problem was that our group was very small. We had injuries at the end of that season and Ipswich could not replace these players"

Ipswich had a great season and could have won a treble but were pipped by Aston Villa for the League and had gone out of the FA Cup after a defeat by Manchester City when a Paul Power goal gave City a 1-0 win, for this fantastic side all roads lead to Europe and the final of the UEFA Cup.

But going into that final, did the players feel nervous?

“This was our last chance to win a big prize.”

“It was special game for Arnold and me because we played against the champions of Holland and we knew they had some very good players in the team”

“I remember that I had just recovered from a hamstring injury and scoring in both games was a great feeling.”

“John (Wark) was the scoring machine from midfield, he scored so many great goals for the club."

“After the first leg we felt very optimistic , we had a 3-0 lead but the second leg was not easy. They made it very difficult for us and I was very happy to hear the final whistle. as we lost 4-2”

“After the disappointments in that year it was great to win the UEFA Cup in our own country.”

“Coming home to Ipswich the next day and the celebrations with all the supporters was an unforgettable moment in my career.”

“ Everybody was very relieved after the game, we had a great season with so many good players and in the end we won the UEFA Cup”

Behind that special side there was a special man and Frans echoed the thoughts of all the players.

“Bobby Robson looked after us very well. We felt at home from the beginning, he was the first manager who brought players from abroad into English football.”

“The relationship was very good between the players and the manager.he was the boss but every player wanted to give something extra for him.”

“Bobby Robson was a father figure for Arnold and me. He was always helpful and interested.

He made us feel very welcome and was very important for my career.”

God Bless Sir Bobby Robson and his fantastic Ipswich Town side of 81

 

 

Sean Graham

Follow on Twitter @FeaturesSean


"I am just a guy who has over 40 years of memories of watching various clubs and matches since my Dad took me round the grounds in Glasgow each week before we went to meet my Mum after work and we always went to the Berni Inn where I had scampi and chips !

From watching Aberdeen, Celtic, Rangers, Partick Thistle, Maryhill juniors and Scotland as well as watching Everton and Manchester United, I have plenty of memories to share for fans to hopefully enjoy and remember."

 

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