UEFA Cup glory 40 years on - Frans Thijssen: 'We made a big impression not only in England, but also Europe'
- 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.
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.
"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."
- 1 Suffolk school goes viral after teachers post TikTok dance
- 2 Man in 40s dies following A12 crash
- 3 'He nearly ruined my club' - Bent on former Ipswich boss Lambert
- 4 'People might think I'm crocked now... but I fully back myself' - Norwood determined to make his mark
- 5 A12 re-opens after man seriously hurt in two-car crash
- 6 Siegrist and Amos leading targets as Town step up hunt for new No.1
- 7 Hawkins leaves Town after just one season as striker makes League Two move
- 8 Off-duty PC caught speeding on A14
- 9 25 of the best cafes for outdoor dining in Suffolk
- 10 Young footballer locked up for 12 years after 'vicious' machete attack
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.
"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.
"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."
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.
"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."
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.
"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."
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.