Twenty Years Ago Today, Reuser's Dramatic Debut
Wednesday, 25th Mar 2020 09:34
Twenty years ago today Martijn Reuser made a dramatic Portman Road bow, scoring a last-gasp debut winning goal as the promotion-chasing Blues beat Fulham 1-0. TWTD caught up with the Dutchman to reminisce.
Despite having won one full Holland cap prior to his move to Town Reuser was unknown to most Blues supporters when he signed on loan from Ajax a couple of days prior to the game against the Cottagers in a switch he says came about very quickly via a former Blues midfielder then on manager George Burley’s staff.
“At that time you could still make a move on loan during the season and I think the transfer deadline was towards the end of March,” Reuser recalled, speaking to TWTD from his home in Holland yesterday.
“I was a little bit frustrated at Ajax because I didn’t play, I was in the reserves, and then suddenly Romeo Zondervan, he was the European scout for Ipswich Town, said that Ipswich were looking for an attacking player who could create something and try to help in the last few months as they looked to win promotion to the Premier League.
“So the next day I had a phone call with George Burley and we had a good conversation, a good talk and then the following day I was on a plane to Ipswich and we finalised everything.
“That was on the Wednesday and I think on the Thursday everything came together and on the Friday I trained with the first-team group for the first time, I met my colleagues. And then Saturday I started on the bench and then eventually, the rest was history!”
He says he only knew a couple of members of the squad prior to joining the Blues and his sudden appearance at the club came as a shock to one of them.
“I knew Fabian Wilnis, of course, because I was playing against him when he was playing in Holland and apart from that there was also another Dutch player, Marco Holster, there but I wasn’t really aware he was because he was a little bit out of favour in the reserves.
“My first training session was with the reserves on that Thursday and Marco was training there so was quite surprised when he saw me in the dressing room, he said ‘What are you doing here?’. “I’ve just signed for Ipswich,” I said.
“It happened so rapidly, it happened within two or three days, everything went so quickly but apart from that I didn’t know anyone.”
Reflecting further on his Town debut Reuser, now 45, added: “I think on the Monday I was playing with the reserves at Ajax in Amsterdam with 10 people watching the game and six days later I was playing in front of 20,000.
“I wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d been left on the bench for the that game because I’d only trained once with the squad. Of course, I was fit because I came from Holland and was training every day with Ajax, so I was in good shape.
“But I wasn’t really counting on some minutes. However, eventually, because the game was 0-0 and something needed to be created, I came on.
“I remember I was just up for it and I wasn’t really planning to score but eventually I came into the box and I think Jim Magilton gave a little pass to me and I slid it in.
“It wasn’t the best goal of my career but it was one of the most important goals, especially to start at a new club, scoring the winning goal and it was the kickstart of three or four months of special memories in my career.
“Not only for me personally but also, if you saw what happened in the town and eventually when we got to Wembley and we won against Barnsley, it was a little small fairytale for three or four months. Thank God we got promoted.”
Prior to that game against Barnsley there were the two remarkable semi-finals against Bolton Wanderers with the second home leg, in which Town eventually beat the nine-man Trotters 5-3 in extra-time having been awarded three penalties, viewed by many supporters as the best match they have witnessed
“It was a fantastic game,” Reuser recalled. “We drew 2-2 away and I thought that’s not the best starting point going into the second game because the away goals don’t count double in England. If you go to the Champions League or the Europa League, the away goals count double.
“Because we drew 3-3 in the home semi-final we would have been out under the European rules but fortunately there was the rule that if you drew scoring however many goals you have extra-time.
“And then in extra-time, we managed to score two more goals. It was a crazy game, it was one of the craziest games ever.
“Lots of goals, the atmosphere in the stadium, Jim Magilton scoring three times, he never scored any goals after that!
“I remember my brother-in-law, he was also in the stadium with my sister, said, ’Wow, that Jim Magilton, he’s going to score 20 goals a season or more in the next few years!’. But he never scored any more! It’s 20 years ago now but I remember every single minute of it.”
Of his goal in the 109th minute to finally seal the victory, he said: “Richard Naylor received the ball and he passed to me. It was a good goal as well and I think with a few minutes to go everyone knew that finally we were going to go to Wembley and had a shot at getting to the Premier League.”
The Amsterdam-born midfielder has similarly fond memories of the final at Wembley in which the Blues beat the Tykes 4-2, another final-minute goal confirming the Blues’ return to the Premier League after five years away.
“That goal I scored in the dying seconds also clinched the victory,” he recollected. “But the weather was great, there were 80,000 people in Wembley Stadium, which was to be demolished a few months later for the new stadium, so we knew it was going to be the last play-off game ever at the old Wembley Stadium.
“And of course the result was great because I knew beforehand that if we got promoted they would sign me on a permanent contract and it was a dream of mine to play in the Premier League.
