The night a football legend came to Portman Road - and got sent packing as Town made history
- Credit: Archant
40 years ago today, European football legend Michel Platini and his powerhouse St Etienne side came to Portman Road for the second leg of the UEFA Cup quarter-finals. Mark Heath looks back at a famous night.
It seems barely believable, in a week where we've been talking about Town dropping out of the League One play-off places and losing 2-0 at Fleetwood Town, that 40 years ago the Blues were on their way to probably the best season in their rich history, and being crowned UEFA Cup champions.
But it's true. On March 18, 1981 - when Fleetwood Town were playing in the Cheshire County League - mighty St Etienne, a giant of European football boasting the likes of Platini and Dutch star Jonny Rep, were the visitors to Portman Road.
The French side has already been put to the sword by Town in the first leg, the Blues turning in arguably the club's greatest-ever performance in a remarkable 4-1 win.
When Rep put the home side ahead after only 16 minutes of that first leg, it looked rather worrying for Town. Remember, this was a side who had scored 22 goals and conceded none in reaching the last eight.
But a Paul Mariner header levelled things before the break, and the Suffolk side turned on the style in the second half, with Mariner, John Wark and Arnold Muhren netting.
Bobby Robson described it as an “almost faultless performance.” It certainly made European football sit up and take notice.
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Thus, the eyes of the footballing world were on Portman Road 40 years ago tonight. Was the first leg a fluke, a flash in the pan victory by the side from sleepy Suffolk?
Would Platini and co show who truly was boss and overhaul the deficit?
The answers to those questions were, in order, no and no. Emphatically no.
More than 30,000 fans watched as Terry Butcher put Town 1-0 up after a goalless first half. Jacques Zimako made it 1-1 with ten minutes left, but by then St Etienne were playing for pride.
Goals from Wark, a penalty, and Mariner ensured they didn't even leave Suffolk with that.
Platini's superstars were crushed 7-2 on aggregate. Town were in the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup for the first time ever. That win made it 20 games unbeaten, a club record.
Just over two months later, on May 20, Mick Mills held the trophy aloft.
What a team, what a time - and what a difference 40 years makes.
Town XI: Cooper, Steggles, Osman, Butcher, Wark, Thijssen, Muhren, McCall, Brazil (O'Callaghan, 53), Mariner, Gates (D'Avray, 73).