UEFA Cup glory 40 years on: Arnold Muhren... 'It was my best-ever season'
- Credit: Archant
FORTY years ago this week, Ipswich Town played the second leg of their UEFA Cup final against AZ 67 Alkmaar, of Holland. Already 3-0 up from the first leg, they went on to win the final 5-4 on aggregate. MIKE BACON looks back at that final, with Dutch maestro ARNOLD MUHREN.
He was the man with the wand of a left foot.
The Dutch playmaker extraordinaire who not only brought a touch of class to Ipswich Town, but was instrumental in changing the way they played.
Arnold Muhren was a key member of Bobby Robson's 1981 UEFA Cup-winning side - a side that is celebrating that feat 40 years ago this month.
Now 69 years old, the twinkle is still in his eye, his words sincere and joyful as he remembers that great Town team.
Part of a 'double Dutch' delight alongside fellow Dutchman Frans Thijssen, who was signed six months after Muhren joined Town in the summer of 1978, he knows only too well what Robson's team achieved.
"Looking back now, you realise what you've done with this club, with Ipswich Town," Muhren said. "When I first arrived, the ball was always in the air. I never got a touch of it.
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"Then Mr Robson spoke to me and the players and we played the ball more on the floor, through the midfield. We changed the way we played, that really suited me.
"Winning the UEFA Cup was really amazing. I look back at that year as so great, the whole year. Not only the UEFA Cup, but the whole season, the team, the fans we had. It was my best-ever season.
"Of course we should have won the league that year as well as the UEFA Cup. Aston Villa became champions and we beat them I think, three times. In the end we ran out of steam a bit because we had so many games and some injuries."
Losing the league title is something that continues to sit disappointingly with many Town players in that 80-81 squad.
Almost all pundits said Town were the best team in the country that season - but the table doesn't show that - and Villa took their chances - and the title.
But back to the UEFA Cup - and victory over Alkmaar.
"There was a little bit of pressure on the team to win the final to be honest, seeing as we had missed out on the League and FA Cup," Muhren said.
"We had some great fans and Portman Road was sold out for the first leg. We so wanted to make sure we won it not just for ourselves - but our fans.
"Everyone was very confident we could beat Alkmaar and rightly so, we had beaten some very good teams on the way.
"But as I said to everyone, they were a very good team as well. They had just won their league, beating the likes of Ajax and Feyenoord.
"Mr Robson was asking me the day before the final, can you mention some of the best players in their team? I said Mr Robson, this is one of the best teams in Europe. They are all good players.
"I knew the team very well because Pier Tol came from same place I came from - he was a friend of mine.
"Most of their team were international players. I knew this was going to be a very tough game for us."
However, Town blew away Alkmaar in the first leg, winning 3-0 at Portman Road in front of a packed stadium. It set the Blues up nicely for the second leg in Holland.
"When we played the first leg, we deservedly won 3-0, which gave us a lot of confidence for the second game," Muhren said.
"After that 3-0 win, we didn't think we could give it away in the second leg. We had played so well, we thought we could do it. But we were not there yet. We talked about that alot and Mr Robson would keep saying, it's still 0-0."
Despite Robson's rightful caution, however, Town took an early lead in Holland and although Alkmaar came back at them, Town held out to win their first and still only, European trophy.
"The second leg AZ decided not to play in Alkmaar, but the Olympic Stadium, Amsterdam which they thought would hold 60,000 people but I think 27-30,00 people turned up with a lot of Ipswich fans there," Muhren said.
"We were one up, but we went in 2-3 down at half-time. We were still in a good position but I remember saying, we have not won this yet. We were very tired, this was our 66th game.
"When it went 4-2 to AZ with about 15 minutes to go, it was getting all a bit risky. We were very happy to hear the final whistle."
Town had done it.
And their army of 7,000 fans went crazy in Amsterdam that night, as the celebrations continued back in Ipswich with a wonderful bus top tour, that Muhren remembers well to this day.
"The reception we had was unbelievable," Muhren said.
"The whole shopping area was full. People were everywhere, thousands and thousands of people. Times you will never forget. If I'm ever at back at Ipswich seeing my old team-mates we never forget those times.
"But we were a good side, not just that season. To show what a good team we had, we beat Man U 6-0 the year before - and we missed two penalties. If you tell people nowadays we beat Man U 6-0, they say, 'how did you do that?' But we were such a good team."
Muhren moved on from Town in 1982, joining Manchester United, and although he enjoyed his spell at Old Trafford, winning the FA Cup, he had felt much more at home at Portman Road.
"I liked Manchester," he said.
"But the club is such a very big club. I prefer teams like Ipswich, not that Manchester weren't a very nice and good club. But at places like Ipswich you knew what was going on in the offices, you knew all the people."
After seven years in England, Muhren returned to Ajax, where he added the European Cup Winners' Cup (1986–87) to his trophy collection.
He also reached the final the following year in 1988 but lost to KV Mechelen.
But at the age of 37, he achieved the highlight of his career, when he was a vital part of the Dutch national team that won the European Championships in 1988.
In the final against the Soviet Union he provided the cross from which Marco van Basten scored the second goal (considered one of the greatest volleyed goals of all time). He continued playing for Ajax for one more season after that, finally hanging up his boots in 1989 at the age of 38.
Unassuming, softly spoken, but one of the most wonderful of footballers Ipswich Town ever had, Muhren was summed up perfectly by Bobby Robson: “I cannot think of anyone I would rate higher as a professional than Arnold," Robson once said of his Dutch playmaker.
Town's starting line-up in both legs: Paul Cooper, Mick Mills, Steve McCall, Frans Thijssen, Russell Osman, Terry Butcher, John Wark, Arnold Muhren, Paul Mariner, Alan Brazil, Eric Gates.
TOWN'S UEFA CUP 1981-WINNING ROUTE
First round: Aris Salonika (Greece), 5-1 (h) 1-3 (a). Agg. 6-4
Second round: Bohemians (Czechoslovakia), 3-0 (h), 0-2 (a). Agg 3-2
Third round: Widzew Lodz (Poland), 5-0 (h), 0-1 (a). Agg. 5-1
Quarter-final: Saint-Etienne (France) 4-1 (a), 3-1 (h). Agg 7-2
Semi-final: Cologne (West Germany) 1-0 (h), 1-0 (a). Agg. 2-0
Final: AZ 67 Alkmaar (Holland) 3-0 (h), 2-4 (a). Agg. 5-4.