Fuller Flavour: A costly mistake, nerves and euphoria - the story of my day cheering Town to the Premier League
In his latest column, Karl Fuller recalls the day that he joined thousands of other Ipswich Town fans roaring the Blues on as they reached the Premier League 20 years ago this week.
Last week, I asked how it could be 20 years since that glorious night at Portman Road when we defeated Bolton to finally reach a play-off final. And if that night doesn’t seem like it was two decades ago, then the final certainly seems as if it really did happen only yesterday!
To continue where I left off from last week, it must have been around 11pm after that win when I and thousands of others finally dragged ourselves off the Portman Road pitch. The realisation that we were finally going to Wembley was the ultimate football dream coming true. The journey back to Clacton was a quiet one as the night had been emotionally exhausting.
Being a member of the Clacton branch of ITFC supporters, we were able to arrange not only obtaining our tickets with ease, but in groups with those that we wanted to sit with. I was lucky that I was not one of the many fans who had to queue around the ground at silly o’clock to get my hands on a ticket – for Town fans they were akin to the golden tickets in the film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Having spent the time before the big day both excited and apprehensive, the journey down to London from Clacton on one of two supporters coaches passed without any real worries and was a hubbub of excitement and hope - would our return journey see us celebrating being back in the Premier League?
That journey down was shared with many other coaches, cars, and mini-buses full of fellow Town fans. The A12 was busy, the A12 was blue and white. Arriving at Wembley Stadium was the first time my excitement really turned to nerves as the sight of both blue and white and red and white covered Wembley walk.
I do not really recall any of the remaining time that led to kick-off. In fact, my first recollection after getting off that coach came six minutes into the game when Craig Hignett’s effort crashed off the crossbar almost directly in front of my excellent viewpoint before rebounding off Richard Wright’s back and into the net to give Barnsley the lead.
I was already in panic mode – thankfully, our players were not. Tony Mowbray’s equaliser on 28 minutes sent us into raptures and blue and white bodies were all over each other around half of the stadium.
Half-time came with the scores level and then I committed one of the biggest mistakes I will ever make. I was desperate for the toilet but suspected there would be long queues so left it until the end of the interval.
When I finally made the trip I still had a bit of a wait and was answering nature’s call seven minutes into the second-half when there, above us, was the mightiest roar you could ever wish to hear as Richard Naylor scored to put us in front.
There must have been seven or eight of us in the toilet who all just looked at each other in disbelief. When I came out of the gents there were two policemen standing outside and I said to them that they might as well arrest me for the crime I had committed! When I walked back up the steps into the stand, there were bodies everywhere in celebration. I had missed the moment.
Thankfully, Marcus Stewart then scored our third and I was this time able to join in. When Barnsley pulled a goal back, it was the worst 12 minutes of my life until Martijn Reuser put the game to bed. My nerves were shot to pieces and I just wanted to be anywhere but inside Wembley.
But that Reuser goal lifted all the pressure and boy, how we celebrated long after the final whistle. The walk back to the coach was in eerie silence as we were all shattered and were reflecting on what had just happened.
The coach journey home, however, was a different story! We were Premier League again at last.
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