The Forgotten Achievers: Ipswich Town 2000/2001

Attracting the top players, the top managers and the top money, the English top flight is widely accepted as the best league in the world. Over the years, a Premier League winners medal has been a must have on any world class player’s mantelpiece. We must understand however, that whilst we all want our team to stand on top of the pile, this is not realistic in the slightest. 

Over the past fifteen years, only four teams have won the title: Manchester United (eight), Chelsea (three), Arsenal (two) and Manchester City (two). This is not uncommon amongst the top leagues across the world, with the Spanish and Italian titles being won in the same time period by only five clubs each. After all, in lower leagues the winner is promoted. In the top flight, there is nowhere for the victor to go but to come back next year and prove their dominance once again.

Such is the dominance of certain clubs in the Premiership, even a top five finish is practically out of reach for most sides. In the past fifteen seasons, the top five places have been shared among only ten football clubs. We all know Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool (the ‘Big Four’ for so many years) dominated English football throughout the noughties, that Tottenham have always been teetering on the edge of the top four and that it is only the immense wealth pumped into the blue side of Manchester that has seen City rise to prominence since 2010. So who are the other four that have secured a place in the top five since 2000?

Much has been made over the years of David Moyes’ heroics to take a club with relatively low funds like Everton into the battle for the top four, and their rise has been well documented. In much the same vein as the Toffees, Newcastle have been a mainstay of the Premier League since its inception in 1992, and being able to boast a Premier League legend like Alan Shearer, the Magpies have been one of the big clubs in the league’s 23 year history.

Everton finish 4th in 2005

Who can’t remember Leeds’ Viduka-Kewell-inspired rise to prominence in the early 2000s? The Yorkshire-club has since taken a dramatic tumble through the leagues, and that Champions League side now seems like a lifetime ago. Leeds United, however, does remain a huge side in the eyes of many football fans, and the fact that the rivalry between Manchester Utd and Leeds is so fierce, only highlights this further.

The remaining club reached fifth in the league in the 2000/2001 season, against all the odds, the fact that they had been tipped for relegation and a very limited budget. Under the guidance of George Burley, newly promoted Ipswich Town hit dizzy heights, and lost out on second spot by only four points. Standing toe to toe with the likes of Giggs, Vieira, Beckham and Fowler were Ipswich’s 2000 play-off heroes. Unfamiliar to most, the Tractor Boys’ side consisted of players who have gone down in Suffolk folklore as legends of the club. Stewart, Magilton, Holland, Wilnis and Scowcroft are among the names that will never be forgotten by the Ipswich faithful; but may have already been forgotten by the average football fan.
Marcus Stewart fires Ipswich into Europe

Not only did they enjoy an exceptional league campaign, the Blues narrowly lost out on the chance to play in a League Cup final after defeat in extra time of the second leg of the semi away to Birmingham City. After a season in which George Burley was crowned Manager of the Year, the club finally managed to make a UEFA Cup spot, and the next season took them across Europe for the
first time since 1982. They even treated the Portman Road crowd to a 1-0 home win against an Inter Milan team including names like Zanetti and Vieri.

To highlight the squad’s success, in 2000/01 record signing Marcus Stewart hit nineteen league goals, leaving him second in the race for the Golden Boot; ahead of the likes of Thierry Henry, Michael Owen and Teddy Sheringham. Never capped by England despite a tremendous goalscoring record, Stewart was the leading light in Ipswich’s dream of a season. However, it will be his time after his move to Sunderland for which he will be remembered, and his heroics in an Ipswich shirt in 2000/01 are simply confined to the inside of the record book.

Will Ipswich return to the top?

Despite continuing to show talent and promise throughout 2001/02, the Tractor Boys found out the hard way how difficult it is to juggle a league campaign and a European excursion. The season took its toll, and after a 5-0 hammering at Anfield on the final day of the season, Ipswich were relegated into Division 1. The Pride of Suffolk are now the longest serving club in the English second tier, and have been there ever since their fall from grace in 2002.

Those were the days; lest we forget.

This piece was kindly written for TFHB by Thomas Colley - an aspiring sports writer and lover of the beautiful game!

Follow Tom on Twitter @the_tomcolley

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I never knew Ipswich were such a force (for one season at least). Comforting to know that the odd team can stand up to the big boys, it's happening again with Southampton this season who will hopefully be able to stick it out for a Champions League spot.

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