LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Ipswich Town

Tractor Boys now taking the field to aim for the top tier

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

More than four decades since their glory years when a mainly home-reared team under Bobby Robson won domestic and European silverware, Ipswich Town have sunk to their lowest level since the 1950s. In 2021, the club passed from English ownership to American, and the upcoming era will be radically different from the old-school one typified by Bobby Robson. 

Many of Robson’s young charges – motivational captain Terry Butcher, wiry forward Eric Gates, FA Cup hero Roger Osborne – were developed at Portman Road. In the same era as all-conquering Liverpool and Clough-drilled Derby and Forest, this Ipswich notched seven top-four finishes in ten gruelling seasons – interspersed with floodlit nights of Euro glory against Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Portman Road/jane Cody

It was all a far cry from the Eastern Counties League. The club, formed in 1878 by old boys of Ipswich School, was resolutely amateur until 1936. Overseen by the dynastic directorship of the local Cobbold family, Ipswich Town competed sundry Suffolk cup competitions and were founder members of both the Southern Amateur and Eastern Counties Leagues.

Professionalism was followed by election to the Football League in 1938 but Ipswich achieved little until the inspired hiring of manager Alf Ramsey in 1955. With Suffolk-born Ted Phillips already in place, Ramsey, previously a shrewd right-back at title-winning Tottenham, brought in the equally prolific Ray Crawford. In 1961, Ipswich won the Second Division, scoring 100 goals, then carried straight on to sweep up a first, and so far only, league title.

Drawn with eventual winners AC Milan in the European Cup, Ipswich fell 3-0 at the San Siro but made the aggregate score respectable with a 2-1 win at Portman Road – establishing an unbeaten tradition for Euro home legs. Ramsey, though, had accepted the England job.

Long-term Ipswich chairman ‘Mr John’ Cobbold then made another astute young managerial hire in Bobby Robson in 1969.

Sir Alf Ramsey statue/Tom Gard

Struggling at first, Robson’s Ipswich picked up in 1972-73, gaining a UEFA Cup spot. A shock 1-0 defeat of Real Madrid was the first of many memorable European nights. Key to the victory – and subsequent 0-0 draw at the Bernabéu – was a cast-iron defence featuring former Ipswich youth team players Mick Mills and Kevin Beattie. The four goals of Trevor Whymark did for Lazio before Robson’s men lost on penalties to Lokomotive Leipzig.

Now more Euro savvy, and with the prolific Paul Mariner partnering Whymark up front, Ipswich famously beat Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona 3-0 at Portman Road, only to again lose on penalties.

After picking up a first and only FA Cup with a 1-0 win over Arsenal in 1978, Ipswich signed old UEFA Cup foes Arnold Mühren and Frans Thijssen from Twente Enschede. Also on board was mercurial Scots forward Alan Brazil.

Back in Europe, Ipswich again beat Barcelona at home then, two years later, shocked many by thrashing Saint-Étienne, Michel Platini and all, 4-1 in France. At last reaching a European final, Ipswich set up a UEFA Cup win with the 3-0 stomping of AZ ’67 at fortress Portman Road. The Dutch were then rocked in the second leg by an early away goal from compatriot Thijssen. Robson’s men went on to win the 1981 UEFA Cup 5-4 on aggregate.

Shortly after his greatest triumph, like Ramsey, Robson left Ipswich for the England job.

The club slumped, picked up briefly under John Lyall, then made four Championship play-offs, one successful, under old boy George Burley. Tense, high-scoring wins over Bolton and Barnsley, with goals from Marcus Stewart and Jim Magilton, put Burley’s so-called Tractor Boys into the Premier League in 2000-01.

Tipped for relegation, Ipswich could thank the prolific Stewart to help them achieve a club record Premier League placing of fifth – a Champions League spot was even looking possible. Burley was elected Manager of the Year.

With a 1-0 win over Internazionale in the subsequent UEFA Cup, good times seemed to be returning to Portman Road – before a Christian Vieri hat-trick at the San Siro was followed by poor league form.

