Ipswich Town versus Reading

Have Ipswich Town Played in the Premier League Before?

Ipswich Town did more than enough on the final day of the 2023/24 Championship season to secure their place in the Premier League for 2024/25. They began the day in pole position to claim second in the league (three points clear of Leeds United) and thus automatic promotion to the promised land. All they had to do was avoid defeat, or hope Leeds didn’t win, and in the end their rivals lost, whilst they secured a routine 2-0 home win over Huddersfield.

That meant that for the second season in a row they had been promoted, finishing second both times, though their points total (96) would have been enough to win the Championship most seasons. The city of gold, AKA the Premier League, awaits; but in this article we consider whether the Tractor Boys have ever played in the PL before and if so when, and how did they get on?

Have Ipswich Been in the PL Before?

Younger fans may think of Ipswich as a distinctly lower-league football club, or they may simply know them in as much as they relate to Ed Sheeran (he supports and sponsors the club). However, as well as having won the UEFA Cup (the forerunner to the Europa League), and having been managed by two of England’s greatest-ever bosses (Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson), Ipswich have indeed also appeared in the Premier League.

The Suffolk side have featured in the top flight for five seasons across two separate spells since the 1992/93 re-brand. In fact, they were founder members of the league back in that inaugural 1992/93 campaign, when they finished 16th. The 2024/25 season will be their sixth in the PL and their 27th in the top tier overall.

Perfectly Timed Promotion

Ipswich Town logoIpswich seem likely to swap places in the top flight with Luton in 2024/25, with the Hatters, who have been on an even more remarkable journey than the Tractor Boys, looking odds-on to be demoted to the Championship. Back in 1992 the two teams passed each other in much the same way, with Luton finishing 20th in the old First Division in 1991/92, whilst Ipswich won the old Second Division that same season.

That means that whilst Luton just missed out on the Premier League’s first season, Ipswich timed things perfectly, and were promoted just in time to take their place in the rebranded division. Back then, managed by John Lyall, the Suffolk outfit garnered just 84 points, losing 10 times, but still won the second-tier title.

Ipswich, who were founded in 1878, the same year as Everton, finished 16th of 22 teams in their first campaign in the Premier League, a highly respectable performance. They were only three points from the drop zone when all was said and done but even so, it was more than enough, whilst they also enjoyed a run to the quarters of both the FA Cup and the League Cup.

The following season they struggled, losing three more games and winning three fewer. They ended the campaign down in 19th, with nine fewer points, but again they were safe. This time there was just a single point between them and relegation, in a season that began with three straight wins. However, they failed to win any of their last 11 games, limping over the line with a 0-0 draw on the final day.

The 1994/95 campaign proved one too many and the Tractor Boys really slumped, defeats moving from 17 a year earlier to 29. They won just seven league games and their top scorer in the PL, Claus Thomsen, was a defender and managed just five goals! They ended the season rock bottom and in a campaign where four clubs went down as the league slimmed to 20 the following season, they were a massive 21 points from safety.

New Millennium, New Ipswich

In their first season back in the second tier, in 1995/96, Town just missed out on the play-offs, finishing seventh. Although they were not promoted until the end of the 1999/00 campaign, they finished no worse than fifth in the intervening years, competing in the play-offs each season.

They eventually earned promotion through the play-offs and then, to the surprise of just about everyone, took the Premier League by storm in 2000/01. With Marcus Stewart banging in 21 goals, including 19 in the league, and George Burley in the dugout, the Suffolk outfit surged to a fifth-place finish in the PL. They qualified for the following season’s UEFA Cup and Burley was named Manager of the Season by the League Managers Association.

They played a lot of nice football and became loved by many neutrals, somehow managing to go from third in the second tier, to four points shy of second in the Premier League. Only champions Manchester United won more games than Ipswich and, but for a poor finish (four points from three games), they could easily have finished second.

Alas, it may be that European qualification proved more of a curse than a blessing. The following season they slumped to 18th and were relegated. Whether it was a simple case of second-season syndrome, or the extra games of European football and the associated travel took their toll, we cannot be sure.

Either way, though, aside from a fine rally midway through the campaign, when they won seven out of eight, they looked doomed from the start. That positive run accounted for 47% of their total points and ended the campaign with four defeats in five which saw them finish four points from the safety of 17th place.

More than 20 Years to Bounce Back

Kieran McKenna and team celebrating promotion to the PL
Kieran McKenna and team celebrating their promotion to the PL (Xaneph / Wikipedia.org)

It took Ipswich over two decades to return to the Premier League following that relegation. During those years in the wilderness, they spent four seasons in the third tier. But thanks to astute ownership, and in particular the appointment of highly promising young boss, Kieran McKenna, they have bounced back in real style, on a budget dwarfed by sides such as Leeds, Southampton and many other clubs who they outperformed. The Premier League awaits, and don’t bet against Ipswich causing a few upsets.