When Club Historian John Hutchinson caught up with Scowcroft, the former England Under-21s international striker talked about his fond memories of the seven years he spent at City and Palace.
James’ first team career lasted for 15 seasons. Between 1995 and 2010, he played for five clubs, making nearly 600 league and cup appearances and scoring a century of goals.
As James explained, his career began at Ipswich Town: ”I’m a Suffolk lad, so I joined Ipswich when I was 11 and came all the way through the schoolboy teams, and the reserves. I made my first team debut when I was 19. Ipswich was a really good football club. John Lyall was the first team manager when I was in the youth team and then an ex-player, George Burley, took over in 1994. Ipswich had just got relegated from the Premier League so it was a rebuilding job. He introduced some young players, me being one of them.
“With experienced players around us, we had a very good side and we just got better and better. In my first season in the first team (1995/96), I got into the side just before Christmas and kept my place. It was at the time that Martin O’Neill had just got the job at Filbert Street and started to turn Leicester around.
Scowcroft in action for the England Under-21s side.
“I remember in the last couple of weeks of the 1996/96 season, Leicester and ourselves at Ipswich were vying for the last play-off place. On the last game of the season, Leicester had to go to Watford and win and hope Ipswich, a point ahead of Leicester, did not beat Millwall at home. We drew 0-0. Leicester won 1-0. In the last five minutes, I hit the post. If that had gone in, Leicester wouldn’t have got through to the play-offs and get promoted that year.
“After that, Leicester took off under O’Neill and had a great period of success, but at Ipswich, we just kept getting better and better. We reached the play-offs for four successive years, missing on automatic promotion. The play-offs were a little bit cruel for us. Then, in 2000, we beat Barnsley in the final. We were ready for the Premier League. The younger players had all played about 200 games and, although it wasn’t like Leicester in 2016, when they won the Premier League, when they were untouchable, we did finish fifth in that first season and qualified for Europe. We lost our last two games. If we had won one of them, we would have finished in a Champions League spot, so we were a bit disappointed in the end but it was a really great season.”
After impressing at Ipswich, Scowcroft joined Leicester in 2001.
At the end of that season, James moved to Peter Taylor’s Leicester City. James, who had won five England Under-21s caps while at Portman Road, explained why he made the £3M move to Filbert Street.
He said: “Ipswich were investing in foreign players and one or two of us started to move on. Leicester came in for me. I had played against Leicester many times. I just thought it was a wonderful football club and I wasn’t let down when I joined. I knew Peter well but it was the Club that I wanted to join. It was very similar to Ipswich. It was a family club, had good people behind the scenes, and had a really good fan base. I thought it was the right career move for me.”
However, City were relegated at the end of James’ first season at Filbert Street: “The team had struggled towards the end of the previous season. I knew there was pressure on the manager, but I saw it as a long-term move. Soon after I arrived, Peter got sacked and Dave Bassett came in. We were never good enough to stay up, unfortunately. I still enjoyed my time at the Club. I remember scoring a couple of goals against Chelsea at Filbert Street and I was top goalscorer that season.
“It was the last season at Filbert Street. It was a great place to play at, a typical old fashioned ground. I remember watching the new stadium being built during that season. There is a programme somewhere, featuring me as one of a group of players getting a tour of the new ground whilst it was being built.
“Micky Adams took over towards the end of the season. We were relegated but we regrouped. The players knew Micky as he had worked alongside Bassett.
That season, we were in so many winning positions, but just couldn’t see it through. In the last game of the season, we went ahead at Arsenal against the unbeaten Invincibles, but lost 2-1. We should have beaten them.James Scowcroft
“Everything was going on that season. The Championship is a really difficult league to get out of. Any club that gets promoted out of that league has done fantastically well. I always joke that it was never, ever quiet at Leicester, with all the things going on, on and off the pitch, but we just got on with the football really. Also you could see that the new stadium was going to take the Club to a new level. We were promoted back to the Premier League at the first attempt despite a period in administration.”
To prepare for the season (2003/04) back in the Premier League, which ended in relegation, Adams signed a group of experienced players, like Les Ferdinand, Keith Gillespie, Steve Howey, John Curtis, Craig Hignett and Ben Thatcher.
