'I think of 1981 being more a failure than of success' - Mick Mills on that UEFA Cup-winning year


Mick Mills and Frans Thijssen hold the UEFA Cup - Credit: Archant

FORTY years ago today, MICK MILLS lifted high the UEFA Cup for Ipswich Town after they won 5-4 on aggregate against AZ 67 Alkmaar of Holland, in Amsterdam. MIKE BACON caught up with the him, to remember a famous day, but a season that leaves him with regrets.

"It is without doubt, the worst trophy in the world to lift."

Not quite what I was expecting from Ipswich Town legend, Mick Mills, as we discuss that night in May - exactly 40 years ago today, when - as the Blues skipper, he lifted high the UEFA Cup for Bobby Robson's side, in Amsterdam.

Mick Mills celebrating winning the UEFA Cup in 1981

Mick Mills celebrates winning the UEFA Cup in 1981. But it was a heavy trophy to lift! - Credit: Archant

But I know what he meant! Those of us who were there, or were watching on television, knew what he meant!

"I'm sort of kidding of course," Mills goes on to say. "I was immensely proud to lift it. But it really is the most awkward of trophies to raise.

"They hand it to you and you naturally take hold of it from the top. You try to lift it above your head - it's very heavy - and when you do it obliterates your face!" He laughs. "But it was a great feeling, a great relief....although lifting the FA Cup was much easier."

Paul Cooper pictured before the second leg of the 1981 UEFA Cup final in Amsterdam

Brilliant captain. Mick Mills leads out the Town team in Amsterdam for the second leg - Credit: Archant

Mills, now 72, will go down in Town folklore as not only one of the club's greatest players but likely the greatest-ever captain in Ipswich Town history.

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Not only did he lift the FA Cup and UEFA Cup for the Blues, but he captained England in the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain. He played almost 750 games for the club. Quite a CV.

However, for Town fans 40 years ago, it was one hell of  a season, culminating in winning the UEFA Cup. Mills remembers it all vividly. Having beaten Alkmaar 3-0 in the first leg, Town lost 2-4 in the second, but won on aggregate.

"Before the first leg we were sort of very confident about the game for a number of reasons," Mills said.

"Many people said we were the best team in Europe, despite only playing in the UEFA Cup, not the European Cup. But what you often found with the UEFA Cup was that while the  European Cup had the champions of the previous year, the UEFA Cup would often have the league leaders of that season.

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

Skipper Mick Mills and manager Sir Bobby Robson with the UEFA Cup, which the club won in 1980-81. Picture: DAVE KINDRED - Credit: Archant

"And although we unfortunately messed up winning our league, AZ had just won theirs. But we were still confident.

"We'd had a fantastic year, and being recognised as possibly one of the best teams in Europe. We were running well in three serious competitions all season and playing some terrific stuff. No question about it."

But, after being knocked out of the FA Cup at the semi-final stage to Manchester City and falling short in the Division One title race, losing seven of their last 10 games, it was the UEFA Cup - or nothing for the Blues.

Mills admits his side were ready, despite the disappointments that had gone on that season.


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

 "We really hit it in the first leg," he said. "No-one would have expected us to win 3-0. If we'd taken a one-goal lead to Holland, many would have thought that ok. 

"But we never thought of anything else other than winning that UEFA Cup."

Yet, Mills admits while he retains wonderful memories of winning the UEFA Cup that season - it's what got away that still haunts him most. And on the night Town did win in Holland, he is sure that as confident as he was, he likely did have the odd doubt.

"Do you know, in the back of my mind, even now 40 years on, I think of 1981 being more a failure than of success. And it's crazy really. I can't get rid of it. I really can't," he says with feeling.

"Whenever I refer back to 81 it's not winning the UEFA Cup that comes to my mind, it's losing out to Aston Villa in the league that hits me hardest.

Jubilation from England players Bob Latchford, Mick Mills (centre) and Dave Watson after Watson had

On England duty: Jubilation from England players Bob Latchford, Mick Mills (centre) and Dave Watson after Watson had headed home England's third goal n a European Championship qualifying match against Northern Ireland at Wembley. Northern Ireland 'keeper Pat Jennings lies helpless with Jimmy Nicholl and Gerry Armstrong (right) looking on. Mills captained England at the World Cup in Spain. - Credit: PA

"So, here I am 40 years later, still having the same doubts and question marks in my mind. If they are still here 40 years later, they would certainly have been there when I woke up that morning of the second leg."

Yet, Mills need not have worried - if indeed he had done so.

Town took the lead early in the second leg in the Olympic Stadium, in Amsterdam - going 4-0 up on aggregate. Although in a goal-fest of a first half, it was the home side who were 3-2 up at half-time.

"Of course, Alkmaar were a good team," he said.

"I've heard people say they went gung-ho at us, but I'm not sure they were going to do that to start with. Perhaps get one back before the break and then see what happened in the second half.

"But dear old Frans goes and vollies in after about three minutes to put us four-up and I think that triggered something in their minds, rather than ours. They get one, then bang, they get another. But John Wark equalises, before they get a third before the break.

"But I never really felt the pressure was there. Bobby Robson said afterwards he was sitting there thinking 'oh no', when they made it 4-2 with 15 minutes left, but I never got to the 'oh no' stage to be honest.

"I felt we did our jobs well in the second half. It was a good job done."


Ipswich Town on their tour of the Town after winning the UEFA Cup - Credit: Archant

To this day Mills felt Alkmaar's decision to move the second leg from their smaller stadium to the Olympic Stadium, in Amsterdam, backfired.

"If I had been member of Alakmaar and looking to win something, I wouldn't have been looking at pound notes and taking the tie to the Olympic Stadium to attract a few more supporters," he said.

"The attendance wasn't that big, so it didn't really pay off?

"OK, so they got the tie right in the end in as much they got two goals back on us and did threaten to get a third. But would they have been better at their home stadium? I tend to think they might have done in those last 15 minutes with support roaring them on.

"Fans are vitally important and if we had been asked to go into their stadium with all their fans right on top of you because it's a small stadium, nice, but very tight. Bit like the old West Ham ground. That would have been more intimidating, although in saying that we had thousands of fans there."

Younger Ipswich Town fans can only dream of days that Blues fans 40 years ago were experiencing at the very same ground they go to today.

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Town legend Mick Mills. Great memories, but also some tinged with frustration - Credit: Archant

Certainly those days seem very distant - ever to be repeated?

So, at the end of this wonderful look back on Town's UEFA Cup win 40 years ago, let's leave it to the captain to have the final say.

"Obviously that season, those Bobby Robson years were much talked about at the time and always will be, I guess," Mills said.

"It was great times for the club.

"Those 10 years with Bobby when all of a sudden it all clicked and he began putting together those great sides, were very special.

"Everything about playing and representing Ipswich Town was simply great."


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

Town's starting line-up in both legs: Paul Cooper, Mick Mills, Steve McCall, Frans Thijssen, Russell Osman, Terry Butcher, John Wark, Arnold Muhren, Paul Mariner, Alan Brazil, Eric Gates.


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