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‘That season was probably my favourite ever as a footballer’ – Holland on Town’s season in the sun, and his most memorable game

15 November, 2020 - 06:00
Matt Holland captained Ipswich Town when they finished fifth in the Premier League. Picture: ARCHANT

Matt Holland captained Ipswich Town when they finished fifth in the Premier League. Picture: ARCHANT

Archant

He’s ‘Captain Fantastic’, the skipper who guided Ipswich Town to their best-ever top-flight finish in recent times in 2000/01. MATT HOLLAND was an inspiring leader. 20 years on, MIKE BACON caught up with him to talk about that wonderful ‘season in the sun’.

Matt Holland celebrates Ipswich's third at Everton back in 2000, with goalscorer Marcus Stewart. Goodison is one of Holland's favourite grounds. Picture: WARREN PAGEMatt Holland celebrates Ipswich's third at Everton back in 2000, with goalscorer Marcus Stewart. Goodison is one of Holland's favourite grounds. Picture: WARREN PAGE

Matt Holland still has the shirt Paul Gascoigne swapped with him after the game, that sunny afternoon on Merseyside.

A happy keepsake from a day the home crowd stayed behind to applaud their visitors from Suffolk off the pitch!

Ipswich Town, led by skipper Holland, had just beaten Everton 3-0 at Goodison Park in the Premiership. It was September 2000 and was the Suffolk team’s second away win of a campaign that would see them finish fifth in the table. The Blues’ ‘season in the sun’ was up and running.

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Matt Holland, with the shirt worn by Paul Gascoigne that afternoon at Goodison when Town won 3-0. Photo: ARCHANTMatt Holland, with the shirt worn by Paul Gascoigne that afternoon at Goodison when Town won 3-0. Photo: ARCHANT

“You think when you beat a team 3-0 at their own place, the home crowd would vanish pretty quickly,” Holland said. “Especially as we were newly-promoted.

“But that didn’t happen that afternoon. The Everton fans stayed behind to applaud us off the pitch. I’ll always remember that. It was a great feeling.”

Marcus Stewart’s brace and John McGreal’s bullet header gave the Suffolk side a resounding win. It was their first victory over the Toffees for 20 years.

For Holland and his Ipswich team-mates, it was a confidence-boosting performance and result as they went on to take the Premiership by storm that season.

A season Holland has never forgotten.

“When I look back now, that season was probably my favourite-ever as a footballer,” he said.

“Those whole couple of seasons actually, were just great. Getting to the play-off final, winning at Wembley, then finishing fifth.

“I think how we battered Spurs over Christmas at Portman Road, doubled Man City, putting them down when we beat them at home near the end of the season, winning at Liverpool. What times.”

Ipswich Town captain Matt Holland (R) challenges Liverpool captain Robbie Fowler during their FA Premiership match at Anfield, where Town won 1-0 during that wonderful 'season in the sun'. Photo: PAIpswich Town captain Matt Holland (R) challenges Liverpool captain Robbie Fowler during their FA Premiership match at Anfield, where Town won 1-0 during that wonderful 'season in the sun'. Photo: PA

What times indeed.

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Yet it was the match at Goodison Park that warm September afternoon, Holland remembers with great fondness.

“I’ll be honest, Goodison is one of my favourite grounds, still is,” he said.

“I always seemed to score a few goals there with Charlton and Ipswich. It’s just a great old ground, the supporters are very knowledgeable. I go back today to do media work and it’s still the same, so traditional, I really like it.

“That day when we beat them 3-0, we were good. We’d started to settle into the Premiership. Our first game of the season was at Spurs, we scored first but lost. There was a difference in class that day. But we learned from it and got a draw against Manchester United in our first home game. That gave us huge confidence.

“We won at Leeds and that was another big boost.

“Personally, I felt I had a bit of a slowish start to that season. I had an ankle issue and was nursing it a bit, but by the time we came to the Everton game, I was feeling much better.

Ipswich Town captain Matt Holland (left) battles for the ball with Manchester City's Shaun Wright-Phillips (right) and Alfie Haaland (centre) during the Premiership match at Maine Road, Manchester. Town won 3-2. Photo; PAIpswich Town captain Matt Holland (left) battles for the ball with Manchester City's Shaun Wright-Phillips (right) and Alfie Haaland (centre) during the Premiership match at Maine Road, Manchester. Town won 3-2. Photo; PA

“It was a really good performance that day - one of our best all season, I think.

“I remember being up against Gazza and Thomas Gravesen in the midfield. I swapped shirts with Gazza at the end - I still have the shirt.”

The enthusiasm in Holland’s voice 20 years on tells its own story - the proud captain of a team that upset the odds on so many occasions.

As a player he had an outstanding appearance record, playing more than 600 League games for Bournemouth, Town and Charlton. He won 49 Republic of Ireland caps and scored in the 2002 World Cup against Cameroon - one of five international goals for the midfielder.

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Today, he is still very much involved in the game.

Living in Essex he is doing plenty of media work for talkSPORT and Premier League Productions.

“I love it, I must admit,” he said. “I’m very lucky to do the work I do. Get to go to the grounds I go to.”

Arsenal's Lauren (left) tackles Matt Holland of Ipswich during the FA Carling Premiership game at Highbury, London in February 2001. The Gunners won 1-0. Photo: PAArsenal's Lauren (left) tackles Matt Holland of Ipswich during the FA Carling Premiership game at Highbury, London in February 2001. The Gunners won 1-0. Photo: PA

Holland continues to keep an eye out on how the Blues are getting on, even though much of his work these days is reporting on Premier League games.

“Yes, it’s 20 years ago now we all enjoyed that season at Portman Road,” he said.

“But I say, a club like Ipswich, as we showed back then, must always remember what it is capable of achieving.”

Always applauding the home faithful - Matt Holland.Always applauding the home faithful - Matt Holland.

MORE: George Burley and his ‘season in the sun’ memories

WHAT are your memories of that ‘season in the sun’ at Portman Road when Town finished fifth in 2000/01? Great goals, great away days, great moments. Let me know - mike.bacon@archant.co.uk

Republic of Ireland's Matt Holland (second right) is congratulated by team-mates after scoring the equaliser against Cameroon during the first round, Group E game of the 2002 World Cup at Big Swan Stadium, Niigata. Photo: PARepublic of Ireland's Matt Holland (second right) is congratulated by team-mates after scoring the equaliser against Cameroon during the first round, Group E game of the 2002 World Cup at Big Swan Stadium, Niigata. Photo: PA

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