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Eric Gates and the Great Escape
Written by EricWark on Saturday, 18th May 2019 20:08

My grandma claimed to know nothing about football. "Oh, I'll leave you men to talk about the football", she'd say, but she knew alright. She knew exactly what was going on with the Town.

I don't know if she ever visited Portman Road - she was deeply uncomfortable about going into pubs and the bookies, which she saw as places unsuitable for a woman (sent once by my uncle to collect his winnings, she walked up and down the street, past the door, but couldn't bring herself to go in).

I'm not sure if watching Ipswich fell into that category but, to my knowledge, she never went. Still, she read the Evening Star every day, cover to cover, and knew more about Town than she would ever let on.

She lived in Ipswich for all of her life, unless you count Bramford as being outside, and naturally knew who was who and what was what. So it didn't take her long to discover that the woman who worked in the wool shop was Eric Gates's neighbour (or mother-in-law or something - that particular detail escapes me) and that she would be happy to get Eric's autograph for me.

I was thrilled - I was 12, and Bobby Robson's team was breaking up. Robson himself had left a few years before, Wark, Mariner, Brazil, Mills, Thijssen and Muhren had all gone, but Eric Gates remained and was, to my mind, single-handedly keeping the Town in the First Division.

Burley, Butcher, Cooper and Osman might all disagree that last point, as might Alan Sunderland, who was signed for the last few weeks of the season and perhaps acted as the catalyst that galvanised a team that was fast plummeting down the league and into Division Two.

None of this was important for a certain 12-year-old, and it was the performances and goals of Eric Gates that captured my heart and earned my adoration.

A dreadful run of seven straight defeats was halted, and an impressive home draw with third placed Forest gave some hope, although it still left the Town in the relegation places, four points adrift with just six games to play, including visits to Anfield and Old Trafford. Worse, the game also marked the end of Butcher and Burley's seasons - both injured and out for the remainder.

What followed was the stuff of legend. Wins over Wolves and Norwich set Ipswich up for the visit to Anfield and the league leaders. Two Eric Gates wonder goals gave Town a half-time lead, and cemented him in my personal pantheon.

I spent several hours last night looking for the match on YouTube, but with little success. I did find one of the goals here - a 10-second clip as one of Match of the Day's Goals of the Season, but the other remains just a memory, seared into my mind as a 30-yard belter, but more probably something less spectacular.

Perhaps it is better to remember it as I remember it, rather than have it diminished by the truth. Liverpool equalised, but Town came back to Suffolk with a point and their noses just in front of Stoke in the battle to stay up.

In the end this was achieved in some style - a win over Sunderland was followed by an astonishing Bank Holiday Monday win at Old Trafford (Alan Sunderland scoring with four minutes left) - a result that ensured Town's survival, whilst also ending United's title challenge.

We were visiting my grandfather (the one who wasn't from Ipswich) and he liked an afternoon nap. He was not to be interrupted. So I sat in the car, listening to Radio 2 MW and the live commentary (to be honest, I have no idea who commentated, but we'll allow this rose-tinted memory to be perfect and for it to have been Peter Jones - just as long as it wasn't Alan moaning Green), not quite believing what I was hearing.

That was a beautiful day. A win over Villa on the last day of the season ensured a comfortable mid-table position and another Gates goal left him as the Town's top scorer for 1983-84.

But more than that, for it also earned him a place as the hero of a boy who, 30-odd years later is still, in his heart, sitting in that car feeling the heat of the sun through the windscreen whilst revelling in the glories of Eric Gates and Ipswich Town.

Eric Wark writes about football here: https://behindthegoal.home.blog/ and on less strenuous matters here: https://ericwark.wordpress.com/




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ElephantintheRoom added 08:23 - May 19
Wonderful stuff - thank you. Rose-timted memories of favourite players stay with you for ever - mine are of Danny Hegan and John O'Rourke from an earlier time at a similar age. Before saturation TV coverage even great players were rarely captured on TV - no Town fan will haveen George Best play well - and Denis Law only once. As a fellow member of the Eric Gates Appreciation Society, you should perhaps have made mention of his penchant for artful diving (cheating in modern parlance) or running away home (twice?) because Robson wouldn't pick him. I think we all owe a great debt to Eric's polar opposite brother Bill, a towering, granite-hewn centre half with Boro who had a stern word with Robson - which may well have made Robson see sense (and the blindingly obvious!)
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BackToRussia added 08:36 - May 19
Lovely article, thanks.

Have to say I'm a bit confused about the relevance of a piece of paper signed: "Bust Wishos - Oric Caios" has to an article about Eric Gates, but other than that, very enjoyable read.
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ParisBlue added 09:26 - May 19
The Liverpool game is here:


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Elwood added 13:45 - May 19
Nice trip down memory lane. Pretty decent performance against Liverpool as we were 'missing' Burley, Butcher, Mills, Thijjsen, Wark, Muhren, Mariner & Brazil. Sadly this team still looked a lot better than anything what we've seen in recent years,
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WhoisJimmyJuan added 11:59 - May 20
Lovely article! I too was 12 in 1984. I'm sure I read somewhere that the late Bobby Ferguson suggested to Sir Bobby playing Gates in a front 3 with Brazil and Mariner which transformed the team in 1979-80 into title challengers? It spelled the end of the 442 system with wingers, and Clive Woods never played again?
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EricWark added 22:02 - May 20
With regards Eric diving, there is a shocker here that wins a penalty.


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Bluedunc added 16:49 - May 21
Always thought of Eric as a bit of an unsung hero. I bumped into him in a nightclub in Colchester years ago and got an equally illegible autograph from him!
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allezlesbleus added 22:43 - Jun 26
Unbelievable memories. I went to Wolves, where we won and then sat amongst the Anfield faithfull as we went 2-0 up. Was gutted we didn't win that day. Man U away the next week and from being 1-0 down, we done them 2-1. We were staying up and they couldn't win the league.....fking mental! We were locked in the ground for at least 30 mins afterwards as their fans tried to attack us from above and when we were let out, I don't think I have ever seen so many "fans" waiting for us, plus a line of coppers 3 or 4 deep that were protecting us.

On the motorway drive back home, the Liverpool fans were saluting us and vice versa.....whilst the Mancs were not too impressed!

Probably in the top 10 of my footballing memories and I hadn't remembered about Burley and Butcher.
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dusth added 16:51 - Jul 30
Yes little Oric was one of the greats but sadly his brother Baldric never got beyond Jarrow reserves. The real story though is brother Bill who, Elephant must have forgotten, went from being sturdy unsung Middlesborough number 5 to founding Microsoft and becoming one of the richest men on the planet. Funny old game!
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