Sheepshanks: The shame of Anfield

FROM being just one win away from a Champions' League place Ipswich Town managed to fade so badly the following season they were relegated.

Derek Davis

FROM being just one win away from a Champions' League place Ipswich Town managed to fade so badly the following season they were relegated.

The pain of going down was not helped for David Sheepshanks when he saw the behaviour of some of the highly-paid stars after the 5-0 final day walloping at Anfield.

Sheepshanks remembers: “As I sat on the plane at Liverpool airport coming back from that 5-0 defeat which had confirmed our relegation I watched the players get back on the plane.

“There were some like Matty Holland, Hermann Hriedarsson and Jim Magilton, who were totally crestfallen but there were others who were laughing and I thought then there was something very wrong.”

He claimed: “That united team spirit that we had engendered had suddenly deserted us and there were football journeymen who were now playing for the club who to me didn't appear care.”

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Much of the blame for the drop was heaped on the signings brought in from abroad with Finidi George, Matteo Sereni, Amir Karic and Ulrich le Pen accused of shattering the dressing room harmony.

Sheepshanks said: “The relegation was very cruel.

“In hindsight though we can say it was too much too quick. People say it went to our heads but I genuinely don't think so.

“It may have gone to some of the players' heads but we knew we would not do as well the following year.

“In the boardroom ahead of the second season we agreed that we would realistically focus on finishing 12th.

“But George then brought in one or two players who he bought that summer, for all the right reasons, I believe turned out to be the wrong players.

“It is unfair to single out individuals but players like Finidi George and Matteo Sereni coming into the club was such a huge culture change and it changed the dynamics of the dressing room.”

He claimed: “There was jealousy among players about salaries and other things.

“At the time though none of the fans thought it was wrong to bring them in and everyone loved what they saw but George was finding it tough to mould the new players in with the people who had got us so far.”

Everything is crystal clear with hindsight and while David Sheepshanks would now have done things differently back in the summer of 2001, he saw no reason to doubt manager George Burley's judgement on players.

He said: “You can ask why didn't we stop him buying those players but the truth is who would have stopped him?

“He had a Midas touch and had brought in the likes of Matty Holland, Marcus Stewart, David Johnson and the list goes on but the players he brought in the summer 2001 just didn't work.

“There is also the second year syndrome and it has caught numerous clubs.”

Sheepshanks can vividly remember when it all started going horribly wrong.

He said: “At the turn of the year we had a good run and were up to 12th, beat Everton away but then lost 6-0 at home to Liverpool after they had beaten Leeds 4-0 a few days earlier.”

Then there was a three-week gap when the team went to Cyprus and when they came back lost at home to Southampton, an appalling performance and failed to win all but one of their remaining 11 games and were effectively relegated by Manchester United, with Roy Keane in midfield, at Portman Road before being trounced 5-0 at Anfield on the last day.

Sheepshanks added: “How we contrived in the last 12 games of the season to take just four points I just don't know.”

But even worse was about to