Thinking back, James said: “This didn’t quite work. Probably, there were too many changes and too many signings. We shouldn’t have got relegated. The squad was more than good enough to stay in that league. I remember, in the first game of the season, we were 2-0 up against Southampton at home and doing really well and they came back to draw 2-2. We threw it away, although to be fair, Kevin Phillips got a wonder goal. The following week, we went to Chelsea. It was their first game with Roman Abramovich as owner. I scored, but they came back and won 2-1. That season, we were in so many winning positions, but just couldn’t see it through. In the last game of the season, we went ahead at Arsenal against the unbeaten Invincibles, but lost 2-1. We should have beaten them. That is the one season that I look back on with regret because I felt that we had enough quality to stay up. If we had survived, we would have been in a really good position to kick on and build.”
Leicester fans were always kind to me. I always gave my best. I always gave 100 per cent. I’ve still got the trophy for the 2001/02 Leicester City Goal of the Season.James Scowcroft
The following season, (2004/05), was James’ last at Leicester City: “We were one of the favourites to go straight back up, but we lost a lot of our players. It was a new team and, again, we didn’t start very well. The Championship is a tough league and we were always chasing. If you don’t get momentum in the Championship and you are a big club, it is very hard. Craig Levein came in (November 2004) and I enjoyed playing under him but, in the February of that season, I had the opportunity to go back on loan to Ipswich, who were near the top of the league. It was a shame to end my Leicester time like that. The summer before that, I had had a couple of opportunities to move on myself and I didn’t want to leave as I believed in the Club.
“Leicester fans were always kind to me. I always gave my best. I always gave 100 per cent. I’ve still got the trophy for the 2001/02 Leicester City Goal of the Season. It was against Leeds, who had reached in the Champions League Semi-Final the previous season. They had Rio Ferdinand at the back and Nigel Martyn in goal. We were losing 2-1 with about five minutes to go when I took the ball on my chest from Muzzy Izzet and volleyed it past Martyn. That was one of my favourite goals of my career.”
In July 2005, James rejoined Adams at Coventry City: “When the loan spell at Ipswich ended I was out of contract for the first time in my career. I had a few options to move but my family had settled in Leicester. Coventry wasn’t far away, I knew Micky well and he offered me a contract. They were just moving into the Ricoh Arena. We had a really good season there. We were getting 25,000 every week. I think we finished eighth in the Championship that season.”
After one year at Coventry, James then moved onto Crystal Palace for £500,000.
Scowcroft also played for Palace, who City face on Saturday afternoon.
Looking back, he remembered: “I had a long contract at Coventry but I moved on. I had played a lot in midfield but I really wanted to play back up front, which I felt was my better position. Taylor was manager of Palace. He signed me and I really enjoyed it at Selhurst Park. Peter was a Palace legend as a player. When I joined them, they had just come out of the Premier League. In my first season there, we finished in mid-table and in my second season there we reached the play-offs. I started that season really well. We played Southampton away and I scored a hat-trick, but we lost the opening few games. Simon Jordan was the chairman and he didn’t hang around long with managers. Neil Warnock came in when, I think, we were second from the bottom. He got us going and we actually finished fifth and got into the play-offs.
“It was a great season. I had scored some good goals and won the Crystal Palace Goal of the Season award in 2008. It was a volley against Wolves at Molineux which, like the one at Leicester, was one of the best goals I had ever scored. We had some very good players at Palace, like Dougie Freedman, Clinton Morrison, Ben Watson and Julián Spironi in goal. They were a really good football club. You could see the potential Palace had. It just needed someone to get hold of it and take it to the next level and that is exactly what they have done now.”
I saw some games at Leicester when they won the Premier League. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The atmosphere was fantastic.James Scowcroft
After three seasons at Palace, James moved to Leyton Orient in July 2009: “I had got injured in the play-of semi-final against Bristol City in May 2008. I came back in pre-season but I did my hamstring again. I then had, virtually, a whole season out injured, which had never happened to me before. At the end of the season, I moved to Orient. I stayed a year and then I moved back to Suffolk and had a season playing for my local team, Bury Town, in the Isthmian League Premier Division.
“After retiring from playing, I did a lot of media work. I did some work for the BBC as well as writing in some newspapers such as The Independent. I have also coached the kids in the Ipswich academy, which is thoroughly enjoyable.”
Reflecting on his time at Leicester City and Crystal Palace, James concluded: “Both clubs have fantastic fan bases. I think that Leicester have moved to a new stadium better than any other club. The atmosphere has actually improved, whereas a lot of clubs move into a new stadium and never really recreate the atmosphere of their old stadium. I saw some games at Leicester when they won the Premier League. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The atmosphere was fantastic. When I played against Leicester for Ipswich and Crystal Palace, their away support was always superb.
“I had seven years combined at Leicester and Crystal Palace and have really good memories of both clubs.”
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