It's 11am on Monday, May 6. Ipswich Town players start to file into the canteen at their Playford Road training base for the next stage of a prolonged promotion party.

A place in the Premier League had been secured less than 48 hours earlier. Many, it seemed, had not got much sleep since that final whistle and joyous pitch invasion.

Up next, an open top bus parade where they will be lauded by an estimated 55,000 people lining the streets and packed into Christchurch Park. That night, a celebratory dinner at Venue 16. On Wednesday, a planned private karaoke session with Ed Sheeran. On Thursday, many were set to jet off to Las Vegas to keep the good times rolling.

No wonder looks are glazed and dazed. That's not just from those who had been out all night painting the town blue either. Boyhood dreams have been realised. Some, I sensed, were wondering if they might be about to wake up.

Forward Conor Chaplin, a talismanic figure in back-to-back promotions, walked away from his giddy team-mates for a moment of quiet reflection. Asked if the magnitude of this moment had sunk in yet, he replied: "No, I don't think so. I'm not sure when it will. It might be when I'm on a beach with my family, talking and reflecting, or maybe it will be when the fixtures come out. It's not fully hit home yet though.

"It's just been incredible. Unless you're in Ipswich at the moment, I don't think anyone understands how good the feeling is around the place. These are special days to saviour."

East Anglian Daily Times: Conor Chaplin takes in the joyous scenes following the promotion-clinching 2-0 home win against Huddersfield Town.Conor Chaplin takes in the joyous scenes following the promotion-clinching 2-0 home win against Huddersfield Town. (Image: Ross Halls)

On social media the night before, Ipswich Town had simply posted: ‘22/23 + 23/24. 194 points. 193 goals.' Chaplin replied 'silly really'.

"It's not normal what this club's built and achieved," said the 27-year-old, expanding on that sentiment. "To do it in arguably one of the best League One seasons standard-wise there has ever been, then do it again in, factually, one of the best, or the best, Championship promotion races there has been in terms of three teams reaching 90 points...

"To have that level of consistency, that level of relentlessness to get over the line... It's not normal what this team's done in our first season up in the Championship. I don't think that will sink in for a long, long time. This achievement will be spoken about for years to come. It's just a special, special team. Incredible."

Chaplin, like so many of these Town players, has put in the hard yards further down the pyramid. He helped hometown club Portsmouth to a League One promotion at the age of 20. He moved to Coventry for another season of third-tier football at the age of 21. He soon switched to Barnsley for a shot in the Championship, helping them finish in the play-offs, before being persuaded to drop back down to the third tier to join an ambitious Ipswich outfit under new ownership in the summer of 2021.

Upon signing, the front man said: "From the outside it looks silly, jumping from the Championship to League One, but this is a massive football club and I know the ambition here. That's something that excites me."

East Anglian Daily Times: Conor Chaplin contributed 13 goals and eight assists as Ipswich finished second in the Championship.Conor Chaplin contributed 13 goals and eight assists as Ipswich finished second in the Championship. (Image: Stephen Waller)

"It worked out alright, didn't it!" he laughs, when reminded of those words. "Of course I didn't expect to be in the Premier League this soon, but I did see that as an ambition from the club when I spoke to them before I signed. That was a big reason why I came, because my ambition was to get to that level.

"For it to happen this soon though... it's incredible."

There's that word again. Incredible. 'Surreal' is another I keep hearing. You have to keep saying it out loud to remind yourself it's real. I do just that for the man sitting opposite me. 'Conor Chaplin, football obsessive boy and man, 27 years of age, Premier League player... How does it feel?'

"Yeah..." he replies, pausing, processing and puffing out his cheeks before the floodgates open on a stream of consciousness.

"I'm someone that doesn't get too emotional. I didn't cry when my son was born. I didn't cry at my best mate's wedding. I'm not someone who shows that much emotion in terms of tears, but when my family came on after the game on Saturday I was gone, just gone. I couldn't stop crying.

