Ceased anglian

Csaba Abrahall explains how Mauricio Taricco went from unknown to hero during his time at Portman Road

When John Lyall was in South America in the summer of 1994, searching for new recruits to join Ipswich Town’s impending relegation battle, some national papers suggested Gabriel Batistuta was set to arrive at Portman Road. Those of us who knew better laughed off this fanciful notion, yet, had Town some­how found the millions to persuade Batigol and his flowing locks to swap the Ponte Vecchio for the Orwell Bridge, it’s unlikely he would have been as popular as the unknown full-back Lyall brought back for £175,000.

By the time Mauricio Taricco left for Tottenham in November, he had become one of Town’s best-loved players, immensely respected for the way he had surmounted difficulties to make a huge success of his time at the club. It was perhaps to his advantage that he played no part in the humiliating relegation season that followed his arrival, yet it must have required a certain strength of character to overcome spending his first year in a foreign country in the reserves of a team that conceded four or five every week.

I recall a photo of Taricco and Lyall’s other South American purchase, Adrian Paz (whose contribution to Ipswich’s cause was somewhat less glorious), watching a comprehensive defeat at Villa Park shortly after their arrival, the horror at what they’d let themselves in for evident on their faces. It was to be some time before the outlook was brighter.

Paz soon jumped ship, but Taricco fought his way into the plans of Lyall’s successor, George Burley. Once given a chance, he never relinquished his place but, while his committed and stylish performances endeared him to Ipswich fans, supporters of other clubs were less impressed. Being an Argentinian, he was a prime candidate for abuse from those xenophobes unable to think beyond Maradona and the Falklands, and inevitably he had to deal with a fair bit of prejudice.

Sheffield United took umbrage at an incident early in Taricco’s Ipswich career that saw Dane Whitehouse sent off, and United’s Nick Henry and Chris Short have also been dismissed for subsequent assaults on Taricco. In their programme for the match between the two teams in March, United saw fit to award a £10 prize for Internet Comment of the Month to a spoof letter from “Ronaldo” declaring “I luvva two kicka siet bellas outta argy gypo Taricco”. The editor’s accompanying note that no offence was intended can hardly excuse the publication of such racist tosh.

It was another incident against Sheffield United, in the aftermath of Ipswich’s 1997 play-off defeat, that secured Taricco’s eternal popularity in Suffolk. He had recently been voted Supporters’ Player of the Year, collecting the award on the night he scored a marvellous goal to set up a derby win against Norwich, and events at Portman Road after the play-off confirmed him as the right choice. At the final whistle, a 2-2 draw sending United to Wembley on away goals, the TV cameras, lingering to capture the emotions of the moment, spotted Jan-Aage Fjortoft gloating over a crestfallen Taricco, who left the field in tears. Of such images are heroes made.

Ipswich’s decision to sell him provoked the sort of outcry rarely seen in Suffolk. The humble young Argentinian had become an honorary East Anglian; he was one of us. Always willing to speak to fans, he learned to disparage Norwich (not to mention Sheffield United) and one afternoon at Roots Hall was even spotted among the visiting fans – and with his old dad, bless him. Letting him go halfway through a promotion challenge looked a poor decision at the time. It looks no better now. The £1.75 million or so received hasn’t eliminated our need to sell again, while most Ipswich fans would agree that, had he stayed, we would all be looking forward to Premiership football now.

From WSC 149 July 1999. What was happening this month