WATCH! Marcus Stewart dropping in the Panenka, as the Saints go marching.... off! A 'season in the sun' for Town fans, 20 years on
- Credit: PA
It’s one of “seven or eight” hat-trick balls Marcus Stewart owns.
Trophies of a football career spanning 20 years, more than 650 games and 250 goals, and with it a delicious spell at Portman Road that will never be forgotten by those Blues fans who saw it.
Southampton, away, April 2, 2001, in the Premiership, live on Sky and under the floodlights at The Dell, Marcus’ dinked Panenka penalty in the 71st minute completed his hat-trick, sealed a 0-3 victory for Town and put him on the verge of an England call-up.
He was on the way to those 19 league goals come the end of the season, only beaten by Chelsea’s Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink – while two ahead of Arsenal’s Thierry Henry.
So, I find it rather difficult to ask him, “what are your highlights from that 2000/01 season - the ‘season in the sun’, as I’m calling it?”
For the popular West Country lad, born in Bristol, who made woolly gloves a fashion icon in Suffolk during his time at Portman Road, trying to think of highlights of that campaign must feel like me asking him to spot trees in a wood.
“Yeah, it was quite a season,” Marcus admits.
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“Looking back, we had such great team spirit. There were no superstars. We were strong all over the pitch and had an especially strong spine to our team.
“I never felt under any pressure at Ipswich. I backed myself to score goals wherever I went and that included in the Premiership. I was good at putting disappointments to one side, things never bothered me. I just got on with life.
“As a team we didn’t know what to expect that year after we were promoted. The history books sort of told us we might not do well, but after we got a few wins, momentum was key.”
By the time Marcus and his team-mates arrived at The Dell that April evening in 2001, Town were gunning for not just a European spot - but a Champions League place.
The Town striker’s three league goals moved him onto 18 at the time.
“I remember that Southampton game really well,” he said.
“The pitch was a bit dewy that night and that suited our game. We enjoyed pinging the ball about. I seemed to always feel fitter during a night game. I just felt stronger. It was my one and only hat-trick in the Premiership and yes, I did a Panenka spot kick to get my hat-trick.
“I didn’t do it to be cocky or arrogant. I did it more than just that one time. I often took penalties and I didn’t want to get known as someone who always did the same thing. I mixed it up, including the Panenka.
“It was after that game I thought I might get an England call-up.
“Not that I thought about it much, that’s not my style. But I must admit I did wonder if I would get it, because I felt if I didn’t get it now, then when would I?”
As it turned out an England squad, that included the likes of Owen, Heskey, Phillips and Sheringham, in the striker ranks, couldn’t find a place for Marcus Stewart - so close, yet so far.
“I couldn’t do any more than I was doing,” Marcus said.
“I remember being among the PFA Player of the Year nominations at the end of the season - in the top six - five of them were strikers.”
Indeed, at a time of top English marksmen, Marcus was in good company, with an Ipswich Town team that were stunning all in the Premiership.
“As I said, it was a wonderful season and for me personally to score all those goals was great,” he said.
“I remember getting a couple at Manchester City and of course the one at Liverpool. There were so many good times that season.”
But the good times at Town didn't last. And as Town were relegated, so Marcus joined Sunderland on a three-year deal in 2002.
He retired from playing in 2011.
Today, aged 48 and after leaving Walsall as assistant coach, he is taking a break from football.
“I’m taking some time out, enjoying my family,” he said.
“It’s been sort of 30 years of nothing but football and I would like to get back into it eventually, but for now we’ll have a bit of a break - although I am doing a bit of refereeing - I enjoy that.
“In fact I used to referee fun games in training when I played. Now I’m taking a ref’s course.”
So, there you have it.
Just a few ‘season in the sun’ memories from a man who provided Town fans with a plethora of them.
WHAT are your memories of that ‘season in the sun’? Games? Goals? Marcus Stewart? Let me know.... email@example.com
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