Chris Clark looks back at a great period of football with Ipswich’s Paul Mariner
Whilst Studio 54 was the place to hang out for the disco fraternity in the 1970s, Portman Road was the place to be if you wanted to see some glittering football during that time. Not only were Ipswich Town shaking their groove thing in the league, they were also boogying past some of the continent’s best sides in European competition.
Bobby Robson had taken over the quaint Suffolk club in 1969, and through time he had built a side with strength and quality in each department. During Robson’s early days in charge of Ipswich, he had guided them to a UEFA Cup place in 1973, and their 1st game in Europe was against Real Madrid. Inconceivably, Ipswich beat them over two legs. In the following years, Ipswich also beat Barcelona twice at home in European competition. However, Ipswich never progressed beyond the quarter-finals in their first four European campaigns. Their fifth – in the 1980/81season – was about to change everything.
Under Robson, Ipswich were a consistent threat in every competition they entered. The side had established British international footballers throughout; Mick Mills, George Burley, Terry Butcher, John Wark, Kevin Beattie, Paul Mariner and Alan Brazil. Added to this British steel and endeavour was the Dutch flair of Frans Thijssen and Arnold Muhren, who were brought into the club from FC Twente in 1978. Whilst Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa captured the media attention at Tottenham Hotspur, Thijssen and Muhren’s impact was arguably greater for the Portman Road side.
Ipswich’s UEFA Cup campaign began at home to the Greeks, Aris Salonkia. Ipswich were too good for them, especially John Wark, who bagged four in a 5-1 victory. The 2nd leg was surely a formality for the English side – “Aris Salonkia gave us a fright over in Greece when we were so wary of behaving ourselves that the aggression which is part and parcel of our normal game disappeared. Having said that, however, we did not play well and we were extremely grateful for Eric Gates’ goal which made the tie safe. At that point we trailed 3-0 and another goal to Aris would have taken them through.” – Bobby Robson talking after the game was a relieved man, as Ipswich despite winning the 1st leg 5-1, squeezed through 6-4 on aggregate.
This wobbly away form, despite dominating the 1st leg, continued into the next round. Bohemians of Czechoslovakia were beaten comfortably at Portman Road 3-0, and again it was that man Wark who was the star, bagging another two goals. It transpired that Bobby Robson was unable to scout Bohemians himself, as there were no flights to Czechoslovakia on a Sunday in 1980, and had he decided to make the trip to Czechoslovakia on the Saturday before, he would have missed Ipswich’s game against Manchester United. These were different times! Maybe this lack of scouting nearly cost Ipswich dear, as they trailed Bohemians 2-0 with 25 minutes to go. However, centre forward Paul Mariner was never in any doubt that Ipswich would progress “they would never have knocked us out, we had the game under control.” Ipswich did indeed progress 3-2 on aggregate, and onto the last sixteen to face the Poles, Widzew Lodz.
Against Widzew, John Wark was at it again, as he scored a hat-trick as Widzew were walloped 5-0. Wark had now scored 9 goals in 3 UEFA Cup home games. Astonishing. The second leg in Poland was a non-event. The Polish side won the game 1-0, but Wark had done all the damage in the first game.
Onto the quarter-finals, and Ipswich were paired with St. Etienne the French giants, who had beaten Hamburg 5-0 away from home in the previous round. St. Etienne included in their ranks, Patrick Battison, Dutch ace Johnny Rep and a young French goalscoring midfielder…Michel Platini. Ipswich won 4-1 in France, a result which shocked the rest of Europe. Two goal hero on the night Paul Mariner remembers the night well “St. Etienne had not lost a home game for a long, long time, and when we arrived at the stadium we thought we had the wrong kick off time, because the stadium was packed around 2 hours before kick-off. They came out flying and got a goal through Rep, however we did not panic. We kept playing our brand of football on a bad surface, and eventually we played them off the park. Platini was very quiet after Russell Osman gave him a strong challenge, which was timed to perfection. We didn’t see much of Michel after that!”
Ipswich were also riding high in the 1st Division at the time, and were hot on the tails of League leaders Aston Villa. Robson’s boys were also still in the FA Cup, and in between the games against St. Etienne had a quarter-final away to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest. The match was a pulsating 3-3 draw at the City Ground, and Ipswich won the replay 1-0 three days later at Portman Road. They had made the semi-finals of the FA Cup, could they do likewise in the UEFA?
On March 18th 1981 protecting a 4-1 1st leg victory over the French side, Bobby Robson insisted that his side would not be fooled into going through the motions, and they certainly didn’t. Ipswich won 3-1, with John Wark again scoring at home. St. Etienne, Platini et al, were dumped out of the UEFA Cup 7-2 on aggregate. What a magnificent performance by Robson’s men.
