Mike Bacon: Ipswich Town’s Greatest: Frans Thijssen - ‘Sublime, cultured, gritty. I loved watching him play’
PUBLISHED: 12:00 19 March 2020 | UPDATED: 12:05 19 March 2020
Being of a certain age, I was lucky enough to have been brought up with some of Ipswich Town’s greatest-ever sides – greatest-ever players.
Admittedly I’m not quite old enough to remember, or was even born, when the Blues lifted the Division One title back in 1962.
However, I do remember the Bobby Robson years – very well.
Looking back now I can’t believe how lucky I was.
As a young schoolboy I was able to stand on my milk crate in the old East Stand (now Cobbold Stand), watching and enjoying not just some of England’s finest, but Europe’s finest as well.
As my milk crate was put out to pasture, and I grew a few more inches, I saw Town win the FA Cup and UEFA Cup, all during my teenage years.
Halcyon days, classic games, brilliant footballers, with a manager, Robson, at the helm who was as passionate and methodical about his team as he was about the town in general.
Yes, I could list many top Town players who have caught my eye and made an impression on me over the years.
And in the weeks ahead, I’ll bring you some more of my thoughts.
Today, I’ll take a look at Dutchman, Frans Thijssen, one of my favourite Town players of all time.
... Frans Thijssen moved to England in 1979.
Ipswich Town had won the FA Cup in 1978 and English football was going through a bit of a sea-change, as managers began to look for players from across the globe, rather than just the UK – something we take as read in today’s multi-cultural British game.
But back in 1978 foreign players were far from the norm.
Tottenham Hotspur manager Keith Burkinshaw made one of the biggest double signings in 1978, not financially, but one that got football talking, when he signed two of Argentina’s ‘78 World Cup-winning squad, Osvaldo Ardiles and Richardo Villa for a combined fee of £750k. It was a huge moment for the north London club – and English football in general.
And, it wasn’t long before Ipswich Town boss Robson was putting his feelers out across the water as well – signing European Cup Winners Cup winner, Dutchman, Arnold Muhren – who won the ECW with Ajax.
He joined Ipswich the same summer Ardiles and Villa joined Spurs – a £150k switch from Twente Enschede.
It wasn’t long before Thijssen made it ‘Double Dutch’ at Portman Road.
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...Robson had been in charge at Ipswich almost a decade in 1978 and was looking to change the way his side played football.
He wanted it more through the midfield, what we would now classify ‘the thirds’.
Muhren was never going to be that useful with long-ball football. To compliment him and complete what turned out to be a most brilliant midfield came Thijssen.
Thijssen joined Ipswich in February 1979 and along with ‘goal machine’, John Wark the Ipswich midfield began to purr, culminating with that wonderful 1980/81 season that saw the club lift the UEFA Cup – it could so easily have been a treble had Lady Luck played ball.
For younger readers let me put it like this.
Ipswich Town’s then midfield of Thijssen, Wark and Muhren, was the equivalent of today’s Liverpool frontline, Mane, Salah, Firmino... first on the team sheet, a regular combination in tandum and outstanding.
I loved watching Thijssen play.
He wasn’t what you would expect from a typical Dutch/European player.
What I mean by that is while the likes of then foreign midfield stars like Muhren, France’s Michel Platini, another Dutchman Johan Cruyff were cultured and sublime, Thijssen was many of those things, but was far more gritty.
He’d put his foot in. Made a tackle. He used to swivel around in 360 degree circles holding off players. He was strong on the ball and could score goals.
He made more than 120 appearances for Town in a four-year spell that included him being Player of the Year in 79-80, PFA First Division team of the year in 80/81 (one of four Town players who made the 11 that season - Russell Osman, Wark and Paul Mariner the others).
He was the first Dutchman to be voted Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year 80/81 and was inducted into Ipswich Town’s Hall of Fame in 2008. He made 14 appearances for the Netherlands.
... In 1983 he departed for Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest – Clough a big admirer of the Dutchman – but it didn’t work out and Thijssen left just a few months later.
His stint in English football over, even though he continued to play until the early ‘90s.
But what an impression he made at Portman Road during those golden years under Robson.
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