Ipswich Town 1981 UEFA Cup captain Mick Mills regrets Sir Bobby Robson's great team not completing their journey together and reflects on night Blues stunned Michel Platini's Saint Etienne in France
Tomorrow marks 40 years on from Ipswich Town lifting the UEFA Cup in Amsterdam. Mick Mills, who spoke to Russell Claydon ahead of the 30th anniversary, concludes our nostalgic series.
They were the side Ipswich’s record appearance holder (741 games from 1966-1982) believes should have gone on to take their seat at football’s top table.
After lifting an FA Cup and UEFA Cup during his time as Sir Bobby Robson’s trusted skipper, Mills’ only regret is not seeing the young, talented side around him complete their journey to the top together at Portman Road.
Instead, with Sir Bobby answering his country’s calling, his fledgling stars began to fly the nest, meaning a second consecutive runners-up spot in 1981/82 was to signal the end of their domestic conquests. Left as ‘the nearly men’ when it came to the coveted English First Division title.
Mills MBE, a patron of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation which joined forces with Gina Long’s Suffolk branch of Breakthrough Breast Cancer to stage an auction and ball in Bury St Edmunds in 2011 to raise £250,000, said: “In the UEFA team I was the oldest at 32 and although I did carry on playing till 36 (at Southampton then Stoke) I was probably the only genuine one that would have needed replacing.
“The others were good ages – 20, 21 years of age – and if Bobby hadn’t of been taken from Ipswich by England he probably would have kept the boys together and would have done marvellously.
“We finished second in ’81, winning the UEFA Cup and then in ’82 we finished second. Who knows what 83’ or ’84 would have brought, or 85’, because the likes of Eric Gates and Alan Brazil were young men then and were great players then.
“Paul Mariner was also relatively young and Terry Butcher and Russell Osman were early 20s.”
The England captain at the 1982 World Cup added: “It is a shame. I would have loved to see what that team would have done if they had maybe five years together, it really is sad.”
But with Ipswich conquering Europe 40 years ago tomorrow, there are plenty of memories still to dine out on, including the shock of all shocks – taking Saint Etienne’s unbeaten home European record away in the most scintillating fashion in the quarter-final.
Sir Bobby called the 4-1 victory in France ‘the best European performance by an English side ever’.
In the run-up to that game Mills happened to visit a family of a staunch Saint Etienne fans whose son was a pen pal of his son. And he will never forget how they barely knew who he was, and told him Ipswich would get “trounced”.
The tactical awareness and bravery of duo Sir Bobby and Bobby Ferguson was the foundations on which that incredible away leg victory was built on, according to Mills.
The 4-1 victory made the rest of Europe suddenly take notice of a side from a sleepy corner of rural England full of flair, with the likes of Dutch masters Frans Thijssen and Arnold Murhern along with the trickery of Erc Gates.
“They had Michel Platini and some top players and were backed by the most partisan crowd ever – they were in that stadium two hours before kick-off with all their chants going,” the former player/manager at Stoke City recalled. “But we had a plan A which we always started with, regardless of who we were taking on.
“Like when the coach came back saying Platini was playing and Sir Bobby asked ‘what do we do with him?’ and he said ‘nothing’ and Bobby couldn’t believe what he was saying, but he (Bobby Ferguson) just felt if we could implement our game on them it would be ok.”
Mills, 72 and still going strong with his BBC Radio Suffolk co-commentary position after dabbling in corporate, football agency and scouting work, added: “The secret was that if we actually didn’t have charge of a game they were good enough, Bobby Robson and Bobby Ferguson, to just click their fingers and we just altered slightly, to counteract the opposition to try and get the domination of play and then we would try and go back to our original plan; it was clever.”