“At that time there weren’t that many players from Holland in the Premier League, nowadays it’s different because there are loads of foreign players but at that time there were fewer foreign players. It was a privilege to play in the Premier League.
“I remember when I was on the bench in the final, I asked Dale Roberts, who sadly passed away, the coach with George Burley, ‘Can you ask George to put me on because I have the feeling that I’ll score the winning goal’.
“I was full of confidence, not only me but the whole team was full of confidence and we were almost certain that we were going to reach the Premier League.
“That’s easy to say, of course, because we eventually did but that belief wasn’t only with me but also with the other 20 players who were in the squad at that time. As a whole team, we were full of confidence.”
He says he’s given an annual reminder of the goal and the now-iconic ‘Reuser, Premiership!” commentary.
“Nowadays with Twitter and other social media, every year when that goal passes by fans tag me and I can see it again,” he said.
“And sometimes I use it for presentations here in Holland for Dutch players, to show them that if they have a good career maybe they can score the winner in a very important match.
“Of course, that’s a good thing about social media, once a year that goal comes back around.”
The following season in the Premier League, Reuser was less involved during the first half of the campaign but more than made his mark in the second, scoring six times, most of them spectacular efforts, as the Blues finished the season in fifth and qualified for the UEFA Cup.
“Jamie Clapham and me we were battling for the same position on the left of midfield,” he said. “Jamie had a really good pre-season and I wasn’t really having a good pre-season, so George Burley decided to put me on the bench and it took me a while to get back in the team because we had a great start in the Premier League.
“And then halfway through the season I think Jamie’s form dropped a little or the manager wanted to change things around and thank God in the second part of the season I could make an impact. Jamie and me, he did the first half and I did the second.
“There were nice goals and important goals and we had an unbelievable first Premier League season that year.
“We had a great bunch of players who were almost the same players who got promoted the year before and we were really a good team, not only on the pitch but also off it.
“I can remember that in the last game at the season if we’d have won and the results elsewhere had gone our way then we could have reached the Champions League.
“I think we drew 1-1 with Derby in the last game of the season and even if we’d have won it wouldn’t have mattered because the other teams, Liverpool and Leeds, had good results.”
Why does he feel things went wrong the following season in which the Blues were relegated? “I think we had a really good pre-season and we played some great stuff but then six or seven days before the start of the Premier League we played at home against PSV Eindhoven and we lost at home 2-0, we got hammered but shouldn’t have been ashamed by that because it was a really good team with Ruud Van Nistelrooy at that time, Andre Ooijer, some really, really big players.
“But the manager after that, he was really disappointed and he brought in three new players [Finidi George, Matteo Sereni and Sixto Peralta] and they took a while to gel into the team.
“By the time they gelled in we already had a gap to make up. We had a good run of games as well but at the end of the season we fell two or three points short of staying up.
“We made a good effort but my opinion was that it took us a little bit of time to adjust with the new players than we would have thought.
“We got relegated after two years and they’ve never been back in the Premier League, which is a shame and last year they even got relegated to League One, so in the situation Ipswich is now in, it’s a big shame that in the next few years they won’t find themselves in the Premier League again.”
Shortly after relegation the Burley era ended and Joe Royle took over and, while Reuser and the new manager got on personally, after two years and the first of the two play-off defeats to West Ham, Reuser’s time with the Blues came to an end in the summer of 2004.
“I really liked Joe Royle but he wasn’t really a fan of me,” he reflected. “Sometimes if you play with a club [and that’s the situation] then it’s better to go.
“He told me a few weeks beforehand that maybe it was better for me to go, but I did my best. I could have said a better goodbye to the Ipswich Town supporters and the club but it couldn’t happen.
“Joe and me got on well but he wasn’t really a fan of my way of playing football. That can happen.”
After spells with Willem II, RKC Waalkwijk and NAC Breda back in Holland, Reuser hung up his boots in 2010.
These days he is living in the Hague and coaching young Dutch national sides, although with the coronavirus restrictions currently in place in Holland similar to those here he is spending his time at home at present.
“I’m the U16s coach of the Dutch national team and assistant coach of the U19s, but at the moment it’s very quiet, of course, because they’ve cancelled all the football because of the virus,” he said.
“Yesterday the prime minister of Holland, Mark Rutte, postponed everything to June 1st, nobody knows what direction it’s going to go because these are uncertain times.
“Boring times. The children are at home because they don’t go to school. My son’s name is Sam, he’s 15, and my daughter Luna is 17, they were both born in Ipswich. I keep having to ask them to do their homework, I've become a teacher!
“Uncertain times for everyone and thank God I’m healthy and within my family everyone is healthy. Hopefully within a few weeks or whatever we can go on our own way again. But it doesn’t look good.”
Might we see him as a first-team manager back at Portman Road one day? “Who knows. I like to work with youth players, but who knows? I still need to get one more licence but one day I could be a head coach, you never know.”
Photo: Action Images
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