Remembering Sir Bobby Robson and the blue of Ipswich Town

Author: Ashley Munson

When you talk about the greatest managers English football has ever seen the name Sir Bobby Robson is never too far from discussion but for Ipswich Town fans it’s the first name out of their mouths. Given the clubs current plight I can hear a chuckle from non-Ipswich supporting folk as I type in a ‘he’s hardly got competition manner’ but remember just a few years prior a certain Sir Alf Ramsey was at the helm so it’s no small accolade to be pointed in Robson’s direction.

Under Ramsey, Ipswich won promotion from Division Two in the 1960/61 campaign and followed that promotion up by winning the First Division the very next season – an achievement that is akin to a Premier League new boy beating Man City and Liverpool to top spot. The trouble for Ipswich was that such results attracted attention and come April 1963 Ramsey went off to manage the England national team.

Whilst Ramsey was guiding the Three Lions to World Cup glory, Ipswich were back in the Second Division after a shambolic run of performances under Jackie Milburn that saw him leave his post with just a 19% win ratio – the second lowest of any Town manager in history. Bill McGarry took charge and steadied the ship before finally leading the club to the top tier again. McGarry vacated his post and joined Wolves. Robson was his replacement.

Things hardly got off to a flyer under Robson with three and a half years of mediocrity following with 12th the best placed finish Ipswich could muster. In the Cobbold family though, the club were in the hands of owners who were affording of time and in the 1973 season Robson began to repay the faith that had been shown as he guided the club to fourth and European football the next season.

Robson established Ipswich as a more than competitive side in the First Division with four top six finishes in the following four years – all bar one of which saw UEFA Cup football come to Portman Road. During his tenure up to this point Robson had built a quality side having recruited the likes of keeper Paul Cooper, Allan Hunter and Paul Mariner and the 1978 campaign would cement Robson and his team into the Ipswich Town history books.

Their league form took a real hit as the Tractor Boys finished a lowly 18th and just three points above the relegation zone but their displays in the FA Cup couldn’t have been more different as they reached the final. Waiting at Wembley was Arsenal, who were huge favourites despite the fact Ipswich had notched 20 goals on route to the showpiece game.

The records will show a 1-0 victory to Ipswich but it was far from a smash and grab job by the underdog as Town bossed the match. Mariner struck the underside of the bar and John Wark twice rattled Pat Jennings’ right hand upright with powerful drives before Roger Osborne finally netted what would prove the winner in the 78th minute.

A short while later, Robson, who finished his playing career across the pond where the big sporting trophy is the upcoming NFL Super Bowl, had his hands on the FA Cup.

The lacklustre league performance proved to be a minor blip too and soon the club would be right back at the top with a Dutch duo – Frans Thijssen and Arnold Muhren – now in midfield that could dominate pretty much any game but, despite fighting at the right end of the table, the next piece of silverware to follow came in the form of a cup competition too – only this time in the shape of the 1981 UEFA Cup.

Robson’s men downed some big sides over the years but the highlight of the 81 UEFA Cup triumph – with the exception of beating AZ Alkmaar in the final – was a quarter final win against a Saint Etienne side starring Michel Platini. The downside to the cup win, in all honesty, is that without the ‘distraction’ there is no doubt Ipswich would have won the league title. Instead, the Blues had to settle for a runners up spot, which is exactly where they ended up a year later too and, in a flash, Robson followed the footsteps of Ramsey as he set off to manage England and Ipswich were never the same again.

Sir Bobby Robson. What a manager. What a man. What a legend.