Fuller Flavour: The unforgettable day Town pulled me through a bad spot in my life
In his latest column, Karl Fuller reflects on the highs and lows of that remarkable play-off semi-final win over Bolton 20 years ago...
Writing this column on Sunday afternoon, I sat and reflected on how it could be possible that it was 20 years to the day since that epic play-off semi-final win over Bolton Wanderers.
Recalling the time itself was a bitter-sweet moment for me. My personal life was in somewhat of a state in the summer of 2000. The fortunes of Ipswich were getting me through but for most of May 17, 2000, I had little interest in going to a game of football.
Suffice to say, I eventually forced myself to go and that proved to be one of the best decisions I had ever made.
Three days earlier, Town fought back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 in the first-leg at Bolton thanks to a pair of superb Marcus Stewart goals. At two goals down, promotion to the promised land once again seemed a million miles away. Another year of failing to go up seemed just impossible to take. Remember, not only had we suffered three successive play-off semi-final defeats prior to 1999/2000, but we missed out on automatic promotion this time by just two points as Manchester City pipped us to second place. Bolton finished 6th and some 11 points behind us.
Anyway, back to the day itself, I sat in a local pub during lunchtime drowning my sorrows with a pint or two with no desire to make the 20-odd mile trip to Portman Road later that day. I just was not interested. Life had fallen apart for me but somehow, I managed to persuade myself to make the effort.
I gave myself a good talking to as to how I would feel if we finally made Wembley and I wasn’t be part of it. So, the trip was made, and the game unfolded into a mirror image of my life in general at the time – a rollercoaster of emotion!
I don’t think I was confident of us winning the tie probably based on the three failures that preceded the season. And when Bolton scored after just six minutes, it was a case of here we go again. I was already questioning my decision to be there.
Jim Magilton scored his first of the night from the penalty spot after 18 minutes to restore parity and it was game on again. Bolton were like a marauding army though - every time their troops were forced out, a whole new battalion came over the hill to wage yet another attack and they scored again six minutes before the interval.
Half-time felt like Wembley was not going to happen despite being only a goal behind but in the back of my mind, I knew that one big 45 minutes was all we needed.
Magilton scored his second four minutes after the break and we were still celebrating riotously when Bolton edged in front 60 seconds later. What on earth would it take to not only wound this animal, but to keep it down once and for all?
The answer soon became clear and it was Bolton who would prove to be their own worst enemy. I’ve no idea why they resorted to the type of play they did which was to try their utmost to use as much foul play as possible to rough us up with the intention, I suspect, to force us into submission and hope that we would just fade away as we had done the year before.
But our lads were having none of it and boy, did we step up to the plate. Bolton had Mike Whitlow and Robbie Elliott both sent off and to this day, those connected to the Trotters sill question the decision making of referee Barry Knight.
Without any bias whatsoever, I still can’t see what he got wrong. Injury-time approached, and all seemed lost until Magilton popped up with a gem of a goal to complete his hat-trick.
Jamie Clapham scored from the spot in extra-time and the icing on the cake came when Martijn Reuser smashed home on 109 minutes and ‘Que Sera, sera…’ boomed out from the stands.
We had finally made Wembley and of course celebrated in style with a pitch invasion. How on earth was this all 20 years ago?
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