The boys of 1980-81: Town’s infamous trip to Poland, a dangerous pitch and the death of John Lennon

Terry Butcher, pictured during Ipswich Town's superb 1980-81 season

Terry Butcher, pictured during Ipswich Town's superb 1980-81 season - Credit: Archant

In the fourth of this series celebrating the 40th anniversary of Ipswich Town’s UEFA Cup winning campaign of 1980-81, Carl Marston talks to Terry Butcher about the visit to Widzew Lodz in Poland...

A dangerous pitch, the death of John Lennon, and a minibus in a ditch. These were just some of the highlights, or rather painful memories, of Ipswich Town stalwart Terry Butcher during the Suffolk club’s infamous trip to Poland, 40 years to the day on December 10, 1980.

Already 5-0 up from the first leg at Portman Road, Sir Bobby Robson’s Town already had one foot in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup when travelling to Widzew Lodz for the second leg of their third round tie.

A 1-0 defeat on the night secured a 5-1 aggregate win, as Town continued on their merry way towards lifting the UEFA Cup trophy at the end of that season.

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

Except “merry” does not really fit with Town’s trip to Lodz, Poland. An older and wiser Butcher, who at the time was still 18 days short of his 22nd birthday, takes up the story.


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“It was very, very cold, and Poland was still behind the Iron Curtain at the time, which presented us with problems getting there in terms of flights,” recalled Butcher.

“I think we flew to Warsaw, or another major hubbub, and then had a three-hour coach journey to Lodz.

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“Everywhere was snow and ice. It all looked very bleak, grey and white, and we immediately knew that we were in for a tough time.

“The hotel was not bad. It was one of the best in Lodz, but by Western standards it was a little bleak, as were all the shops.

“We were told that Poland Crystal was the thing to buy, but we ended up just walking around the shops and not buying anything, because no one wanted to change any money (from Polish zloty).

“In truth, it wasn’t very nice, so we all spent most of our time in the hotel. We had arrived on the Tuesday, the match was on Wednesday, and we flew straight back after that.”

As regards the game itself, centre-half Butcher said: “We were very relieved to have the cushion of a 5-0 lead from the first leg. We had seriously dented their pride, because they had beaten Juventus and Manchester United in the previous rounds, and were going well in their league.

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

“They did come at us all guns blazing, but the pitch was a real leveller. There was never going to be more than one goal scored.

“Our confidence was high, as you would expect, even though Mick Mills was out injured – I had injured him in the first leg!

“The pitch was an absolute disgrace. It was flattened by snow. In fact, it was all snow and ice. We never saw any grass.

“The lines had been drawn with clay and cinder, and there’s certainly no way that match would have been played today, not in a million years.

“One of the main decisions we had to make was what footwear to put on, either the leather boots with studs, or the pimple-like trainers. We all opted for the leather boots, believing we could get a stud through the snow, but it was very dangerous with all the hidden ice beneath.

“Looking back, it’s just remarkable that there were no serious injuries.”

So what of the tale of Lennon, and the tale of the minibus?

Terry Butcher on the ball during Ipswich Town's triumphant UEFA Cup winning campaign of 1980-81.

Terry Butcher on the ball during Ipswich Town's triumphant UEFA Cup winning campaign of 1980-81. - Credit: Archant


Butcher confirmed: “There were three other things I remember clearly from that trip.

“Firstly, those were the days when footballers never used to wear under-garments, in terms of cycle shorts or thermals. We all wore long-sleeves, except for Kevin Beattie, who wore short-sleeves. He said, ‘let’s just be getting on with it.

“Secondly, John Lennon died while we were out there. We were all absolutely stunned. It was big, big news, back then, because we all loved The Beatles.

“On the bus journey back to the airport, we were all singing Beatles songs, and not because we had just won the match or were celebrating reaching the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup.

“Rather, it was all about remembering John Lennon.

“And thirdly, on that journey back to the airport, in what was a basic Communist bus, we came across an accident on the left-side of the road, with a minibus stuck in a ditch.

“And a littler further down the road, we encountered another accident with another minibus, this time on the right-hand side of the road.

“It was only when we got to the airport that we learned the minibus was the one carrying our kit. Trevor Kirton, our kit-man (later stadium manager), had supposedly dislocated his shoulder in the first accident, only for it to pop back in after the second accident. That’s the legend, anyway!” added Butcher

Town’s reward was a quarter-final tie against Saint-Etienne, to be played the following March.

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