16. Feb, 2022


Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy are not the best of buddies. The pair famously fell out as the Republic Of Ireland prepared for the 2002 World Cup. Manager McCarthy sent his captain home after Keane criticised the teams training facilities.

But if the headstrong pair ever decided to bury the hatchet, they could discuss their experiences of managing Ipswich Town. Oh, yes Ipswich Town the fallen giant from a small town.

Ipswich is the county town of Suffolk, the rural corner of Eastern England splendly depicted in the paintings of John Constable. TV viewers in the 1980's saw plenty of Suffolk courtesy of Lovejoy. The series followed the exploits of the antique dealer as he chased masterpieces and attractive Suffolk maidens. The lovable rogue was played by Ian McShane. The actor is an avid Manchester United fan, but I dare say he was impressed by the other pride of Suffolk.

Like Lovejoy, Ipswich Town were familiar faces on TV screens in the era of Duran Duran, The Dukes of Hazzard and The Rubik Cube. The team from Portman Road were one of the finest in Europe.

Aside from been an excellent side, Town were a very likable club. Their chairman was John Cobbold, owner of the Suffolk brewery Tolly Cobbold. Known as Gentlemen John, the Town chairman was rather fond of his own product. Many a time the air turned blue as a merry Ipswich chairman employed Anglo Saxon language. During a rare sticky spell a journalist asked if there was a crisis at Portman Road. "No, dear boy. the only crisis here is when the board room has run out of brandy." You can almost here those words been uttered by Terry Thomas.

With apologises to Norwich City fans, that likeable factor extended to the dug out. Bobby Robson was appointed Ipswich Town manager in 1969. Robson had a habit of forgetting players names. Now all these tales may create a picture of country bumpkins who occasionally upset their big city rivals.

But don't be fooled, Bobby Robson was an excellent manager who was assisted by the best youth policy in the country. The Town scouts cast their nets far and wide. Full Back George Burley, midfielder John Wark and striker Alan Brazil came from Scotland. Kevin Beattie and David Geddis were born in Carlisle, Russell Osman was a proud Yorkshireman while Eric Gates was spotted in the North East.

Closer to home local lads Brian Talbot Terry Butcher and Roger Osborne all became Town legends. Butcher and Talbot went on to be capped by England. Ipswich were captained by Mick Mills. The Surrey born full back won 42 England caps

On the rare occasions Ipswich entered the transfer market, Robson again excelled. Goalkeeper Paul Cooper was a bit part player at Birmingham City but made 575 appearances for Town. A solid shot stopper, Cooper acquired a reputation for saving penalties. He once saved two Derby County spot kicks in a 1-1 draw. In 1976 striker Paul Mariner arrived from Plymouth Argyle. Mariner was the clubs record signing when the Blues shelled out £220.000 Yet Mariner paid back every penny scoring 136 goals for the club. The Lancastrian went on to play for England in the 1982 World Cup.

In 1977 Ipswich finished 4th in the First Division. However, the following season they surprisingly struggled in the league. The FA Cup provided ample compensation. Town beat highly fancied West Bromwich Albion in the Semi Final. Goals from Talbot, Mills and Wark sealing a famous 3-1 Highbury victory. Appropriately The Blues faced Arsenal at Wembley.

Despite been underdogs Robson's men dominated the match. They must have thought their luck was out as Wark and Mariner hit the post while The Gunners rarely threatened. But the breakthrough finally arrived on 77 Minutes. David Geddis made good tracks on the right, the blonde forward pulled the ball back for Roger Osborne. The midfielder didn't hesitate as his first time shot flew past Pat Jennings and into the Arsenal net. ONE-NIL bellowed legendary commentator David Coleman. Osborne was totally overcome by emotion and had to be substituted soon afterwards.

Ipswich comfortably hung on to win the FA Cup for the first time in their history. Mick Mills lifted the cup to delight the hoards from Suffolk. It was the clubs first major trophy since winning the First Division title in 1962. Managed by a certain Alf Ramsey, Ipswich remarkably were crowned champions in their first top flight season. Town had only been elected to the League in 1936.

Bobby Robson's side now set their sights on a second league title. In the next two seasons they finished 6th and 3rd. During this period Robson signed Dutch midfielders Arnold Muhren and Frans Thjjssen. Both imports were a massive success and Ipswich Town were playing some wonderful football. In March 1980 Manchester United were hammered 5-0 at Portman Road. United were lucky to escape with that scoreline. Red Devils goalkeeper Gary Bailey saved 2 Ipswich penalties. Ironically, Bailey's Father had played for Ipswich in the 1960's.

The 1980-81 season will never be forgotten by Ipswich fans (team pictured above). At one stage three trophies looked to be destined for Portman Road. In early Spring Ipswich were top of the First Division, FA Cup Semi Finalists and UEFA Cup Finalists.

Aston Villa were Ipswich's biggest rivals in the Championship race. Villa were an excellent side. Managed by Ron Saunders the Midlands club included Gordon Cowans and Tony Morley in midfield. They also boosted the strike force of Peter Withe and Gary Shaw, probably the best pairing in Europe.

But Town seemed to be home and hosed when they won at Villa Park in early April. Eric Gates splendid strike silenced the Holte End and completed the league double over their closest challengers. They were very firmly in the box seat, one point clear and with a game in hand.

Yet two old foes delivered fatal blows, first Arsenal won 2-0 at Portman Road. Then 5 days later Norwich won the East Anglican derby at Carrow Road Going into the last game of the season Ipswich had to better Villa's result. Both teams were away. Town faced Middlesbrough at Aryesome Park while Villa traveled to Highbury.

It looked so promising at half time. Ipswich were leading 1-0 while Arsenal held the same advantage over Villa. Step forward Bosko Jankovic. Middlesbrough's Serbian striker scored twice in the second half to sink Town. Many feel Ipswich's greater workload was the deciding factor. Town played 66 games compared to Villa's 44. However, Aston Villa played 14 intense local derbies while Ipswich had just 2 encounters with Norwich.

There was further heartache in the FA Cup Semi Final. Paul Power's blistering free kick giving Manchester City victory, to add insult to injury the game was held at Villa Park.

The UEFA Cup Final was now the last hope of silverware remaining. Ipswich opponents were Dutch side AZ Alkmaar. The final was held over 2 legs. Frans Thjjssen must have enjoyed the First Leg, he scored against his fellow countrymen as Town won 3-0 at Portman Road. The other goals coming from Wark and Mariner. It looked a done deal but Town were given an almighty fright in the Second leg, Alkmaar won 4-2 in the Netherlands. In the end Town were indebted to goals from Thjjssen and Wark. John Wark's fabulous volley completed a 5-4 victory on aggregate

It was fitting that Robson''s boys gained some reward for an excellent season. A year later they finished First Division runners up again. This time Liverpool pipped them to the title. Bobby Robson left soon afterwards. The genial Geordie followed in Alf Ramsey's footsteps becoming England manager in 1983. That marked the end of Ipswich' golden era.

They currently play in League One with fellow sleeping giants. Sunderland, Portsmouth and Sheffield Wednesday. But the passion remains. Last Saturday 7,000 travelling fans followed the Town at MK Dons. Pretty Impressive considering Ipswich population numbers just 116,000 (2019 figures).