Portman Road/jane Cody

Relegated in 2002, Ipswich have never returned to England’s elite. Worse, Norwich, East Anglian rivals in the Old Farm Derby, have fared better of late – not least in the 2015 Championship play-off, Ipswich struggling unsuccessfully for half the second leg with ten men.

In charge from 2012, Mick McCarthy pushed Ipswich ever closer to the Premier League –though injury to another academy prospect, Andre Dozzell, an England U-17 captain, hindered consistency. McCarthy left to take the Ireland job, and former Norwich manager Paul Lambert couldn’t stop the rot in 2018-19. Ipswich sank to the third tier for the first time since 1957.

By the time of the pandemic, with little prospect of promotion, supporters had had enough of Lambert and owner Marcus Evans, staging protests at the training ground. The Scot stayed until February 2021, his eventual managerial replacement being former Wolves midfielder Paul Cook, while the publicity-shy Evans sold the club to US investors, some also involved with USL team Phoenix Rising in Arizona.

Results so far have been muted – fans may not be so quiet.

Ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

The home of Ipswich Town since 1884, Portman Road is ideally located just over the River Orwell from the train station. It also allows the club to honour the memory of its two greatest managers, statues to Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson placed outside the ground and each two-tiered end named after them.

Home fans gather in the Sir Bobby Robson Stand – under-12s are not allowed in the lower tier there. Away fans are usually allocated blocks V1 and V2 of the upper tier in the older Cobbold Stand on Portman Road – block E in the uncovered lower tier can also be used.

The Magnus Group West Stand is laid out in three tiers and houses the executive boxes – there’s another row in the Cobbold Stand opposite.

Capacity is 30,300.

getting there

Going to the ground – tips and timings

Portman Road is a short walk over the river from the railway station, the stadium ahead on your left. You’ll see the floodlights as your train pulls in. 

The sat nav code for Portman Road is IP1 2DA. There’s a 24hr NCP car park (IP1 2BP, £4.80/day) right by the away end on Portman Road but with only 45 spaces, it tends to fill up on match days. The 24hr NCP car park (IP2 8AL, £6 Sat, Sun or Mon-Fri after 4pm) by the station is ten times bigger. Between the station and the stadium, there’s also a Pay & Display car park on West End Road (IP1 9AS, £1/hr, £5/day).

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Advance distribution is via the Planet Blue club shop (Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, match-day Sat 10am-noon) at the corner of the Sir Bobby Robson and Cobbold Stands, over the phone (UK only 03330 050 503) and online. Note that lines and web sales close at noon on a 3pm match day. For all enquiries, contact mainticketoffice@itfc.co.uk.

Note that the old ticket office on Constantine Road deals with information and collection only. Derby games against Norwich are all-ticket affairs.

There’s a slight variation in prices according to seat location. For the lower tier behind each goal, it’s £23, £17 for over-65s, £13 for under-22s and £8 for under-19s. For the upper tiers, and most seats along the sideline East and West Stands, it’s £27, discount rates £20-£14-£7. Under-12s are charged £3. For a prime spot in the upper West Stand, you pay £30, reduced rates being £22, £14 and £8.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The Planet Blue club shop (Mon-Sat 9am-5pm, match days 10am-kick-off & for 30min after final whistle) stocks home tops of classic blue with white trim, current away shirts of white with black side markings, plus retro tops of the type worn by the 1978 FA Cup and 1981 UEFA Cup winning sides. 

There’s also a whole range of retro gear around the 40th anniversary of that European triumph, T-shirts, postcards and keyrings.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

With the town centre so close, pub and bar choices are widespread but nearest the stadium, the riverside Station Hotel is well versed in catering to beer-drinking supporters both home and away. Refitted both as a lodging and bar/restaurant in 2015, it’s posh enough to have a wine list and a gin menu. On match days, the policy is usually to close right on the final whistle then liaise with police as to when to re-open that afternoon/evening.

Curve bar/Jane Cody

Any closer to the ground and it’s pretty much home fans only, at the Curve Bar on the corner of Princes Street, for example, or the match-day, bar-lined Fan Zone on the corner of Sir Alf Ramsey Way and Constantine Road. It’s free for ticket holders only from noon to 2.45pm before Saturday kick-offs, and 6pm-7.30pm prior to midweek games.

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