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|Venue: Portman Road Date: Sunday, 27 November Kick-off: 17:00 GMT Coverage: Live radio commentary on BBC Radio Suffolk, BBC Radio Derby, BBC Sounds and BBC Sport website and app, live text commentary on BBC website and app|
The year is 1981. Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town have conquered Europe as Uefa Cup champions.
At the same time, non-league side Buxton were crowned Derbyshire Senior Cup winners.
The Bucks were also a club in crisis after suffering one of the most damaging results in their history – crashing out of the FA Cup with just eight men against Workington in the fourth qualifying round when a lucrative run was needed to ease growing financial pressures.
More than four decades later, the once European conquerors – who now play in England’s third division – face an ambitious Bucks side that are looking to reach the FA Cup third round for just the second time in their history.
Tommy Miller – the former Ipswich midfielder who played in Europe and in the Premier League with the Tractor Boys and who is now assistant manager at National League North side Buxton – is the man who now links the two sides.
He takes delight in the comparison as Buxton prepare to travel to Portman Road on Sunday for what he says is “the biggest game in the club’s history”.
“It’s bizarre, isn’t it? It just shows what the FA Cup can do for small teams,” Miller said.
“Every year there is a team that gets drawn against a bigger team. There is always one team that gets a run, makes a bit of history and Buxton have done that.”
Buxton director and “self-appointed historian” Tony Tomlinson, who previously served the club as chairman for 11 years, says Ipswich – with their European and top-flight history – make them “the biggest club” the Bucks have ever faced.
It is the second successive season Buxton have reached the FA Cup second round, having last season ended a 59-year wait to return to the first round proper.
Along they way there were plenty of near misses, but none like 1981 – a tie in which three players were sent off in a defeat that cost them a money-spinning meeting with Huddersfield.
“It was drama, the likes of which I’ve never seen with Buxton,” Tomlinson said of the defeat 41 years ago.
“There was a financial issue setting in at that time. Dear me, it really was bad news. What happened was the start of a downward spiral.
“If you look at the long history of the club, it was one of the real turning points in the club’s history. If we won that game and drew Huddersfield, because it’s the same ball, then it could have been very different.”
Buxton are now flying higher than ever, having last season won promotion to English football’s sixth tier as Northern Premier League champions.
Miller – who left his role as Spennymoor Town boss in December 2021 – joined Jamie Vermiglio’s coaching staff at Silverlands this season and says the tie against Ipswich has quickly “justified my reason” to join the club, nestled in the High Peak borough of Derbyshire.
As a player, the midfielder had three stints with the Tractor Boys.
It started with the disappointment of being released as a youth player, then included his return to Portman Road when they were in the Premier League and eventually ended after more than 200 appearances across all competitions.
He even earned somewhat of a cult status for having an immaculate scoring record from the penalty spot while with the Suffolk side – something he reminded them of in a tweet after the FA Cup second-round draw was made.
Before attending a recent Ipswich match as a guest, Miller had not been back to Portman Road since 2009 when his last stint at the club ended.
He has even been asked to go down again in a week’s time for their League One match against Fleetwood.
“It’s funny how football works out,” he laughed.
“From not going down there for 13 years, it will be three times in the space of six weeks.
“It’ll just be nice to go back this weekend. It’s not about myself, but the club – it will be a fantastic day for the players and everyone involved.
“I was a relatively cheap signing for them and would like to think I was good value for them over the years that I was there
“I gave good service to them, I like to think, and the fans have always been very good with me when I was there, and hopefully they will be fine on Sunday.
“I hope it’s a big crowd and it adds to the occasion for Buxton.”