Smaller teams in Europe - perish the thought!

The caption on the back of this Sport & General agency photograph reads “Ipswich inside-left Phillips gets the ball after  a pass to him whizzes past Floriana players; left-half Vella James and right-half Grima     

As a fan of a “smaller” club, I have to say I find the European Champions League (a misnomer, but there you are) a bit of a bore, with the same old teams playing the same old teams every season, maybe at a different stage but perm any four from six in England and multiply by three for Spain, Italy and Germany and there you have it. It takes a miracle like Leicester in 2016 to upset it all, and we all know they don’t happen very often. So this month I’m looking at two campaigns that bucked the trend in the not so dim and distant past.

Liverpool were promoted to Division 1, after almost a decade below, and Chelsea were relegated to Division 2

Back in 1962, Ipswich Town completed their meteoric rise up the Football League under ex-Southampton, Spurs and England full back Alf Ramsey by winning the league just a year after topping Division 2. In that same season today’s giants Liverpool were promoted to Division 1, after almost a decade below, and Chelsea were relegated to Division 2. A snap-shot taken then and the English “Big 6” for the Super League would have had a very different colour.

Ipswich’s first game in the European Cup was against Floriana of Malta, a tie which they won 14-1 on aggregate (4-1 away, 10-0 home) before they went out after losing 2-4 on aggregate to eventual winners AC Milan. The photo shows local boy Ted Phillips in action on a Maltese dust-bowl. Ted was a prolific scorer for Ipswich with 161 league goals during his time there, and he notched two in this match in the Mediterranean. Miracle #1.

People may scoff at the memory of the Anglo-Italian Cup

By the end of that decade European competitions abounded, and for clubs who missed out on the European Cup, there was the Cup Winners’ Cup and the Inter-Cities Fairs’ Cup. In the UK a new one was invented – triggered by Third Division Swindon Town winning the League Cup but being denied a place in Europe the following season. People may scoff at the memory of the Anglo-Italian Cup, but giants like Manchester United, Internazionale and Juventus played in the competition during its first four seasons, between 1969/70 to 1972/73, without ever winning it.

Lowly Crystal Palace competed twice, in 1970/71 and 1972/73. In the former they were in a group with Inter and Cagliari before going out at the group stage, this despite becoming the first English side to win a competitive match in the San Siro (2-1 v Inter) and also beating Cagliari 1-0 at Selhurst. Bobby Tambling scored all three of Palace’s goals. My photo shows the great Italian star Luigi Riva with John Jackson, David Payne and John McCormick, in front of nearly 20,000 at Selhurst. I was one of those, thrilled to bits with the chance of watching Cagliari’s Riva, and Rivera and Mazzola of Inter, among others.

Another decade later and we had Nottingham Forest, until 1977 a mere parochial Second Division outfit, winning the European Cup twice in a row. Brian Clough, of course, was the catalyst for this incredible change in fortunes for the East Midlands club, who won the league in 1978 and then a year later picked up the European Cup with a goal by Trevor Francis, as they beat Malmo 1-0 in the Munich final. Malmo were also European interlopers, and remain the only Nordic side to reach a European Cup / Champions League final. Their manager was Bobby Houghton, who went to the same school as Roy Hodgson – and a few years later, yours truly. The photo shows two greats, Peter Shilton, and scorer Francis, proudly parading the enormous trophy. Miracle #2.

Meanwhile, this season’s Champions League is well underway. Who’s in it? Don’t ask me! But if your club is participating, enjoy it, while you can. You may not be in it for ever, another miracle might be just round the corner!

(caption) The caption on the back of this Sport & General agency photograph reads “Ipswich inside-left Phillips gets the ball after a pass to him whizzes past Floriana players; left-half Vella James and right-half Grima

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