The night a football legend came to Portman Road - and got sent packing as Town made history

Ipswich Town went a club-record 20 games unbeaten in 1980/81, the final game of that run being the f

Ipswich Town sent European giants St Etienne packing at Portman Road 40 years ago - 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.

John Wark and Terry Butcher celebrate the UEFA Cup semi-final win over Cologne in 1981

Terry Butcher and John Wark were both on target in the 3-1 win over St Etienne in the second leg of the UEFA Cup quarter-final - Credit: Archant

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.

SPORT MAGIC MOMENTSIpswich Town v St Etienne in March 1981Ipswich's Kevin O'Callaghan

Town's Kevin O'Callaghan has a shot on goal against St Etienne

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?

Dressing room scene: Town players (from left) Frans Thijssen, Arnold Muhren and Paul Mariner take in

Terrific trio: Frans Thijssen, Arnold Muren and Paul Mariner after the win in St Etienne - Credit: Archant

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.

Town manager Bobby Robson inspects the pitch pre-match with captain Mick Mills.

Boss Bobby Robson and captain Mick Mills inspect the pitch in St Etienne before Town's famous first leg win - Credit: Archant

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).

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