It was now the business end of the season. In the space of seven days, Ipswich were playing the 1st leg of the UEFA Cup semi-final at home to Cologne, an FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City, then a top of the table clash away to Aston Villa.
Cologne were first up, managed by the experienced Dutchman Rinus Michels, and boasting a side full of German Internationals, which included; Harald Schumacher, Pierre Littbarksi and Rainer Bonhof. Spearheading the Cologne attack was England centre forward Tony Woodcock, however the Ipswich players had a special plan to negate Tony’s game. “We put Tony off his game by giving him a pork pie and sausage roll 5 minutes before kick-off, Tony loves his grub” confessed his England team-mate Paul Mariner. Ipswich won the game 1-0, there’s no need to ask who scored Ipswich’s goal. OK, it was that man Wark! So was pastry the key to victory against the German side “No it wasn’t just that, haha! We beat them with immense skill and determination” said centre forward Mariner.
Three days after this match, Ipswich moved onto Villa Park for the FA Cup Semi Final against Manchester City. They narrowly lost in extra time 1-0, with the magnificently-moustached Paul Power striking home a free kick. As well as this late cruel defeat Ipswich also suffered a season-ending injury to enigmatic midfielder Kevin Beattie.
Ipswich returned to Villa Park three days later to take on League leaders Aston Villa, as the two top sides in the country clashed. Would the FA Cup semi-final defeat weigh heavy on their minds? Not a chance, Ipswich won 2-1 with goals from Alan Brazil and Eric Gates. Ipswich had now moved into prime position in the league, it was in their hands. However, disaster was to strike as they lost their next two league games, before the 2nd leg of the UEFA Cup semi-final. As Mariner reflects, “I think in hindsight the squad was a little thin in depth, it just caught up with us in certain games.” Ipswich in fact only won one of their last five league games.
Knocked out of the FA Cup at the semi-final stage, giving advantage back to Aston Villa in the title race, would Ipswich’s season come to a crushing halt in West Germany on 22nd April 1981? Ipswich defended their 1-0 1st leg lead stoutly, repelling wave after wave of Cologne pressure, until the 64th minute, when a Mick Mills free kick was headed home by Terry Butcher…1-0 Ipswich! The Germans now needed three to make the final, they didn’t even get one. Ipswich had done it!
The UEFA Cup final was played over two legs, and the Dutch side AZ Alkmaar would visit Portman Road on 6th May 1981. Ipswich were imperious, they swept aside Alkmaar 3-0. Ipswich were 3-0 up after 55 minutes; it was a dominant display. Scotsman Wark kept up his record of scoring in every UEFA Cup tie at Portman Road that season. In fact, throughout the 1980/81 season, Wark scored 36 goals in all competitions, an incredible 14 came in the UEFA Cup. Wark’s goalscoring form saw him crowned Young European Footballer of the Year, as well as the PFA Player of the Year.
The return fixture in the Netherlands two weeks later was surely a formality with the 3-0 lead, “We had too much experience to think it was over, they had a terrific side, however we were running on fumes after a long, long season in England.” Paul Mariner was still wary of the threat from the Dutch side, however Ipswich got off to the perfect start, with Frans Thijssen volleying home after 3 minutes. AZ knew they had to respond quickly and they did, cancelling out Ipswich’s early strike, four minutes later. In fact, both sides traded goals in an entertaining first half. The Dutch side led 3-2 at the break, but trailed 5-3 on aggregate.
Alkmaar needed three more for victory, as Ipswich had scored two away goals. The 2nd half was a cagier affair, and a long range stormer from Jonkers gave AZ a 4-2 lead, but they couldn’t score anymore. Ipswich Town had done it, they had won the UEFA Cup!! “It was a relief when the final whistle went, we were running on empty. They were amazing scenes after the game. You cannot take away what this group of players did. I will never forget this time.” Paul Mariner certainly didn’t 35 years on.
In a season of sixty-seven games, Ipswich Town had won the UEFA Cup, finished 2nd in the league to Aston Villa and been semi-finalists in the FA Cup. It was an amazing season for Ipswich and Paul Mariner “The over-riding emotion was, that we were a special squad of players, put together by Sir Bobby. We beat the Champions, Villa, three times that season, twice in the league, and once in the FA Cup, and they went on to be European Champions the following year.”
Defending their UEFA Cup crown in the next campaign, Ipswich ran into another rising force in British football, Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen, and were dumped out in the 1st round. Ipswich again finished the season in 2nd place, this time to Liverpool. During the 1981/82 season, Bobby Robson was courted by England, and he took charge of England after the 1982 World Cup. Once he departed, Ipswich Town were never the same again.
© Chris Clark 2015
*Bobby Robson quotes taken from Ipwich Town Match Day programme 22nd October 1980*