North Stander: Play-off win at Wembley was the greatest day in my 52 years as a Town fan
In his latest column, North Stander Terry Hunt reflects on the upcoming 20th anniversary of Ipswich Town’s promotion to the Premier League, when they beat Barnsley 4-2 at Wembley on May 29, 2000.
I’m sure many supporters will enjoy looking back to that wonderful occasion back in May 2000, even though it is painful to compare it with our pitiful situation at the moment.
For me, that day at Wembley is the absolute pinnacle of my 52 seasons as a Town fan. It’s difficult to see how anything will ever beat it.
There have been many fantastic times since I started supporting Ipswich way back in 1968. Of course, the FA Cup final in 1978 and the UEFA Cup triumph three years later stand out as highlights.
But, however memorable they were, shamefully I rather took them for granted. I was in my early 20s then, and Ipswich had been established as one of England’s top teams for several years when we won those trophies.
With the foolishness of youth, I’m afraid I rather assumed there would be plenty more silverware coming our way very soon. After all, Town were a big club, and that wasn’t going to change...was it?
As it turned out, I had to wait 22 years to see my team gracing Wembley again - apart from the Charity Shield Final in 1978, and we’ll draw a veil over that, shall we?
So, older and wiser, I was determined into make the most of our Wembley trip in 2000. All those heartbreaking play-off semi-final defeats in the preceding years made the day all the more special.
I have to admit that, for the big day, I joined what our former manager Roy Keane would sneeringly describe as the “prawn sandwich brigade.”
Chairman David Sheepshanks invited my wife Jane and me into the Royal Box, and we enjoyed luxury coach travel and were lavishly wined and dined before the game.
As kick-off approached, and we made our way to our seats, I remember being bowled over by the sight of Wembley split into two perfect halves - the blue and white of the Town fans to our left, the red and white of the Barnsley supporters to our right. It was absolutely breathtaking.
It was then that the importance of the game really hit home. The stadium announcer kept reminding us that this was the most important game in English football. Gulp - he was right. This was our chance. What if we messed up? Would we ever get another opportunity? The nerves took over.
What a game it was. A real thrilling rollercoaster as we went behind, came back, went ahead, looked comfortable, then conceded to bring back the worries, only for Martijn Reuser to score that late, late clincher.
What a moment as Matt Holland lifted the giant trophy just a few yards in front of us. I remember being determined to lap up every single, wonderful moment, remembering the foolish way I had taken for granted those triumphs two decades earlier.
I stayed in the Royal Box for absolutely ages after the players had finished their lap of honour, getting a little emotional thinking about how much my late father would have loved these moments.
Then there was a wonderful bonus when Reuser - ever the showman - came back on to the pitch for his own, personal celebration, wearing a white T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Rolls Reuser.”
That evening, we were privileged to join the players and club staff for their celebrations at the Suffolk Showground. As you might imagine, it was a very, very happy evening.
Jim Magilton took centre stage, calling up the team one by one for “interviews” which were very big on humour and hilarious mickey-taking!
It was such a memorable day, filled with fun, camaraderie and, ultimately, a huge sense of achievement that, finally, finally, our club was back where it belonged - in England’s top division.
I remember wondering if this could mark the beginning of another great era for Ipswich. During our first season back in the top flight, it looked as though those hopes would come true.
But, very sadly, it all came crashing down, and now we are where we are. But nobody can ever take away those magnificent memories. There are those who say we shouldn’t wallow in past glories, and that the here and now is all that matters.
I can understand that view, but a club’s past achievements are important, and they also offer potential lessons for the future. Anyway - enjoy the memories!
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