ITFC – The Class of ’81

As Ipswich fans we are all aware of the downs. The downs at present seem to be a constant. So when we have highs we do tend to cling on to them longer than other clubs (except Liverpool whose fans all live in the 1980s!). Many would argue that becoming league champions a mere 17 seasons after becoming a professional side was the biggest high (thanks to Tricky for this tidbit) but as I wasn’t around then I can only focus on the clubs 2nd biggest high.

The team of 81

A lot has already been written about the UEFA cup win, runners up in the league and the FA cup run. This article is about the break-up of the great side and the money both in and out of the club for the 11 players that started both legs of the UEFA cup final and their eventual replacements.


To jog your memories the 11 players I will be focusing on are:-

1 – Paul Cooper
2 – Steve McCall
3 – Mick Mills
4 – Frans Thijssen
5 – Russell Osman
6 – Terry Butcher
7 – John Wark
8 – Arnold Murhen
9 – Paul Mariner
10 – Alan Brazil
11 – Eric Gates

The season after was also a good season. Often overlooked because of the amazing one before. Runners up in the league behind Liverpool and a two legged semi of the league cup against Liverpool being the highlights after a dismal first round exit in the UEFA cup against Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen and a last 16 exit in the FA cup to Shrewsbury. Then came the 1982 world cup with 5 of the 11 (Mills, Butcher, Wark, Mariner and Brazil) along with George Burley all making squads. There was no Muhren or Thijssen as Holland never qualified.

England’s failure to beat either West Germany or Spain in the second round meant elimination. Could that have been that catalyst for Ipswich’s impending demise? Maybe if England had won the trophy they wouldn’t have needed a new manger. Or maybe if the FA had given it to Cloughie?

Whichever way you look at the man who built the town was off. The lure of the England job was greater than the 10 year contract offered by the Cobbold’s. One of Robson’s last duties as town boss was to tell the club captain and record appearance holder, Mick Mills, that he wouldn’t be offered a new contract. He was soon snapped up by Southampton to become part of Lawrie McMenemy’s ex England captains revolution. Town received £40,00 from the Saints for Mills.

Frans and Arnie

Not long after Millsy had hot footed it down the south coast Arnold Muhren left. He was seduced by Big Ron up at Old Trafford and embarked on a 3 year stint at Manchester United. The biggest travesty of this move and FT’s 6 months later was that town did not receive one single penny in transfer fees.

After his big mate had left, Frans wasn’t sticking around for long as he joined Nottingham Forest. So that’s the captain and two of the greatest Dutch imports of all time all gone within a matter of months of each other.

Next out of the door was Alan Brazil. North London was his destination and a season with Spurs. At least we got a few quid this time. £425,000 to be exact.

Then in 1984 came, in my opinion, the two biggest losses. John Wark and Paul Mariner. Warky was off to Liverpool (he’d be back. More than once) for £450,000 and PM chose Arsenal for a measly £150,000.

Just over half of the great 11 had gone in less than 3 years and within 2 more there’d be no more. Osman and Gates left in 1985. Osman joined Leicester for £270,000 and Gatesy joined his boyhood team Sunderland for £150,000

May 1986 saw Ipswich relegated. Before the start of their first season back in the 2nd tier of English football Terry Butcher signed for Glasgow Rangers to the tune of £725,000 . The following season Paul Cooper signed for Leicester on a free and the last of the 11 out of the door was Steve McCall who joined Sheffield Wednesday for £300,000

So they’d all gone for the combined fee of £2,510,000 which inflated to 2018 prices equates to £7,510,585.

Now who did we replace them with? The next is based on a bit of guess work and no way at all scientific. I based it on the player that was next to play in the departees favoured position over a bit of a prolonged period. Some of these weren’t outright replacements as they’d already been at the club and had played for the first team. I’ve merely added this bit as a guide to what ITFC were and what we became.

Paul Cooper > Jon Hallworth
Steve MCall > Frank Yallop
Mick Mills > David Barnes
Frans Thijssen > Romeo Zondervan
Russell Osman > Ian Cranson
Terry Butcher > Tony Humes
John Wark > Trevor Putney
Arnold Muhren > Mark Brennan
Paul Mariner > Alan Sunderland
Alan Brazil > Mich d’Avray
Eric Gates > Kevin Wilson

6 of the replacements came through the Ipswich youth system, 4 more on frees from other clubs and 1, Kevin Wilson, cost £150,000.

We could argue over several beers for many years to come where the blame lies on the demise of the great 70s/80s Ipswich. As I previously mentioned the master left. Also the board invested in ground improvements rather than squad improvements, one or two players became billy big bollocks and demanded crazy money (Wark and Mariner) and of course replacing Robson with the affable but ultimately

Wark & Mariner

inadequate Bobby Ferguson wasn’t the smartest move.

Now although I dubbed him the master, is Bobby Robson to blame? Whilst he built a great team, was the squad any good? After the 11 mentioned who else was there? George Burley and Kevin O’Callaghan were both quality players but what else did we have in 81 & 82? The ageing Osborne, Hunter and Beattie can be glossed over as they were coming to the end of their rather illustrious careers. That leaves us with:- Kevin Steggles, Robin Turner, Irvin Gernon & Tony Kinsella who were not in the same class as the rest of the squad (although Stegs did play 50 times for Ipswich and is a bloody nice fella!)

Despite all the theories and speculation there’s no denying that a small unfashionable club from sleepy Suffolk dared to play with the big boys and for a split second were the biggest boys of the lot.

Although our history isn’t as great as a lot of football clubs its a history our nearest rivals could only dream of having.

Disclaimer:- Some of the timeline and transfer fees in this article may actually be different to real life. Please feel free to correct any glaring mistakes.

I hope you’ve enjoyed one of the most meaningless pieces I’ve ever written. I certainly did