‘The smile on Sir Bobby’s face made the hair on the back of my neck stand up’... Stephen 'Foz' Foster's memories of that 'season in the sun'
It’s 20 years ago this season Ipswich Town finished fifth in the Premiership, with a UEFA Cup spot guaranteed for the next season. MIKE BACON spoke to BBC Radio Suffolk presenter STEPHEN FOSTER - aka ‘Foz’ - for his memories of that fantastic campaign
It really didn’t matter to Stephen Foster - the result, that is.
Indeed, the fact Ipswich Town won was actually a tiny bit of a disappointment for 'Foz '- he’d have preferred a draw!
Ipswich Town were entertaining Newcastle United on April 14, 2001 - the 1-0 Town victory, via a Marcus Stewart penalty, pushing George Burley’s side up to third place in the Premiership table that afternoon.
It was the continuation of the Blues’ incredible ‘season in the sun’ - they were set to finish fifth, after promotion from the Division One play-offs the previous May.
But it was the return of Sir Bobby Robson to Portman Road that made that April spring afternoon so special for so many - including 'Foz'.
Back managing another club for the first time since he left Portman Road in 1982, Sir Bobby got a raucous reception – much to the delight of 'Foz' - who helped orchestrate the music Sir Bobby walked out to that afternoon.
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“I was Rob Chandler’s right-hand man at the time working the PA at Portman Road,” 'Foz' said.
“We both talked about what would be a good record for him to walk out to. It was such a special occasion having Sir Bobby back at Portman Road. We decided on Peters and Lee’s ‘Welcome Home’. I think we both wondered if it was a bit naff to be honest, but it wasn’t, it was absolutely spot on.
“I was alongside the tunnel as Bobby came out with the music blaring and the crowd cheering. He had the biggest of smiles. The smile on his face made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Still does today, thinking about it.
“I honestly wanted a draw that afternoon, even though I’m an Ipswich fan. But, who else? Marcus Stewart sealed the points - and so we won. It was just a great occasion and despite all the fantastic results we enjoyed that season, that one moment in time - seeing Sir Bobby’s reaction as he came out of the tunnel that day - made it for me.”
'Foz' was born in Ipswich and spent eight years working for Radio Orwell, before another 30 at Radio Suffolk - he is leaving the station next month.
He knows, like many fans of his generation, he has been lucky to witness some great Town teams and pinpoints Arnold Muhren as his favourite-ever Town star.
However, that 2000/01 season is right up there with some of the best he has ever enjoyed at Portman Road.
“I remember when we played Manchester United in our first home game that season,” he said.
“Again, I was lucky enough to be on the pitch doing the PA. I stood just yards away from a young David Beckham, who was warming up. I couldn’t get over how spindly his legs were! How could we have known at that time he was to go on to become a world superstar of the sport?
“At that time the Premiership was taking off and the world’s best players were making their way to England - and suddenly we were witnessing them at Portman Road.
“George Burley made so few signings that season. He just went with the players who got the team up - I loved that so much, and they did him so proud."
While the FA Cup final of 1978 remains 'Foz’s ‘stand-out’ ITFC game - “because it was the culmination of Sir Bobby building and rebuilding sides to at last get some trophy glory”, little do many Town fans know but 'Foz' was also one of the leading lights behind the ‘Singing the Blues’ tune that used to be thumped out at Portman Road before games.
He takes up the story: “Yes, I produced ‘Singing the Blues’ back in 1999,” he said.
“Rob Chandler suggested playing the Dave Edmunds version of the song at the ground. I came up with the idea to record our own version which David Sheepshanks was happy for the club to fund and sell. I re-wrote the lyrics that included a line about Ipswich scoring five, as we seemed to be doing that alot around about that time.
“We also wanted to go lyrically with, ‘I never felt more like singing the Blues, when Ipswich win and Norwich lose’, but I think the club felt it was perhaps not a good idea, and when the record was eventually cut, we went with, ‘when Ipswich win and others lose’. Although the fans changed the lyrics to Norwich anyhow!
“The players got involved and joined in on the record. We sold 5,000 of them as soon as the CD was released!”
While of course 2000/01 was a great season, 'Foz' admits losing to Birmingham in the League Cup semi-finals was a bitter disappointment.
“We had only been to Wembley the season before, but I think we all felt we were going to go again,” he said.
“That first leg, which we only won 1-0, was the killer. We had so many chances to score more. We lost our way in the second leg and lost 1-4 after extra-time.”
Today, Foz is still on the mic at Portman Road, albeit at the moment to a stadium that has in the main been empty since the start of the season.
“I suppose the purple patch I enjoyed on the PA was the mid-90s to the early 2000s. It was an exciting period,” he said.
But for all the great football Ipswich Town played that season, it was a moment away from the action on the pitch that 'Foz' remembers with most fondness - when Sir Bobby returned to Portman Road.
WHAT are your memories of that 2000/01 season? Goals? Games? Travels? Woolly gloves? What a time to be a Town fan. Let me know. firstname.lastname@example.org
UP NEXT: He was the man who encapsulated all that was great about that ‘season in the sun’. And he needs little introduction. Just say... MARCUS STEWART