Wembley 2000 Twenty Years Ago Today: The George Burley Interview
Thursday, 1st Jan 1970 00:00
“You’ve got to give Barnsley credit, they had some good players, they played decent football. It was a cracking match, they got that penalty that brought them back into the game so I think in the end I was thinking we’d need another goal to make it safe or they could get the equaliser.”
By this stage the Blues were tiring and found themselves under pressure and with six minutes remaining Wright was forced into a brilliant save from Tykes sub Georgi Hristov’s almost point-blank header.
“Richard was used to doing that, that was why he got in the England squad because he was a great shot-stopper. Richard did that week-in and week-out,” his manager said.
As the game moved into its closing minutes the South Yorkshiremen were keeping up the pressure as they looked for the equaliser which would take the game into extra-time.
But in the last minute Town’s victory was finally confirmed when a sprawling Naylor sent away Reuser, who had come on as a sub for Stewart on 83, from halfway and the Dutchman burst through towards goal before lashing into the roof of the net from the edge of the box.
“Barnsley were behind, there were only a few minutes left so they were going to throw everything at us. Everybody was pushing forward, they were putting the ball into the box, so you’ve got to defend it,” Burley said.
“But of course, if you’re pushing that many people forward it leaves gaps in the defence and we brought Martijn Reuser on who did the same in the semi-final because we knew he had great ability and that if there was space behind the defenders he could capitalise on it and what an excellent finish to seal us the win.
“He had great ability, Martijn, no doubt about that. He had great feet, he was a great striker of the ball and he showed great composure.
“I can remember jumping up and down with my assistant Dale Roberts. It was a great feeling and you can’t describe it.
“To work so hard over the years and get close and then to get there, the fans behind that goal jumping with joy, the build-up to the final for the couple of weeks before it, it was a magnificent feeling.”
Roberts, who sadly died from non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2003 aged just 46, was Burley’s trusted sidekick throughout his time as manager of the Blues, the two having become friends while in the club’s youth system in the early 1970s.
“He was my right-hand man really,” Burley said. “From day one he was my best mate when we were young players and then he came with me to Ayr United and then Colchester and then Ipswich, so he was always with me. As I say, great memories and you can’t take them away.”
The final whistle confirmed Town’s return to the Premier League after a five-year hiatus, then Matt Holland had made his way up the famous 39 steps to collect the trophy and the celebrations began in earnest on the field.
“Everything went mad!” Burley laughed. “The dressing room, outside, the way back, we went to the Suffolk Showground afterwards, everybody was celebrating after so many near misses.
“To actually know that the next season that you’re going to be in the Premiership, it was a great feeling for everybody involved, the club and all the fans and everybody from Ipswich.”
There wasn’t much time to allow promotion to settle in before Burley’s attention needed to turn to the Premier League campaign ahead.
“It was a case of celebrating, dusting yourself down and then going for next season. We had a good squad, we’d been there before, we’d been working for years to gain that promotion and everybody was looking forward to playing in the Premier League against the best teams in the world.”
That season was to prove another remarkable campaign as the Blues made a storming return to top flight football, finishing fifth and returning to the UEFA Cup for the first time since 1982.
Burley wasn’t entirely surprised that his team made such an impact in the Premier League: “You’re never quite sure, but what I did know was that we had a great squad of players and we were looking forward to playing against them, pitting our wits against them.
“As a player we did that year in, year out against the best teams in Europe. I had an idea of the standard we’d got to be looking to get to but I wasn’t frightened of it because I knew that I had a good bunch and that it didn’t happen overnight, it had been a building process and the standards we’d set ourselves day in and day out that we had to take on to the Premiership.”
Photo: Action Images
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