Remembering the Ipswich Town European Race under George Burley

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The end of this season will mark 20 years outside the Premier League for Ipswich Town, but their last top-level season was memorable for other reasons.

If you asked a football fan if they would accept relegation if that meant your team got a European run, the answer would likely vary widely depending on the club in question.

If Ipswich fans had known their Uefa Cup run would be followed by a long stint outside the Premier League, they might have doubts, but the memories provided by that spell in Europe will last a lifetime.

The 2000-01 season was a real triumph for the Tractor Boys, who had just entered the elite under the leadership of George Burley.

Marcus Stewart was a revelation up front, academy product Richard Wright established himself as Premier League goalkeeper, and Burley was named manager of the year after taking the team to under three points from a place in the Champions League.

Indeed, Ipswich’s 66 points would have been enough for Champions League football in other seasons. However, they ended up falling victim to their own success.

Wright was arguably the biggest loss, with the England international joining Arsenal, and substitute Matteo Sereni couldn’t be as reliable as some had hoped.

The carrot of European football allowed Burley to recruit the kind of player he might not otherwise have been able to fit in, but it wasn’t always a good thing: Sereni was joined by Finidi George, winner of Champions League with Ajax in 1995 but is no longer the player he once was, while exciting Argentinian Sixto Peralta was loaned out by Inter Milan at a time the club may have needed experience as much as excitement.

Ipswich was doing some of the right things, expanding his squad with the expanded fixture list in mind, but a struggle to bring in new signings, combined with the second season syndrome at home, was a rocky start they didn’t have. could not recover.

Indeed, when they were knocked out from Europe in December, they had more victories on the continent than at home, where the first 15 games of the campaign yielded just one victory, and Burley will say later at Planet Football that his team may have been overdoing things about the new signing before.

“That’s probably the mistake I made: building the team over the last five or six years and then breaking it up a bit,” he admitted.

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READ: George Burley: Too many signings after making Europe cost us in Ipswich

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Torpedo Moscow fell victim to Ipswich in the Uefa Cup first round, with a victory in Russia representing the kind of famous away result many fans would have hoped for.

While older supporters may have been in attendance for the 1981 Uefa Cup triumph under Bobby Robson, many who traveled across the continent in the early 2000s were too young to appreciate the victory – or even the outing. from 1982-83 which represented the last European involvement. before Burley’s team made history.

The second round brought another big away win, this time in Sweden as Helsingborg went down the line.

Mark Venus netted the first two goals, scored by Hermann Hreidarsson and Marcus Stewart, before Stewart – who had not been quite prolific at home – clinched the win with a delightful chip over goalkeeper Sven Andersson.

The goal had nuances of Davor Suker’s famous goal against Denmark at Euro 96, and set up a dream third-round game against Inter Milan.

By the time the first leg against Inter unfolded, Ipswich had just won three straight league losses which left them in the bottom three.

The names on the squad sheet for the Italian team read like a who’s who: While some first-team players were rested, they could still call on Italian goalkeeper Francesco Toldo, South American stars Javier Zanetti and Ivan Cordoba in defense, Champions League winner Clarence Seedorf in the middle of the park and Sergio Conceicao and Marco Materazzi among the substitutes.

This Ipswich side shouldn’t have been able to knock this side out of Inter but that’s exactly what they did, going through Alun Armstrong and keeping that lead for the 90 minutes.

“We beat a great team and I just hope we can keep that form in the league,” said an optimistic Burley after the game. Unfortunately for his side, the winless run continued and another Armstrong effort was not enough to prevent Inter from getting the result they needed in the return leg at San Siro.

“We thought we had a chance after we won the first leg, but then they stepped it up and gave us a little football lesson,” Armstrong said of the second leg, where Christian Vieri returned to the fold. and scored a decisive goal. hat trick.

“But it was an amazing experience and scoring a goal again against Toldo, at San Siro is something I will remember all my life,” he added, recalling the “nearly 10,000” Ipswich fans behind Inter’s goal. And there is no doubt that these fans will remember the experience just as fondly.

A mid-season resumption has finally arrived, with the less crowded matchlist allowing Burley’s men to deliver results and keep a safe distance.

However, one of the last nails in the coffin came in the spring, when Bolton’s Fredi Bobic decided a six-point with his only hat trick in English football.

Even though the last two decades have been difficult, it’s not every day that you come to Milan as an away fan. Unless you support one of the few top clubs, this is probably a once in a lifetime experience.

There’s a short coda to this story: Despite dropping to second tier, Ipswich surprisingly won another crack in Europe thanks to the fair play ranking.

By the time they were knocked out this time around, however – against Slovan Liberec in the second round – Burley’s time was up after a disappointing start to what was supposed to be a promotional push.

“It wasn’t easy, but the European experience was fantastic and even being in Ipswich now people will come and say ‘do you remember those European games we went to?’ and it’s kind of like the good old days, ”Burley later recalled.

Most of the time, supporting a football club is more about the extreme ups and downs than any “correct” period. You will certainly not remember an 11th place as much as a 5th followed by an 18th with European outings in addition.

Was it worth the compromise to generate these memories? It depends on who you ask.

By Tom Victor


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