Tuesday, 3 April 2012

GUEST BLOG: 'George Best ran us ragged and the crowd were baying for Bobby Robson's head'

When my sister and I were travelling to Vicarage Road last weekend we bumped into some Newcastle United fans spending the day in London.

They asked who we were playing that day and we chatted a little about how well our respective teams were doing recently.

As is always the way, the conversation soon lead to the great days of Ipswich Town and the man both clubs adore: Sir Bobby Robson. How nice it always is to hear how fondly he is thought of by others as well as us.

Ipswich Town. You hear those two words and the first things that come to mind are surely Sir Alf and Sir Bobby. The two greatest men in our history are now forever locked in the bricks of Portman Road - as visitors can now opt to sit in either the Sir Alf Ramsey stand or the Sir Bobby Robson stand.

Doesn't it make you proud?!

Following on from the great guest blog from my Dad about the days of Sir Alf, I thought it relevant to publish this wondeful blog about Sir Bobby sent to me by Andrew Barnard (you may know him as @FelstedBoy!):

Its been an easy choice to think of a topic to write about: Sir Bobby Robson.

When he arrived at Portman Road most people said "who"? Apparently he was'nt even the boards first choice!

You've probably seen the picture of a fresh faced, youthful Robert Robson being greeted at Ipswich station by John Cobbold. It must have been an "interesting" interview, knowing the Cobbolds liking for a drink! They clearly saw something in him that impressed them, particularly as the outgoing manager - Bill McGarry - was almost the exact opposite to Bobby.

He wasn't welcomed by the older players at first, who thought what does this young guy know? After the well documented dressing room fight with Baxter and Carroll thoguh, he managed to establish himself as The Boss.

It started off slowly, with a relegation fight, but the signings of Robertson and Clarke were enough to keep us up. From then it was a steady building job, by bringing in young players through the youth system. This was helped by Chief Scout Ron Grey, who knew how to pick a youngster, and the club set up a youth system that became the envy of most other clubs.

I remember the League Cup game against Manchester United when George Best ran us ragged: The crowd were baying for Bobbys head! The next morning he got a call from Mr John asking him to come into the office, he must have feared the worst! When he got there John apologised to Bobby for the crowd's behaviour (and soothed things over with another drink no doubt!).

The following years saw us produce the best football ever seen at Portman Road. Then the European nights started. The first Uefa cup match I saw was against Real Madrid, 1-0 Mick Mills. What followed was 10 years of the best European teams coming to Ipswich.

Year after year taking on the best teams in the land, and coming within 45 minutes of winning the league.I think at this time we all thought it would last forever: winning cups and being one of the best teams in the country.

I think we must have been every football fan's 'second team', all because we played such great football. Our players also graced many international teams, often captaining them.

Sir Bobby changed our style of play by being one of the first to bring in foreign players. He used a sports physcologist, changed diets and training methods. Of course this led to many tempting offers to work overseas, but he had only one job he would leave Ipswich for, England.

Can anyone ever forget that semi against Germany? We came so close to seeing two Ipswich managers lifting the World Cup!

Through all this, of course, he fought his own personal battles against cancer. I'll never forget hearing the news on the car radio when he finally succumbed to the illness and then the emotion of the memorial game, with tears running down my face as they played "My Way".

Thanks for all the memories Bobby.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

GUEST BLOG: 'Modern ITFC reconnects with the legends'

The unveiling of the new Sir Alf Ramsey Stand at Portman Road yesterday, marked a special day of celebrations for Ipswich Town fans yesterday.

Generations of Blues fans (and players) stood together to pay their respect to the team and manager responsible for one of the proudest moments in our club's history.

As such I asked my Dad to share some of his memories from 1962, the year Ipswich Town became the Champions of England. His response needs no more introduction, it follows here:

Before the Barnsley match we took part in the 50th anniversary celebrations of the 1961/62 season, when little country bumpkins Ipswich Town won the First Division Championship during their first ever season in that league.

These celebrations culminated in the renaming of The Churchman's stand as The Sir Alf Ramsey stand, a fitting tribute to the manager who made it all possible.

Those celebrations made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck: the playing of ”The Entry of the Gladiators” and seeing once more the six remaining players (the other five sadly no longer with us) including my first ever favourite player, Doug Moran. Then there was the prolonged applause as Andy Nelson cut the ribbon, followed by a tour of half the pitch, including walking past an appreciative and sporting 200 Barnsley fans.

