The boys of 1980-81: ‘Sir Bobby took up the wager’ – Mills recalls a big win over Widzew Lodz

John Wark celebrates scoring one of his three goals during Town's 5-0 win over Polish side Widzew Lodz in the UEFA Cup...

John Wark celebrates scoring one of his three goals during Town's 5-0 win over Polish side Widzew Lodz in the UEFA Cup, exactly 40 years ago. - Credit: Archant

In the fourth in our series celebrating the 40th anniversary of Ipswich Town’s UEFA Cup winning campaign of 1980-81, CARL MARSTON talks to skipper Mick Mills about the home demolition of Widzew Lodz

Ipswich Town skipper Mick Mills has bitter-sweet memories of the 5-0 win over Widzew Lodz in the UEFA Cup, from 40 years ago.

Ipswich Town skipper Mick Mills has bitter-sweet memories of the 5-0 win over Widzew Lodz in the UEFA Cup, from 40 years ago. - Credit: Archant

Widzew Lodz were so confident of inflicting defeat on Ipswich Town, in the third round of the UEFA Cup, that their manager insisted on laying a friendly wager with Town boss Bobby Robson.

Lodz were in fine form, and destined to win Poland’s top-flight title for that 1980-81 season. They had also knocked out Manchester United and Juventus in previous rounds of the competition.

However, they hadn’t legislated for Town’s own immense strengths, and that serious underestimation led to the visitors being blitzed in the first leg at Portman Road, on November 26, 1980, and the manager losing some money in the process!

Town powered to a 5-0 win, courtesy of another hat-trick from John Wark (21, 44 & 77 mins), plus goals from strikers Alan Brazil (41) and Paul Mariner (70).

John Wark fires home one of hs hat-trick of goals to sink Widzew Lodz 5-0 at Portman Road, back on November 26, 1980.

John Wark fires home one of hs hat-trick of goals to sink Widzew Lodz 5-0 at Portman Road, back on November 26, 1980. - Credit: Archant


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It was another great night for Town, which remains fresh in the memory of skipper Mick Mills, even though the full-back actually has bitter-sweet memories of that night – he sustained a bad injury late in the game.

“It was a massively difficult competition, but we were purring as a team going into the Lodz match,” recalled Mills.

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“Lodz were also going well, and were destined to win the Polish title. Their manager (Jacek Machcinski) was so confident that his side would beat us that he challenged Sir Bobby Robson to a bet.

“He fancied his team that much – he had very high expectations.

Eric Gates on the ball during Town's 5-0 home win over Widzew Lodz, in the third round of the UEFA Cup from 40 years ago.

Eric Gates on the ball during Town's 5-0 home win over Widzew Lodz, in the third round of the UEFA Cup from 40 years ago. - Credit: Archant

“Sir Bobby took up the wager. He said he’d have some of that, and we ended up winning 5-0!

Also: The boys of 1980-81: ‘We had no time to recover’ - recalls George Burley

Skipper Mick Mills and manager Sir Bobby Robson with the UEFA Cup, which the club won in 1980-81. Robson accepted a wager...

Skipper Mick Mills and manager Sir Bobby Robson with the UEFA Cup, which the club won in 1980-81. Robson accepted a wager from the Wizdew Lodz manager in the third round. Picture: DAVE KINDRED - Credit: Archant

“John Wark scored another three goals, though none of them were penalties this time. He was a unique talent, a one-off.

“We just hit it right on the night, and were unlucky to only score five goals. It was one of those nights when everything went right. All our main goalscorers came good,” added Mills.

Having beaten Aris Salonika and Bohemians Prague in the previous rounds, Town effectively killed off the third round tie against Lodz at the halfway mark. They lost the away leg 1-0 to win 5-1 on aggregate, and went on to face stiff opposition in later rounds from the likes of Saint-Etienne and FC Cologne.

“What is most clear in my memory was the standard of the opposition. It was very high in the later rounds,” continued Mills.

“Although the UEFA Cup qualification was not for clubs who finished as champions, we ended up playing most teams who were on the up and were about to be crowned league champions themselves that season.

“That was the case with Widzew Lodz in this round. They were to be champions of Poland that season (and retained their title in 1981-82), while Saint-Etienne and AZ Alkmaar (in the final) were also on course to win their league titles in France and Holland.

“So we were really taking on some of the best teams in Europe, though at the time we ourselves were considered by many to be the best team in England.

“It is well documented that the number of games we had to play, across all the competitions, took its toll, which is why we ended up finishing second to Aston Villa in the league championship.”

Also: The boys of 1980-81: ‘I was in awe’ - John Wark on Kevin Beattie’s thunderbolt

With regards his injury, late in the game, Mills revealed: “I remember the game most of all for my injury. I was playing right-back that evening, because George (Burley) was not playing.

“Steve McCall, one of the younger lads, had come in at left-back for that first leg and done a good job, even though he was the third choice full-back. Kevin Steggles also played in the competition later that season.

“As for the injury, the ball went over Terry Butcher’s head, and I stuck out a right foot to guide back it to Coops (keeper Paul Cooper).

“But Terry also stuck out his massive leg to try and get to the ball with his studs, to do the same thing. He connected with the right side of my calf, and it was a nasty injury. I needed about 15 stitches in the gash, and I was told that I was very lucky the cut wasn’t any deeper, otherwise there would have been more problems.

“Anyway, the injury kept me out of the away leg. By all reports, that was a horrendous trip, very cold and with a lot of snow. I was out for two or three weeks.

“Overall, they were always wonderful occasions at Portman Road, for those European nights.

“Big-name visitors came to Ipswich, teams that the Suffolk public would never have dreamt of seeing. They were great times, some of the best teams in Europe coming to play us, and also the best players, like Johan Cruff and Michel Platini,” added Mills.

The line-up

TOWN (v Widzew Lodz, UEFA Cup 3rd rd, 1st leg): Cooper. Mills (sub Beattie, 88), McCall, Thijssen, Osman, Butcher, Wark, Muhren, Mariner, Brazil (sub O’Callaghan, 69), Gates.

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