Ipswich Town’s Greatest Games: The night Fabian got Portman Road rocking against Becks, Keane, Scholes and more
It was August 2000 and Town were back in the ‘big time’, the Premiership... MIKE BACON remembers a very special night.
Portman Road has ‘rocked’ on many occasions over the decades.
But I’ll wager the night Manchester United pulled up into town at the start of the 2000/01 season was a night those who were there will never forget.
Let’s set the scene.
Just three months previous Town had beaten Barnsley at Wembley in the Division One play-off final – they were back in the big time – the Premiership.
The excitement for the release of the fixture list was extraordinary... Who would Town play on opening weekend? Who would their first home fixture be against?
When the answers came... Wow!
Spurs away on the opening Saturday, followed by Champions Manchester United at Portman Road three nights later... As ‘Hanibal Smith’ would say on the A-Team... ‘Nice’.
And ok, so despite taking the lead at White Hart Lane through Mark Venus in the season’s opener, Town succumbed to a 1-3 defeat.
Everything was now set for the visit of the Champions...
...As I made my way to Portman Road that night there was a real buzz in the air.
Town had been so near, but so far on numerous occasions in recent years in their pursuit of reaching the ‘Promised Land’.
But George Burley’s side had now done it. The reality was here.
I decided to settle down earlier than usual in my press box seat high about the centre circle. The reason... Having seen the Manchester United line-up, I wanted to see their warm-up.
And what a line-up.
Alex Ferguson’s Champions included Gary and Phil Neville, David Beckham, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Ryan Giggs... Teddy Sheringham and Andy Cole were on the bench!
I starred in awe as the Red Devils warmed up on the Portman Road pitch below me.
Reality had now sunk in and the Blues return to the top table was clearly complete.
As the crowd built, so did the atmosphere and by the time the teams came out of the tunnel, Portman Road was crackling.
Excited, fearful, goodness knows what most of us were feeling.
Having already lost at Spurs, having Man U as your opening home clash was... let’s say.... Nervy!
Town fans need not have worried.
In what was to be one of the best-ever seasons in the club’s recent history, Town went toe-to-toe with Keane, Becks and co. And boy, how we loved it.
The game kicked off in a frantic atmosphere and it didn’t take long before the place erupted.
Just six minutes in and the unthinkable happened.
Town’s Dutch defender Fabian Wilnis (oh how we loved Fab!), capped a sweeping four-man move with a crisp right-foot shot finish that gave Fabien Barthez in the visitors’ goal no chance. 1-0 Town.
The place went bonkers.
I can honestly say the stands were shaking. It was mayhem. Fever Pitch. I hadn’t heard a roar like it.
Portman Road under the lights against the Champions of England and Town take the lead... Wow!
OK, so it didn’t last, Beckham’s rather freakish free-kick beat Richard Wright in the home goal... It was certainly no ‘Golden Balls’ strike! 1-1.
And despite both sides having chances to win the game, that was the way it stayed.
It was a breathtaking night.
It was a night Ipswich Town announced their return to the big time in style.
“You won’t see such an exciting game all season,” said United boss Alex Ferguson.
“They fought like tigers and deserved their point. I’m quite happy with the result.”
Quite a statement from the great man.
As for Town, well, just the one point from the opening two games but that became four from three a few days later when a brilliant Titus Bramble goal downed Sunderland at Portman Road.
Town went on to finish fifth and qualify for the UEFA Cup.
Heady days and not so long ago.
Among the brilliance of Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson, sometimes George Burley gets forgotten as a Town manager who produced some fantastic moments at Portman Road during his tenure... like this one.
Do you remember the game? What are your favourite Town games? We welcome your posts...