"I don't know why. Actually, I do know why. It was probably just a realisation that all the hard work and sacrifice, not just individually, but from my family as well, had led to this point.

"My girlfriend has moved everywhere with me without raising a question. Straight out of uni she moved to Coventry. She then moved to the other side of the country, five hours from home, to be with me at Barnsley. Those sort of sacrifices from the people around you are what come flooding to you in those moments.

"So this is a little bit of vindication for all the personal and family sacrifice. It's a lot of vindication for that.

East Anglian Daily Times: Chaplin scored five winners in the 2023/24 season - against QPR, Sheffield Wednesday, Blackburn, Sunderland and Swansea.Chaplin scored five winners in the 2023/24 season - against QPR, Sheffield Wednesday, Blackburn, Sunderland and Swansea. (Image: Steve Waller)

"I can't really say it was the best moment of my life because I had a baby seven months ago! But that feeling was... *Puffs cheeks out*... Honestly, I can't possibly describe it. A whole life-long body of work goes into that."

Then a switch seems to flick. With no further prompting, Chaplin continues to speak from the heart. Now, however, he wants to look forwards, not back.

"I said this straight after the game on the Sky interview," he says. "I know for a fact that in a couple of weeks, when the dust has settled, that I'll want to be a good player in the Premier League. 

"I really wanted to come into this season and be a good Championship player and I felt like I've done that. To get over 20 goal contributions was a big aim of mine. I was really happy about that. Really, really happy. I wanted to be consistent at this level and I feel I found my consistency quite early in the season. 

"I know now it feels like a dream, but I want to do that again in the Premier League. I want to be fitter than I've ever been before. I want to be a better person, a better player than I've ever been before. That's something that I'm so excited for.

East Anglian Daily Times: Conor Chaplin says he wants to stay at Ipswich Town for a long time.Conor Chaplin says he wants to stay at Ipswich Town for a long time. (Image: Steve Waller)

"When you feel like you've done what you want to do there's always new things to prove to yourself, which adds to the motivation. I can't wait. I know that in two weeks' time I'll be itching to get back out running and just see how much I can get out of my body."

Chaplin, as a trustee of the Ipswich Town Foundation, knows more than most what an impact the club has on its community. It may 'only' be football, but it unites, it delights, it distracts and it inspires.

"It's everything," says Chaplin, as he prepares to look out upon a sea of happy faces, on a sunny Suffolk day, knowing he played a major role in that.

"There's that Bill Shankly quote, isn't there? ("Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”) I've heard stories about people losing loved ones and how they went on the pitch Saturday and thought about them not being here. Or how people had that shared experience together they'll never forget. That's powerful. There's not many things in the world that can do that. Football can.

"I'd love to be at Ipswich as long as I possibly can. I love it here.

"It's always going to be a special place for me with what I've achieved. My son was born here. It's been the most amazing place that I've ever played football. I feel like it's always going to be a home.

"I know I will always be able to bring my son back to the place where he was born and tell him about all the things that we did when he was tiny."

On the other side of the room, a worse for wear Leif Davis slowly munches on a bacon roll, Harry Clarke is proudly showing off his Hawaiian vest, while Wes Burns struts in wearing a bucket hat and sunglasses. The lads, as they have done all season, are ready to go again. 

Chaplin looks across and smiles. It's nearly time to board the bus. There's time for one last question. What can this band of brothers do together in the Premier League?

"I don't know," he replies. "I think we've probably got to be realistic. But I know off the back of this season, people will probably be like, 'What are you on about?! You might as well dream big!'

"We'll probably assess that with the coaching staff and the boss in the coming weeks when we come back into pre-season, but the main aim will be to be competitive.

"We have to just get better. We know the club is going to recruit to try to help us. To stay in the division is going to take an incredible effort from everyone and we're going to need improvements to do that on and off the pitch.

"It's up to the lads that are here to prove they should be part of the team."