UEFA Cup glory 40 years on - Frans Thijssen: 'We made a big impression not only in England, but also Europe'


Dutch maestro, Frans Thijssen - Credit: Archant

FORTY years ago tomorrow, 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 win the final 5-4 on aggregate. MIKE BACON looks back at those halcyon days with Dutch maestro FRANS THIJSSEN.

When Frans Thijssen picked up the Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year award at the end of the 1980/81 season - he was joining exalted footballing company.

An iconic moment in the history of Ipswich Town Football Club as Arnold Muhren is joined by fellow D

An iconic moment in the history of Ipswich Town Football Club as Arnold Muhren is joined by fellow Dutchman Frans Thijssen in February 1979. The "Dutch Masters'' would play a huge role for Town in the coming seasons - Credit: Archant

The only Ipswich Town player ever to have won it then - and now - Thijssen joined a list of winners that already included Bobby Moore, Stanley Matthews and Kevin Keegan. Recipients since have included Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez and Gianfranco Zola.

That's how good he was. That was the influence Thijssen had on Ipswich Town's UEFA Cup-winning year. 

"Well, all big names who won that award," Thijssen said, speaking this week on the eve of Town's 40th anniversary of winning the UEFA Cup.

Past and present...Former recipients of the Fottballer of the Year award join this year's winner, Gi

Former recipients of the Footballer of the Year award at the Royal Lancaster Hotel on the 50th anniversary of the award back in 1997. L-R, back row) Pat Jennings, Bill Slater, Steve Nicol, Ian Callaghan, Frank McLintock, Tony Book, Emlyn Hughes, Frans Thijssen and Clive Allen; (Front row) Dave Mackay, Bobby Charlton, Sir Stanley Matthews, Gianfranco Zola, Gary Lineker and Bobby Collins. Photo by Samantha Pearce/PA. - Credit: PA

"It was a very special prize for me. I didn't expect it when I arrived in England, that I could win something like that. I never thought about it.

"I just wanted to do a job for the club and help the team because I Iooked up to every player when I came to Ipswich, especially my team-mates. I didn't expect any personal prizes."

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Thijssen joined Ipswich in February 1979 - six months after his fellow Dutchman Arnold Muhren had come to Portman Road. Thijssen was the grit and skill to Muhren's craft and guile - a perfect Dutch combination.

Ipswich were already a very good side, but there is no doubt the added dimension of Muhren and then Thijssen helped turn them into a great side - culminating in a wonderful 66-game '80/81 season that ended with UEFA Cup triumph.

"Arnold came to Ipswich in the summer of 1978 and I came February 1979 and I remember when I arrived I played in the reserves, everyone had to have a look at me," Thijssen said.

"I scored in that reserve game and I remember we won. Everyone was pleased with my performance, it was my first game. Bobby Robson said he was ready for me to play against Arsenal that Saturday.

Mick Mills leads out the Ipswich Town team for the first leg of the UEFA Cup semi-final against Colo

Mick Mills leads out the Ipswich Town team for the first leg of the UEFA Cup semi-final against Cologne at Portman Road in April 1981. He is followed by Ipswich players Paul Cooper, Alan Brazil, Arnold Muhren, Eric Gates, Frans Thijssen, John Wark, Steve McCall, Russell Osman and Terry Butcher. Not in picture: Paul Mariner Photograph: EADT - Credit: Archant

"We'd had a winter break in Holland, so I hadn't played much. It was good to play that game in the reserves and then I was ready for the big stage in England."

And Thijssen hit the big stage running. He helped elevate Town up the Division One table in his first season, as the Blues again qualified for the UEFA Cup.

He was an experienced talent at this level of football, having already played in the 1975 UEFA Cup final for FC Twente - although that ended in a 1-5 aggregate defeat to Borussia Mönchengladbach.

But he was to get his revenge on the UEFA Cup with Town.

UEFA 1981

John Wark scores Town's second goal in the second leg in Amsterdam - Credit: Archant

"Yes, at Twente, I played in Europe and in the final against Mönchengladbach, so I knew all about the UEFA Cup," he said.

