The boys of 1980-81: ‘There was no time to recover properly’ – Burley on UEFA Cup trip to Prague, 40 years on

PUBLISHED: 05:59 05 November 2020

George Burley pictured during the early 1980s. He was part of the Town defence that stood firm away at Bohemians Prague to secure a 3-2 aggregate win in the UEFA Cup, 40 years ago to the day

George Burley pictured during the early 1980s. He was part of the Town defence that stood firm away at Bohemians Prague to secure a 3-2 aggregate win in the UEFA Cup, 40 years ago to the day

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In the third of a new series celebrating the 40th anniversary of Ipswich Town’s UEFA Cup winning campaign of 1980-81, CARL MARSTON talks to George Burley about the visit to Bohemians Prague

George Burley, who recalls Town's UEFA Cup campaign of 40 years ago, when fixture congestion was the norm.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNGeorge Burley, who recalls Town's UEFA Cup campaign of 40 years ago, when fixture congestion was the norm. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Crazy times! Ipswich Town’s thrill-a-minute 1980-81 campaign, which culminated in UEFA Cup glory, featured some astonishing cases of fixture congestion.

It is 40 years to the day since Town, in the midst of an exhausting seven-match stint condensed into less than three weeks, braved the energy-sapping journey to Czechoslovakia to take on Bohemians Prague in the second leg of their UEFA Cup second round tie.

Future Town boss George Burley, who was still only 24 at the time, was a mainstay of the defence at right-back, and that back-line was tested to the maximum in Prague on a nail-biting Guy Fawkes Night, 1980.

Nursing a healthy 3-0 lead from the first leg at Portman Road, thanks to John Wark’s brace and a wonder free-kick by Kevin Beattie, Town had to juggle the pack for the second leg.

Kevin Beattie, celebrating his wonderful free-kick in the 3-0 win over Bohemians in the home leg, went on to play a key role in the second leg in Prague. Picture: OWEN HINESKevin Beattie, celebrating his wonderful free-kick in the 3-0 win over Bohemians in the home leg, went on to play a key role in the second leg in Prague. Picture: OWEN HINES

Not many teams, from any era, could cope without such an injured trio of keeper Paul Cooper, talisman midfielder Frans Thijssen and centre forward Paul Mariner, but Bobby Robson’s Ipswich managed it ...... just!

Bohemians scored inside three minutes, through Tibor Micinec, and reduced the aggregate deficit to 3-2 when Anonin Panenka, the pride of Prague and the whole of Czechoslovakia (he was renowned for starting the trend for softly chipped penalties down the middle of the goal), scored on 51 minutes.

But an exhausted Town, playing their fifth game of seven during a hectic 20-day period, held on thanks to a heroic team display.

“We used to think nothing about playing in Europe and then getting back just in time to prepare for Saturday’s league match,” recalled Burley.

Laurie Sivell played only a handful of games for Town during the successful 1980-81 season, but he did deputise for the injured Paul Cooper in trhe away leg at Bohemians PragueLaurie Sivell played only a handful of games for Town during the successful 1980-81 season, but he did deputise for the injured Paul Cooper in trhe away leg at Bohemians Prague

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“We had been so used to playing European football at Ipswich over the years, and so had benefited from all that experience.

George Burley, a mainstay of Town's impressive defence during the glorious campaign of 1980-81George Burley, a mainstay of Town's impressive defence during the glorious campaign of 1980-81

“There was no time to recover properly or to rest up. It was just a case of going straight into the next match, at least three times a week, for most of that season. But we just took it all in our stride.

“And don’t forget – the pitches were not like they all are now. They weren’t perfect surfaces.

“In fact, by the start of the winter they were always heavy, and usually mud-baths! It was hard playing on such surfaces every week, sapping the energy. It left you with heavy, tired legs.

“I must say I don’t remember too much about Prague itself, although it was very cold!

Steve McCall, pictured during the UEFA Cup final against AZ Alkmaar, was promoted to the starting line-up away at Bohemians Prague due to injuries to Frans Thijssen and Paul MarinerSteve McCall, pictured during the UEFA Cup final against AZ Alkmaar, was promoted to the starting line-up away at Bohemians Prague due to injuries to Frans Thijssen and Paul Mariner

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“We never knew much about the opposition in those days, on big European occasions. We didn’t have the scouts that all the clubs all have now, watching the opposition’s recent games.

“All we knew was that we had a very strong team ourselves, and we would be a match for anyone.

“Most of us ended up playing 50 or 60 games that season. We had a good 12 to 14 players, who were not only experienced at playing European football but were also used to playing regularly at international level. In fact, the team was packed with internationals,” added Burley.

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Lowestoft-born Laurie Sivell replaced the dependable Cooper in goal, while Beattie and Steve McCall came in for the injured Thijssen and Mariner.

But rather than upset the formation, Robson merely reshuffled his pack.

Burley explained: “We never used to play five at the back in those days, it was always a back four. Kevin Beattie came in and did a great job. I think that Mick Mills pushed into midfield, which he was used to doing, and Terry Butcher played at left-back, which he often did, to accommodate Kevin in central defence.

“In fact, it was never about the formations in those days. We just used to adapt as players to fill in if someone was missing.

“We were used to be being put under pressure in these ties. Bohemians did get it back to 3-2, but we were always confident of getting through.

“Laurie Silvell came in and did a good job, as he always did. He was such a great shot stopper, one of the best in the business.

“He wasn’t the tallest of keepers, not like many of the giants which you see today, but he always did well when called upon, not that Paul Cooper missed many matches because of injury.

“Laurie was very agile and we always had confidence in him,” added Burley.

Sivell only played a handful of games during the season, and in fact only played 141 league games over 15 years at Portman Road.

Town’s reward for their success over Bohemians was a third round tie against Polish side Widzew Lodz, while three days later they were back in top-flight action, extending their unbeaten league start to the season to 14 games with a 3-3 draw at Southampton.

Rest, who needs a rest?

THE LINE-UP

Town (v Bohemians, UEFA Cup, 2nd rd, 2nd leg): Sivell, Burley, Osman, Beattie, Butcher, Mills, Wark, Muhren, McCall, Brazil (sun Turner, 62) Gates.

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