Finally, as the six took their places in the Directors box, the whole of the present day team walked towards them and led further applause: a lovely tribute. The modern re-connecting with the legends, the club’s finest hour.

During this festival of happy memories, I could not help looking down from my present day seat in the Britannia to the spot on the North Stand wall just behind the Lexus advert. From there I was fortunate enough to watch these legends ply their trade and, as a young boy, I watched us beat Aston Villa 2-0 to clinch that title.

It was the final game of an unforgettable season, where the relegation favourites, according to Kenneth Wolstenholme and every other pundit anyway, powered past all before them. The season started with a draw at Bolton and a defeat at Burnley, then the first home game resulted in a 4-2 loss to Manchester City, which was my first, First Division match.

What followed was a 6-2 victory in the return game against Burnley: no mean feat, as they were to finish as runners up come season’s end. It was an evening game, so I could not get to that one.

From then they never looked back. Regular victories against more illustrious opponents followed: the pick of these, a 3-2 home victory over Spurs, the double winning Spurs of Danny Blanchflower, Bobby Smith and John White. The goals were scored that day by Crawford and Phillips, a common theme for the whole of the season, in front of a new record crowd of 28,778, with people sitting by the side of the pitch in front of me. That was allowed in those days, the days before the hooligans took over.

Bobby Charlton, everyone’s boyhood idol before Doug Moran, played for Man Utd as they lost 4-1 at Portman Road. Chelsea were beaten 5-2, and come the turn of the New Year we may not have been top, but we were not far away.

The F.A Cup came and went for that season, sadly at the hands of our friends from up the road. We drew at their place, Leadbetter equalising in front of me in the River End attending my first ever away match, but typical Ipswich after doing the hard bit they contrived to mess it up. The replay was lost in the 88th minute, 2-1 to a chap called Terry Allcock, forever a legend in their eyes.

I would say he was bigger than Grant Holt, but the images are too scary.

That left us to concentrate on the league, and what concentration! A midweek 3-1 victory (Crawford and Phillips again) at White Hart Lane in March meant that people were waking up to the fact that little old Ipswich could well win the league, and they were there on merit. Apparently it was the first time Spurs had been 'doubled' for three seasons.

April started with a hammering at Old Trafford and the top spot was lost. But then followed a win at home to Cardiff, 1-0 with a goal scored by my hero Moran. And then there came Easter: Good Friday saw another record crowd at Portman Road, more sitting on the grass in the warm sunshine, and two late goals, a Phillips penalty and last minute Jimmy Leadbetter tap in salvaged a 2-2 draw. A fantastic 3-0 win on Easter Monday at Highbury set up Saturday April 30th as a day we will never forget.

Ipswich Town versus Aston Villa was not much of a game, as I recall. Was it the tension and the pressure that produced the nervy Ipswich performance? Burnley were at home to relegated Chelsea, surely they would win? They then had games in hand to pip us to the league.

Crawford scored twice, I can vividly recall his first: a diving header after Elsworthy had hit the bar. The second was a blur. But then the final whistle came, we had done our bit.

Many years later, I can remember vividly Wolves hitting the bar late in the game against Paul Jewell’s Bradford while we waited for news of promotion, thus we were condemned to the play offs again.

But April 1962 was different. No Twitter, no Internet, not even Five Live to tune in to. From the half time scoreboards at the corners of the ground we knew Burnley were drawing 0-0 at half time, but surely they had scored against Chelsea in the second half?

They had not. Ipswich Town were champions.

We all just celebrated, even ran on to the pitch, my Dad picked up my box bless him.

Could anyone believe it? Not really, certainly not the pundits, but no-one could deny it. Top of the league, the best team in the country. This was not a Championship built on solid defensive displays, the team received plaudits from wherever they went for their attacking, entertaining play. Tactics came into it of course, withdrawn wingers in Stephenson and Leadbetter, and the next season we were rumbled. But that season we played in the European Cup, the Champions League when it was played for by Champions not for money.

That was why Saturday’s celebrations drew a lump to my throat. Not just seeing those six grey haired gentlemen waving to the crowd, but remembering days when football was played for sport, when a team from the country, full of unknown journeymen footballers, but full of characters, could win the league, playing entertaining football for each other.

Burley’s team of Stewart and Holland hit the Premiership with similar panache, but could not quite match the boys of 1961/62, but then no-one surely ever will?

The team disintegrated over the next couple of seasons, they were a bit of a Dad’s Army after all and relegation soon followed, but that will never erase the memories of that most wonderful season.