‘A day I’ll always remember’ - Burley picks his highlight of Town’s season in the sun, 20 years on
He’s the man who guided Ipswich Town to their best-ever season in recent times back in 2000/01. GEORGE BURLEY was Town boss when the Blues won the Division One play-off final in 2000 and then finished fifth the following year, qualifying for a UEFA Cup spot. 20 years on, MIKE BACON caught up with him about that wonderful ‘season in the sun’.
You can hear the pride in George Burley’s voice when we start to talk about that ‘season in the sun’. And why not?
It was 20 years ago Ipswich Town were back in the big time - the Premiership - after a six-year absence. They took the English football world by storm, finishing fifth and just missing out on a Champions League spot on the final day of the season.
Carried along on a wave of positivity and confidence, after their Wembley play-off victory against Barnsley, Burley’s team were a joy to watch - and became everyone’s favourite ‘second team’ that campaign.
Portman Road was a cauldron of excitement and fervour as game after game, week after week, the Blues thrilled their fans.
For Burley, who was voted manager of the year at the end of the season - the only Ipswich Town boss ever to win the award - there were plenty of high points to choose from.
However, when pressed about his favourite, there was only one answer.
“Winning at Liverpool, that’s the one for me,” Burley said, without much hesitation.
“As a player I went there throughout the 70s and early 80s, with a brilliant Ipswich team - and we never won. Liverpool were simply the best then. But we weren’t far behind during that time, we were very consistent.
“So, to go there as manager of Ipswich Town - and win, after all the defeats I suffered as a player - was fantastic. A day I’ll always remember.
It was Sunday, December 10, 2000 that Town grabbed that impressive 1-0 win at Anfield.
It was Town’s third away win on the bounce and only the second-ever time they had won at Anfield, Marcus Stewart’s goal being enough to not just get the three points, but push Town into a Champions’ League spot.
Heady days indeed.
MORE: ‘Season in the sun’ memories
A brilliant solo goal at the Kop end, Stewart raced in from the left, turned inside Stephane Henchoz and rounded Sander Westerveld before drilling the ball into the corner of the net - it was his 10th of the season.
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“Marcus’ goal was just fantastic,” Burley added.
“His composure, his skill. It was just wonderful. He was brilliant for us, helping us get out of Division One with his goals and then scoring so many in the Premiership. He got 19 and there were calls for him to play for England, but you have to remember there were a lot of top, top English strikers around then. Yes, he was one of them, but there was stiff competition.”
“As you expect at Anfield we were under a lot of pressure during the game, but we were so strong.
“I remember afterwards going into the ‘boot room’ to chat to some of the Liverpool backroom staff. They were all so very down to earth, praising us for our performance. Gerard Houllier was the Liverpool boss and he was the same. The boot room is really quite tiny, I never realised how small it was until I walked in. But they record everything in there about games.
“It was just a fantastic feeling to win at Anfield.”
Town had already won at the likes of Leeds and Everton, where Burley says managers David O’Leary (Leeds) and Walter Smith (Everton) waxed lyrical about Town’s performances.
“They were two big early wins on the road for us and that gave us confidence. David and Walter spoke to me after the games and both said how well we had played. They had been really impressed.
“You have to remember for much of that season we were third and only just missed out on a Champions League spot.”
Burley is now 64, but continues to enjoy his sport, especially golf and going to the gym. He still keeps an eye on the current happenings at Portman Road.
He played 500 times for the Blues and won 11 Scotland caps.
The 2000/01 season was indeed a ‘season in the sun’ for Town fans.
And Burley - the conductor of the show - can rightly look back on it with pride.
What are your memories of that incredible season? Favourite games, favourite goals. Great away days? Let me know.... firstname.lastname@example.org
Up next! Captain Fantastic! MATT HOLLAND - and why victory at Everton was so special.
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