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Butcher recalls Ipswich nadir as Hibs hover

TWENTY-EIGHT years have passed since Terry Butcher was part of the Ipswich Town team relegated from the English first division.

Terry Butcher tasted the pain of relegation as an Ipswich Town player in the mid-1980s, and later as the manager of Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Picture: SNS
Terry Butcher tasted the pain of relegation as an Ipswich Town player in the mid-1980s, and later as the manager of Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Picture: SNS

The subsequent passing of time has done little to diminish either the strength of his recollections or his frustration at what unfolded. They are memories he hopes to put to good use in his bid to steer Hibernian away from relegation worries of their own as the SPFL Premiership race reaches the penultimate hurdle.

There are few better raconteurs in the game than Butcher in full flow and a mere mention of season 1985/86 has him off and running. In what was an unsurprisingly fraught and tense conclusion to the campaign, Butcher found himself at various times putting his foot through a wall, elbowing his manager in the face, chasing a referee and threatening to punch a television presenter over lunch.

It was all to no avail. After 42 matches Ipswich found themselves in 20th position in what was a 22-team top division, a berth that plunged them into the second tier where they would remain for the next six seasons. Relegation would have personal ramifications for Butcher, too. The defender was sold to Rangers that summer, starting his on-off relationship with Scottish football that has endured the best part of three decades. Having been catapulted six months ago into a fire-fighting role at Easter Road, he has no desire to experience the misery of the drop again.

"Being relegated was the worst experience of my career - with Ipswich and with [Inverness] Caley Thistle. I also nearly went down with Sunderland when I was manager. It's not nice. It's not just me, Michael Nelson's been relegated too, there's one or two [currently at Hibs]. With Ipswich we couldn't hit a barn door with a banjo that year. A bit like here, really, we couldn't get goals. We lost so many games 1-0 - I think it was about 15 games."

Ipswich's penultimate game that season saw them head to Upton Park where Butcher got himself in all sorts of bother following a 2-1 defeat. "Don't start me on the West Ham game. We were 1-0 up and Alan Dickens toe-poked the ball. I've never seen a toe-poke that bent - but this went around Paul Cooper and into the net. That was 1-1, that would have been good for us, but then Mark Ward went down - a blatant dive - and the ref gave the penalty, and they won 2-1.

"[After the game] I put my foot through a wall and thought: "Oh s***!" It wasn't a solid wall, it was a Formica sheet and I went right through it. It was like Harry Worth [an English comedian from the 1950s and 1960s] - the wall was there, my thigh was there, and I was stuck. It was embarrassing, I'll tell you. John Lyall, the West Ham manager, was very good about it - he didn't charge me, even though I offered to pay for it. I actually went for the referee in that game, as well. I had to be held back. I elbowed my manager, Bobby Ferguson, in the face. He was the one who held me back when I was going for the referee. That was another fine. But there we go."

A defeat to Sheffield Wednesday in the final match of the campaign left Ipswich in a vulnerable position and they were relegated two days later when Oxford United won their game in hand against Arsenal.

"This is how stupid it was in those days," recalled Butcher. "We went to Sheffield Wednesday and lost 1-0 and then travelled back. But Oxford didn't play Arsenal until the Monday because Arsenal were in Europe or something. So Oxford knew exactly what they had to do. We knew we were down. We knew Arsenal's season had gone.

"They were already on holiday and had the beach towels out and Oxford won 3-0. And that meant we were relegated. The game wasn't on anywhere so I listened to it on the radio. I had Jim Rosenthal round - you remember Jim Rosenthal?

"He's a good friend and a lovely guy - but he's a f***ing Oxford fan and he came round for lunch. I nearly punched him! I don't make things easy for myself, do I? He didn't come round to gloat but one of us was going to be happy and the other wasn't. He did leave unscathed though."

Now Butcher hopes to avoid all that drama with Hibs, with a win tonight in Dingwall enough to preserve their Premiership status. "We're still not out of it yet by any means but it has always been in our hands," he added. "And now we have a scenario where we know if we win we are safe.

"We have drifted, slumped really, into this position. But over the last two weeks we have given ourselves an opportunity to secure safety with a win."

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