‘This was Jim’s night’ - celebrating the greatest game at Portman Road for a generation
Today marks 20 years since Ipswich Town’s dramatic play-off semi-final victory over Bolton. ANDY WARREN looks back at the most dramatic of games.
Portman Road has seen some special nights. And for a generation of players and fans alike, today marks 20 years since the greatest of them all.
Of course the halcyon days of Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson produced some truly memorable moments, but the Jim Magilton-inspired Blues’ triumph over Bolton on May 17, 2000, had everything you could ever want.
Drama, tension, quality, class, lows, highs, aggression, relief and, ultimately, jubilation.
Many who were there would be willing to argue the case the 5-3 win was in fact the greatest football match ever played.
Manager George Burley, a legend of the Robson-era and the man at the helm of three-previous play-off disappointments, sums the night up perfectly, 20 years on.
“It was maybe the most nervous I have been,” he said.
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“The first-leg finished 2-2. Then we went behind, came back, went behind again and battled back again. Jim scored a penalty, missed a penalty and then eventually got that equaliser right at the end to go to extra-time.
“There were red cards and you never knew which way it was going to go. But ultimately having the man advantage helped us before Martijn Reuser scored that fabulous goal.
“It was a very tense game but we eventually did it.”
This was a team effort. Finally taking the next step of a long-held plan and finding redemption following three years of play-off plan. But there was no doubting the central character. This was Jim Magilton’s night - his crowing glory.
“Jim had a famous saying - ‘You do the running and I’ll do the playing’ - and that sums us up really and we had a really good relationship on the pitch,” captain Matt Holland said.
“That was Jim’s night, really. What a night. He didn’t necessarily have the reputation of being a massive scorer of goals but he certainly scored some special ones.
“His quality deserved a night like that.”
Burley added: “Jim was a huge character, a bubbly guy who loved his football. He was the type of player who made people play and inspired them because he was excellent on the ball with great vision.
“He was never renowned for scoring too many goals so for him to score a hat-trick in that semi-final was incredible. He generated excitement and was a huge influence on the side.
“Jim was an Irishman, so full of energy and would bubble up. You had to be careful how you handled him because he wanted to do everything he could.
“It was a challenge as a manager to get the most out of him and I think we did that. He’d probably say he enjoyed his football at Ipswich.”
Magilton’s hat-trick took the game to extra-time where, of course, Jamie Clapham and Martijn Reuser sealed the deal. But the additional 30 minutes highlighted just how big a part Bolton’s ill-discipline played in the drama under the lights.
“You can generally tell inside the first five minutes how a game’s going to go and we knew this one was going to be physical and dramatic,” striker Marcus Stewart said.
“You can see that by the cards – they had two reds (Mike Whitlow, Robbie Elliott) and a load more yellows and we didn’t have any at all. We were professional on the night and they lost their cool, it’s as simple as that really. They went over the edge and we deserved to win.
“It had penalties, yellow cards, red cards, loads of goals and loads of drama. A last-minute goal, a hat-trick. Everything you could have ever wanted from a game, including the result at the end.”
That result saw Ipswich fans flood onto the Portman Road pitch as Doris Day’s ‘Que Sera, Sera’ blared out through the public address system.
“The atmosphere was just about the best I can remember,” Holland said. “I feared for my life at the end because there was no way I was going to get to the tunnel as fans poured onto the pitch.
“People wanted to rip the shirt off your back and it was almost impossible to get off the pitch. But what a feeling it was,.
“We went to a bar round the corner from the stadium. It wasn’t a massive celebration because we still had a job to do but after missing out in so many semi-finals the fact we’d made it to Wembley was a brilliant feeling for us.”
Defender Tony Mowbray added “It was an immense game. I played a small part and remember nodding one down for Jim to put away. Bolton were a very good football team with some good players and we’d had some really good battles with them.
“It was a great achievement to reach the final but we of course knew the job wasn’t done yet.”