22 November, 2001
“Counago. Armstrong thinks about a run to the near post, goes to the far, Peralta is there as well. Clapham. Armstrooooooong!!!”
Until this season, the glorious moment Alun Armstrong latched onto an inch-perfect Jamie Clapham cross, sealing a famous 1-0 Uefa Cup victory for Ipswich Town over Inter Milan, was probably the last truly amazing experience I had as a Blue. That was 22 long years ago and I was 11.
Don’t get me wrong, there have been plenty of seasons as an Ipswich fan that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. The Joe Royle era that followed relegation from the top flight in 2002 was a blast, despite the looming and eventual administration, while the return of club legend Jim Magilton as manager and the ushering in of the Marcus Evans era of ownership certainly had its moments. Even under Mick McCarthy, playing some of the most turgid football in the club’s history, we at least reached our first play-off campaign in a decade.
But there really hasn’t been much to shout about from East Anglia’s blue contingent in recent times. In more than two decades, there have been five, maybe six, seasons where I could honestly say I was genuinely content at the end.
The majority of the McCarthy tenure was dreary, Roy Keane’s stint was largely forgettable, and the rest of the time, which can only be described as a ‘clusterf*** of Pauls', saw Paul Jewell, Paul Hurst, Paul Lambert and Paul Cook all fail to bring any semblance of glory back to Portman Road. Consistent mid-table mediocrity eventually gave way to relegation - begun by Hurst, completed by Lambert - to League One and the club reached its lowest-ever ebb.
Now, hope has finally returned to Suffolk. On Saturday, the Tractor Boys sealed promotion back to the Championship after four seasons in the third-tier with an emphatic 6-0 win over Exeter City. A win over Fleetwood Town on Sunday would mean that the club will reach 100 points, at least 100 league goals scored and, should Plymouth Argyle fail to beat Port Vale, would crown them as champions.
Much has been made of Wrexham’s Hollywood ownership, but they’re not the only Americans breathing new life into fallen giants. The Gamechanger 20 group took over at Ipswich in 2021, putting an end to the 13-year Marcus Evans era, and the work that has been done behind the scenes at IP1 since has been nothing short of revolutionary.
Kieran McKenna, assistant to Jose Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick at Manchester United, was brought into the dugout and quickly showed why he was considered one of the brightest young minds in the game. The football that the Northern Irishman has got Ipswich playing has been simply scintillating and the team have blown a number of their League One rivals away this term, being dubbed ‘the best side in the league’ by several opposing managers in their post-match pressers.
The Blues have scored more goals than anyone in England’s top four leagues, have only rarely conceded, and are among the most in-form sides across the whole of Europe having netted 43 goals and let in only two in an astonishing 14-game run since mid-February which has seen them gain 40 of 42 available points.
Every single beating heart in the dressing room has played a part too. Conor Chaplin has been sublime, captain Sam Morsy has been the lynchpin, and both goalkeeper Christian Walton and left-back Leif Davis could easily be playing in the Premier League today.
January additions Harry Clarke, George Hirst, Massimo Luongo and Nathan Broadhead all slotted into the starting XI with ease, acting as the catalysts for Ipswich’s stunning end-of-season form.
Throw in the likes of Wes Burns, Kayden Jackson, Luke Woolfenden, Freddie Ladapo, Marcus Harness and many, many more, and I honestly don’t think the squad will need changing too much - if at all - going into next season’s Championship campaign.
Off the pitch, the feeling is just as good. Portman Road has been packed to the rafters all season, the away support has been tremendous, while the Ipswich Town brand has been boosted worldwide thanks to Ed Sheeran, UFC fighter Arnold Allen and British heavyweight boxing champion Fabio Wardley.
Even though we’re only back in the Championship, a division Ipswich fans know all too well, and not the Premier League promised land - yet - it still feels like this could be one of the finest moments in the club’s long and illustrious history.
Ipswich are back. The future is bright, the future is blue. Uppa Towen!