Four strikers, 52 goals, two painful injuries and one Wembley win - the tale of Burley’s four Town marksmen
- Credit: Archant
As we continue to celebrate Ipswich Town’s Wembley win in 2000, ANDY WARREN looks at the four strikers who fired George Burley’s Blues to promotion.
Four strikers, 52 goals and a lifetime of memories.
David Johnson, James Scowcroft, Richard Naylor and Marcus Stewart were all vital members of the Ipswich Town side which won promotion to the Premier League, 20 years ago tomorrow.
Two were on target at Wembley, scoring iconic goals which cemented their place in Ipswich Town folklore. The other two were cruelly denied their big moment by injuries but, while they may not have had the chance to fulfil their dreams that day, their impact must never be forgotten.
All four brought something different to the table. Johnson’s searing pace on the last shoulder and powerful finishing, Scowcroft’s physical presence was combined with great touch and vision, Naylor offered endless energy and an iron will, while Stewart’s guile, clever movement and a sweet left foot made him difficult to defend.
The tone was set on the opening day of the 1999/00 season, when Johnson, Scowcroft and Naylor were all on target in a 3-1 victory over big-spending Nottingham Forest and, later being joined by Stewart in February, they carried on from there.
“There was a key change in pre-season where George Burley moved me back into the No.10, almost as an attacking midfielder, so we could get more of our attacking players onto the pitch,” Scowcroft said.
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“We went with it and myself, David Johnson and Richard Naylor all scored on the opening day against Forest and that got us off to a great start which kept on going.”
Johnson added: “We were getting stronger every season and we started really well, but I think there were times when we got a little complacent because we knew we had so many goals in the team.
“Our quality made my job easier because I knew we would have three or four really good chances in a game. Whoever I played with, Scowie or Bam Bam (Naylor), I was the one playing on the last shoulder and my job from there was so much easier because of how good the team was.
“The three of us and then Marcus later really hit it off and we loved playing together.”
Scowcroft continued: “I have great memories from the season. On a personal note I felt fit and strong and was feeling confident. That was the most goals I scored in a single season and it got me the supporters’ and players’ player-of-the-year awards and that makes me feel very proud.”
And so he should. The academy product had netted 15 times while Johnson, who already had 36 Ipswich goals to his name during his 18 months as an Ipswich player, added 23 more as Town finished third. One of Johnson’s goals, at home to Walsall on the final day of the campaign, looked like it may just have secured the Blues an automatic promotion spot, only for Manchester City to win at Blackburn and send Burley’s men into the play-off lottery once again.
That’s where Marcus Stewart’s Ipswich story truly began.
“Marcus’s two goals against Bolton were incredible,” Johnson recalls, with a smile.
“I was watching in hospital in Bolton at the time because I had gone off with a shoulder injury in the first leg of that semi-final and I needed to see if it was broken.
“I was still wearing my Ipswich kit when the goals went in. They were both amazing,”
The heroics of Jim Magilton meant none of Burley’s fab four needed to find the net during the most dramatic of second legs against Bolton, though Johnson and Stewart won a penalty each and Naylor laid on Martijn Reuser’s clincher. The latter was a sign of things to come.
Scenes of joy erupted as the Blues reached Wembley but for Scowcroft, the euphoria was tainted.
“I didn’t feel 100% going into the game with Bolton but I remember going up for a header in extra-time and felt a pop in the back of my leg. I knew straight away that I’d done something serious before I hobbled off.
“It got worse as I sat down and I couldn’t walk off the pitch after all the mayhem. I went straight into the medical room, shut the door and I knew I wouldn’t be able to play in the final. I buried my head for an hour and didn’t go into the changing room. That’s the only time in my career I felt real, real disappointment.
“Of course I hoped to play but I went for a jog one morning and couldn’t. That’s when the decision was made and it wasn’t a shock.
“I remember walking out with the team and I never heard noise like it. The scenes were amazing. It was fantastic and I’m really glad I did that.”
With Scowcroft out, Stewart and Johnson were given the nod. The latter’s afternoon lasted just 20 minutes, but his replacement was ready.
“I injured my calf in training before the game and we had three days to ice it, but I knew in the warm-up it wasn’t good,” Johnson said.
“I started the game, had a little opportunity but couldn’t reach the ball and I knew from then that I had to come off.”
“I was next in line to start,” Naylor continued. “I’d come on in the semi-final when the game was in the balance and had done quite well.
“I was quite confident that if Johno didn’t make it, I’d start. As it happened, Johno started but didn’t last too long which was disappointing for him but obviously good for me.”
“He was a bull in a china shop,” Johnson said of Naylor. “So physical, so aggressive but sometimes letting himself down technically. But he worked so hard and when you put a player on like that you have something special.
“He would work the two centre-halves and give us all space and if you look at the three goals we scored after he came on, he was involved in all of them. He was that important.”
Naylor’s first key contribution came just a few minutes after half-time as he put the Blues in front for the first time. As he wheeled away, with his shirt swirling around his head, Burley’s men had a lead they would never let go.
“I don’t really remember too much about it,” Naylor said.
“I remember having a slightly heavy touch and the ‘keeper coming out and thinking he was going to get it. I managed to get there first, lift it over him and celebrate around the back of that goal where all the Ipswich fans were - a sea of blue. It was unbelievable.”
His next act was to bring down Mark Venus’s long pass from the sky, teeing up Jamie Clapham to cross for Stewart to head home. If you ask any member of Burley’s side about the striker’s finish, they will all tell you the clever movement which led to him nodding the ball home was typical of Stewart’s game.
“I agree with them all but I think I’d add something to that,” the striker said.
“It’s about having connections on the pitch, wherever you are in defence, midfield or attack. And I certainly had that connection with Jamie Clapham.
“I knew he would put the ball in at the earliest moment he possibly could, so knowing that gives me a good head start on what’s going to happen next because I can anticipate where the ball’s going to go.
“My movement had to be right, don’t get me wrong, but that means nothing if the ball wasn’t right. The fact I knew what Jamie was going to do helped.
“It was a great feeling to score at Wembley and to put us 3-1 up but there was still lots of drama to come. We didn’t do things the easy way in the three play-off games.”
Barnsley pulled one back but Naylor still had one more job to do, moving the ball through for Martijn Reuser to slam home and secure victory, a place in the Premier League and send the blue half of Wembley crazy.
“That’s when we knew we’d done it,” Stewart said.
“The feeling when that goal went in was incredible. What a day. What a team and what a club. Those memories will last a lifetime.”
“Everyone in that squad had played their part and it was about togetherness,” Johnson added. “Bam Bam went on and led by example and was amazing - for me he was man-of-the-match. My day wasn’t disappointing. I was on the bench and knew we were going to win. Maybe it was written for me not to play.
“I ran onto the pitch at full-time and my calf felt alright then... until I was going up the stairs to lift the trophy and I felt in agony again. It was frustrating I guess but it’s a day I’ll remember forever.”
Scowcroft said: “What an amazing feeling. The dressing room was amazing afterwards with everyone together. We were close as a team so to achieve this together was fantastic. That day changed all of our lives.”
Naylor concluded: “It was a tremendous day for me personally, a tremendous game. I don’t remember many games of my career but that one stands out. The contributions to the goals and the all round game was really good for me.
“We’d made the semi-finals three or four years in a row. It was a culmination of a lot of hard work.”