"That 1980/81 season was unbelievable really. We went so far in so many competitions. But I had injury problems with my hamstrings over Easter. I had gone away with Holland and came back with my injury.

"In England there are so many games if you are out four to six weeks or so you miss so many games at the wrong moments. And that's what happened to me.

"I wasn't the only one, Kevin Beattie was also injured. I think if me and Kevin had stayed fully-fit all season we would have won the league as well. We lost to Norwich and Arsenal over Easter when normally we would have won."

John Wark and Frans Thijssen pictured during the Blues 1-0 defeat to Man City at Villa Park in the s

John Wark and Frans Thijssen pictured during the Blues 1-0 defeat to Man City at Villa Park in the semi-final of the FA Cup in April 1981 - Credit: Archant

And talking about Kevin Beattie, Thijssen said this: "I remember when I arrived in Ipswich I saw this guy who could jump so high, was so strong, so strong in the air, he won everything. That was Kevin Beattie.

"So, winning the UEFA Cup was fantastic, but as I say, the only disappointing thing in my view was that we lost the League title. The injuries came at the wrong moment."

Indeed, Thijssen's injury restricted him to just 52 appearances that season - still a lot - but to put that into context, nine other Town players played more games than the Dutchman, although sadly, Beattie managed just 11, with six substitute appearances.

Despite that, it all ended in joy in Amsterdam's Olympic Stadium on May 20, 1981, as Town raised high the UEFA Cup, Thijssen scoring in both legs.

"The first leg was a big game for us," said Thijssen, who was just back from injury for that first leg.

"I remember my goal was right at the start of the second half and Bobby Robson was still walking from the dressing room to the bench! Winning 3-0 at home was more than we expected.


Frans Thijssen scores Town's second goal at Portman Road against Alkmaar in the first leg - Credit: PA

"Even the Dutch press were very positive about how we played."

And Thijssen's goal-scoring feats in the final weren't finished there. In a season where he only netted six times, he saved one more for the second leg.

"Yes, I didn't score that many, but in the final to score in both legs and such important goals was great," he said.

"In the second leg when I scored early on it was a great feeling. I remember running over to all the thousands of Ipswich fans. We were four goals up. We felt we couldn't lose, but they came back at us, but we held on.

"After the disappointment of the League and FA Cup, it was great to get one prize. We deserved it."

UEFA 30th Anniversary Dinner at The Corn Exchange Thijssen

Frans Thijssen, at the UEFA Cup 30th Anniversary Dinner at The Corn Exchange back in 2011 - Credit: Archant

Thijssen said that although he and Muhren were both Dutch, beating a Dutch side in the final didn't raise any negative comments in his home country towards them.

"The Dutch press liked me and Arnold being at Ipswich," he said.

"They knew we had joined a good side and many of them had seen us play on the television. The AZ coaches had also watched us a few times. Because AZ had a great team to.

Back in Suffolk the celebrations after the victory continued for days.

"At Ipswich at the Town Hall, there were people everywhere," Thijssen said.

These supporters climbed a lamp post to get a touch of the UEFA Cup as players reached out to them f

These supporters climbed a lamp post to get a touch of the UEFA Cup as players reached out to them from staging in front of the Town Hall in 1981. - Credit: Dave Kindred

"It was wonderful, great times, great fans. I look back at these great times in my memory, it was great to play at Portman Road with so many wonderful players."

"Ipswich made a big impression not only in England, but also Europe. We had so many quality internationals. It was overall my best time and the best support I had came from Portman Road from the fans and players.

"Some teams I have played for I can't remember half the names, but that Ipswich Town team I can mention from number one to number 11."


Ipswich Town's UEFA Cup winning squad. Back row, left to right: Alan Brazil, Paul Mariner, Russell Osman, Terry Butcher, Laurie Sivell, Paul Cooper, Frans Thijssen, Kevin Steggles, Allan Hunter, Arnold Muhren. Front row, left to right: Bobby Robson (manager), Eric Gates, John Wark, Mick Mills (captain), Kevin Beattie, Kevin O'Callaghan, Steve McCall and Bobby Ferguson (coach). - Credit: Archant - Credit: Archant


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.