Written by ElephantintheRoom on Friday, January 14, 2022 4:30 PM
Sixty years ago this year Town won the Premier League, so if you think of your relationship with Ipswich Town as something of a marriage this year marks the Diamond Jubilee of that remarkable achievement.
I suspect there will be celebrations of a sort, perhaps a little different from those of club skipper Andy Nelson, who saw fit after winning his medal to supplement his salary that year by working on the redevelopment of North Stand.
This year also marks the 60th anniversary of another band of brothers, the Rolling Stones, who went from rock and roll bad boys to a series of stamps honoring them.
It says a lot about the restorative powers of copious amounts of sex, drugs, and rock and roll that the surviving members of the Stones seem a little healthier than the surviving members of Alf Ramsey’s crew.
I attended a few matches of this unforgettable season, but I must say that I completely forgot them. My earliest memories of supporting Town are of perching precariously on a crate of milk at Churchman’s with a view of someone’s back or sitting in the bulky seats of the wooden East Stand, quietly reading the copy of The My Brother’s Eagle.
Of the matches themselves, I have very few memories. And being high on the heroic, low-key accomplishments of Dan Dare, I guess it’s understandable that Town’s title win made little impression on my eight-year-old mind.
If you look at the crowds drawn to Portman Road at the time, they don’t seem impressive, averaging around 23,000. But the ground was often packed and the crowds seemed huge, especially if you were on the small side. You had to queue to get in and hand over your money, then pass those already inside to find some sort of space, other people soon pushing past you. It paid to be big, but in 1961 I wasn’t.
Relegation was on most pundits’ minds for the country’s cousins that season. It didn’t help that Town’s season started with rocky trips to Bolton and Burnley, which netted just one point. Their first home game against Manchester City was also a grueling experience, with Town losing 4-2.
But then something of a miracle – Town played Burnley at Portman Road and beat one of the strongest clubs in the division 6-2. Another characteristic of those distant times is the improbable nature of some of the diaries. The wise commentator for The Observer was the rather optimistic Clement Freud, who solemnly intoned that Town had found his feet in the Premier League. The dean of cricket John Arlott was also in the press box at the time. The city ended September moving up to the 12th.
It was a time when you could name the team. And luckily for Alf Ramsey, he could name the same team almost every week. Of the 11 names that will soon be etched in Town history, a staggering nine have played in every game or only missed one or two.
Of the outfield players, only John Compton missed three games and Roy Bailey in goal missed five. When Sticks Leadbetter missed a game, it was his first absence from the team roster in nearly four years. Think about it for a moment, back in the day when medical care in the field consisted of a bucket of cold water and a sponge, plus the St. John Ambulance that operated if things went wrong.
Pitches were often a sea of mud or frozen rock and tackles could be somewhat rudimentary. Even the heavy leather ball could do serious damage, as Ted Phillips found out the hard way when he scored in the face after a misplaced punch from the Blackburn keeper.
The photos from this era are a good illustration of another era. Times were hard and in 1961/62 the rationing had not ended for a long time. I can guarantee life was still far from groovy baby and very few people owned a car, let alone us or the gamers.
Even clubs at the top of the league seem a little strange. Bolton, Burnley, Blackpool all finished comfortably ahead of Manchester United. Town came first, Burnley came second, Spurs (who started the season as ‘Spurs twice winners, greatest team ever’) came third, then Everton, followed by Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday. Sheffield United had offered Town the previous season, which somehow illustrated the state of flux in football during that austere era.
Ah, the Spurs. I tend to disagree with Clement Freud. The moment Town found their feet in the Premier League was surely when they humbled the best team ever on October 21, 1961. I may not remember the game, but I remember the excitement and of the conviction that this match has generated. Now everything seemed possible. Later that season Town won at White Hart Lane to complete a memorable double on glamorous double winners
Just as victors write their own history in war, so too in football. Ipswich fans are still bubbling with injustice inflicted on Town by referees such as Roy Capey and Clive Thomas. Or the league title won by Aston Villa. History only recalls Alan Hudson’s goals, with West Ham winning the 1975 FA Cup and Villa adding salt to Town’s injuries by also winning the European Cup.
And so it was with Town’s less-than-conquering side in 1961/62. Few people remember the important role played by the FA Cup that year.
Burnley were in truth the better side that season. It was the FA Cup that came to Town’s rescue. Blues fans don’t remember the FA Cup in 1961/62, largely because, as usual, interest from Town was only fleeting, knocked out by Norwich in a fourth-round replay at Portman Road – the shades of Scotland becoming ‘world champions’ by beating Ramsey’s England at Wembley.
But I digress, Burnley’s far more impressive cup run carried them through to the final via a semi-final replay against Bobby Robson’s Fulham and created a draining congestion. Surprisingly, Burnley have won just one of their last 10 league matches – and also quickly lost the FA Cup final. Their winners? Spurs.
So while their two main title contenders had their eyes on a competition that, in those distant days, was the glamorous centerpiece of the season, Town quietly snatched the title, winning it with 56 points less than impressive after a 2-0 home win. against Aston Villa.
This year also marks the Diamond Jubilee of the Rolling Stones. At the time, they were just an unknown group of kids copying Howling Wolf and other American blues players. The charts were dominated by a curious mix of establishment figures such as Acker Bilk playing Stranger on the Shore with his clarinet, Russ Conway tinkling the ivories, Frank Ifield stomping his way through the Lovesick Blues, Ronnie Carroll singing Roses are Red My Love, Rolf Harris singing Sun Arise – and livelier artists such as The Tornados strumming Telstar, The Shadows, with and without Cliff Richard, an American guy called Elvis Presley fronting The Jordanaires, Chubby Checker doing The Twist.
Times were changing. Alas for Ipswich Town, in the league, it has never been more dynamic than in 1962 – despite the best efforts of Bobby Robson.
Other teams have come close to Town’s feat. Leicester recently won the Premier League in rather miraculous circumstances and Brian Clough somehow took Nottingham Forest to the title straight after winning the Second Division. But only one other club has won the league on its very first attempt. And that was Preston in 1888/89 – the year the league was founded.
I’ll admit I’m biased, but in my opinion, winning the league on the very first request is a Diamond Jubilee more worthy of a set of stamps than the Rolling Stones put together.
|FrankfurtBlue added 17:01 – Jan 14
Small correction: Forest has been promoted to 3rd place. Town are the only ones to win the Second Division followed by the First Division.
|ChrisFelix added 6:22 PM – Jan 14
Another brilliant blog. It’s ironic that we lost to Villa in ’81 because of a traffic jam that caused injury. While in 62 the same thing happened to Burnley.
I always say Alf was a lucky manager while Bobby was unlucky or the almost manager. This also happened again as England boss
|SanityBlue added 00:22 – Jan 15
A very enjoyable read, as usual. The 1961/62 season was before my time, but the memories of missing out on the league title in 1980/81 still hurt me and my dislike of Aston Villa still lingers. Something I didn’t know about the 1961/62 squad was that they had nine gifts or something close to it. It helps, or it did back then, if a team could use the same players consistently. I believe in 1980/81 Aston Villa only used fourteen players and seven of them played in all 42 league games. You are right to draw the parallel with Burnley. It was generally accepted that they were the best team in 1961/62 just as we were the best team in 1980/81. The other parallel you mentioned is that Burnley’s run in the FA Cup undermined their quest for the title as it did for us almost forty years later. In sport, you always worry about what could have been. If a very average Aston Villa side could win the European Cup, it’s reasonable to think that Ipswich Town could have won it had they competed instead.