UEFA Cup glory, 40 years on: Osman on final first leg and that remarkable season
- Credit: Archant
Forty years ago today, Ipswich Town played the first leg of their 1981 UEFA Cup final against AZ 67 Alkmaar, of Holland, at Portman Road. They ran out 3-0 winners, before losing 2-4 in the second leg, but winning the Cup on aggregate. RUSSELL OSMAN was part of that winning team, MIKE BACON caught up with him.
It was truly a remarkable season and it would have been a travesty had Ipswich Town ended it with no major silverware.
The 1980/81 campaign at Portman Road saw Bobby Robson's team competing on three fronts all season - the League, FA Cup and UEFA Cup.
And while the FA Cup ended in semi-final defeat to Manchester City, at Villa Park, as Town's Division One championship hopes fell by the wayside with seven defeats in their last 10 league games - bearing in mind they only lost nine all season - it was left to the UEFA Cup to bring home any silverware.
The Blues duly obliged their adoring fans.
For Russell Osman, a season that saw him play 66 times for Town - never missing a game - that UEFA Cup win was so very satisfying.
"It was a long season, but we weren't so much tired by the time it came to the UEFA Cup final, it was a case of picking yourself up from the disappointments of the semi-final defeat to Man City and in the league," he said.
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"It was more a case of right, we must make sure we win something."
Game number 64 that long season was the first leg of the UEFA Cup final against AZ 67 Alkmaar, at Portman Road, on May 6, 1981. Town won 3-0 and Osman remembers it vividly.
"The first leg was a very solid performance from us," he said.
"We had never been beaten at home in Europe. We dominated it, we were strong and there was a quite an achievement to go to Alkmaar with a 3-0 lead.
"It was a great performance and a fantastic result for an opening leg."
John Wark, Frans Thijssen and Paul Mariner were the Town scorers that night in front of almost 28,000 fans. The atmosphere was electric and Town were hot favourites heading into the return leg in Holland.
"We had great character in the side," Osman said
"We built on that all season and from the season before. It was a combination of us having confidence in each other and confidence in the way the team had been set up.
"We didn't think too much about the opposition in those days. All we concentrated on was trying to play our football the best way we could. As a squad it felt like you were going to work with your mates every day. It never felt like work as such."
Osman admits that while Town played a tremendous amount of games that season - eight players in Robson's squad played more than 55 games that season - training was still intense.
"People forget we were a very fit side in those days," he said.
"If we weren't working on technical stuff, we were running, or in the gym. So, we were very fit. We did a lot of 'spiking' sessions running in spikes, sprinting. Bobby was all about doing the basics right.
"Bobby's philosophy was we needed to be as fit as possible, because if it came down to a physical game we had to be able to 'outstay' people for 90 minutes.
"Technically we had to be as efficient as possible in keeping possession of the ball. So, we would work on passing drills, day in, day out.
"We had a team of internationals, but we were still doing passing drills every day. We played a lot of five, six, seven-a-side games. You weren't' allowed to take liberties. If you made bad decisions in training they jumped all over you. Their attitude was you wouldn't do it on a match day, so don't do it in training."
Osman and Town still had a league match to play - at home to Southampton, which they lost 2-3 - before the second leg of the UEFA Cup final. It was a crazy schedule for the team, as Osman remembers only too well.
"We had so many games," he said. "We played the second leg of the UEFA Cup semi-final clash against Cologne just two days after a league match at Norwich and three days later, we had another league game at Manchester City. We had something like six games in two weeks!"
But Town went into their 66th and final game of the season with a 3-0 lead against Alkmaar in the second leg of the final on May 20 - and they saw it through, although not without a few worries!
"The only problem was in the end, you go to the second leg of a final with a three goal lead, the opposition have got nothing to lose," Osman said.
"And it was compounded by the fact we scored first over there early on. That gave AZ the licence to throw the kitchen sink at us and it was a case of making sure we could hold out because we got bombarded from the moment we scored until the final whistle.
"They went for it with the attitude they may as well play nine up front. It certainly felt like that. In some ways it might have been easier for us if we hadn't scored first and so early. It might have been an easier night, because, as I said, that goal allowed them to really have a go."
It was Thijssen who gave Town an early lead and a 4-0 aggregate advantage. Indeed, AZ went for it, playing with just two centre-halves. Johnny Metgod and Pier Tol scored before half-time, either side of a Wark goal, to take the aggregate to 5–3. Jos Jonker scored AZ's fourth of the day with 16 minutes to go, but Ipswich held on to win 5–4 on aggregate - Paul Cooper, Town's keeper was named man of the match!
"They had some really good players," Osman said. "Metgod, Peters, Jonker, Kist. It was a case of digging in and it was tough. I think if the game had gone into extra-time or anything then I'm not sure we would have managed to hold out - but we did."
A deserved trophy for Osman and Ipswich Town and one no-one in football could have begrudged them after the season they had.
Forty years on, Osman can reflect on a job well done by him personally and his team-mates - although missing out on that Division One title still hurts.
"In the end it was a shame we only got the UEFA Cup because, losing out in the League was very disappointing," he said.
"Looking back, I'm very proud to have just been part of the set-up at Ipswich Town. I joined in 1975 and had 10 great years.
"I look at the boys in the squad, Alan Brazil, Paul Mariner, Eric Gates, George Burley, Paul Cooper, Johnny Wark, the Dutchmen, Terry Butcher, Mick Mills, Steve McCall, Kevin Steggles - the whole squad - I was lucky to have been playing well at the right time back then with that great team."
Sixty-six games in one season, that's some feat.
"Yes, I was lucky I stayed serious injury free that season," Osman added. "A bit different to today's player, it was a case of if you can get through 90 minutes and a lot of the time that decision was left down to you as a player.
"Luckily, for me, I made the right decision on the couple of occasions I had to think about an injury, but I also look at people like Terry Butcher, Mick Mills, Kevin Beattie, Allan Hunter, players who played alongside me.
"They often put a little bit extra in to make life a bit easier for me at times."
TOWN'S ROUTE TO THE 1981 UEFA CUP FINAL
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.