In a new series, George Young recalls his favourite season watching the Iron.
It may not always seem like it but I feel quite lucky to have become a Scunthorpe United fan at just the right time in our history. In 25 years of supporting the Iron, I have seen the club promoted five times, never having to wait more than six years for a promotion to come round, at least not up until now! That is a lot of success to enjoy, five amazing seasons, so obviously my favourite season was one when we finished slap-bang in midtable.
In some ways, that makes it quite rare for Scunny, we are almost always involved in a promotion or relegation scrap. To finish 12th is almost unheard of, a rare stress-free run-in to enjoy. But, for me, 2005/06 was a special season.
For starters, I was just the right age to enjoy it, in my mid-20s and in my first full-time job, so I was finally able to afford to get to most away games. Those are the best times to be a travelling fan, the sweet spot when everything is new, from the away grounds to the pre-match pubs. You meet other fans you never see at Glanford Park and discover mysterious far-off places you’ve heard other people talk about but were never sure they actually existed, like Colchester or Port Vale.
2005/06 was also was the first time in 47 years that the Iron stayed up after promotion, just the second time in the club’s League history. It was a very different feeling to the misery of 99/00 when relegation was an inevitability long before it was confirmed at the Manor Ground. Yet, in the summer of 2005, there were clear similarities between the two campaigns. Key players had been lost in the summer (for Eyre & Forrester see Hayes & Kell) and it took until the season had started to sign a replacement striker (Guy Ipoua in 1999, Billy Sharp in 2005). So the team that started the first game of the season on a sunny day at Brentford would probably have had the bookies backing us for relegation: Torpey and Andy Parton up front, Keogh on the bench, Billy Sharp still a Sheffield United player, no Beagrie and ‘star’ summer signing Tommy Johnson not involved.
Despite that opening day defeat, the team soon clicked and through September we were in the promotion places before a run of 5 defeats had us heading south rapidly. It didn’t get much better before Christmas and our form only really picked up when we signed Steve Foster in January to replace an injured Andy Butler. Foster had been made available by Doncaster after a falling-out with manager Dave Penney and their loss was definitely our gain, although we still managed to lose to Donny on Foster’s debut. However, his impact was soon translated into points and from February onwards there was never any real danger of relegation.
So far, so ordinary. But on the pitch, this team was anything but ordinary, playing out some really memorable matches. A Friday night 4-1 thumping of Huddersfield on their own ground really stands out, with Sharp & Keogh running rings around their defence and Matt Sparrow scoring twice. The first home game of the season, against Barnsley, sticks in the mind too. As described on a recent podcast, Paul Hayes scored early on for Barnsley but the Iron came roaring back with a stunning goal by Cleveland to win the game.
10 days later, we won against Forest at the City Ground, thanks to a Billy Sharp debut goal. What an impact he had, scoring 10 in his first 13 games. I can’t remember a Scunthorpe striker making such an instant impact after what was for us a big money move. Just before Christmas, we completed the double over Forest with the unlikely trio of Lee Ridley, Cliff Byrne and Cleveland’s left foot getting the goals! Another Friday night win, this time at Tranmere, came thanks to a superb Andy Keogh goal, a 30-yard curler inside 20 seconds.
Even our defeats were often memorable and high scoring: 3-4 at home to a brilliant Yeovil side having been 2-0 up, 2-5 away at Blackpool live on Sky and 2-5 away at Barnsley when Hayes tore us apart, setting up three and scoring one. Then there was Jim Goodwin’s incredible debut, in late November. He had suffered a serious head injury in pre-season which had left him with a huge scar across the top of his head. He was finally fit to play for the visit of Brentford and scored inside 10 minutes before being sent off after one of the most ridiculous passages of play ever seen at Glanford Park. Debuts don’t come much more memorable than that!
Looking back, it is easy to see that the basic shape of the team that would tear up the division 12 months later was already in place. Joe Murphy was the only main signing the following summer, replacing Paul Musselwhite who by then was fading as a player, even losing his place to Tommy Evans for nearly half of 2005/06. But the key partnerships of Foster & Crosby and Sharp & Keogh were already bearing fruit and by the end of the season there was a sense that we could improve on 12th although no one could have imagined just how much better we would do!
The final game was a 1-1 draw away at Oldham, notable only because it was Peter Beagrie’s a final appearance in a Scunthorpe shirt. After five seasons and just a few months short of his 40th birthday, Beags beat his full back for the last time in claret and blue and wandered down the M180 for a final swansong at Grimsby. I know Beagrie has disgraced himself off the pitch since his retirement but I still have fond memories of him as a player. He somehow managed to be both a show pony, who never beat his full back once when he could do it three or four times, and devastatingly effective, timing passes and crosses to perfection. There can’t be many Scunthorpe players who have been better to watch or as skilful, it was a privilege to watch him.
So that was my favourite season, not the most spectacular one perhaps but a really entertaining one which left plenty of memories and nostalgia to enjoy while we for football to come back. What was your favourite?