James Scowcroft

Former Player Remembers: James Scowcroft

This month, the former England Under-21 international striker James Scowcroft talked to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his career in football, including the seven years he spent playing for Leicester City and Crystal Palace in the first decade of this century.

He made a combined total of 233 appearances for the Foxes and the Eagles. He also has the distinction of winning the Goal of the Season award for both clubs and currently works for Crystal Palace in their scouting department. 

Before signing for Leicester City, James had a distinguished career at Ipswich Town where he played nearly 250 first team games and scored over 50 goals between 1994/95 and 2000/01. Whilst at Portman Road, he also played five times for the England Under-21s side.

“I’m a Suffolk man so Ipswich was my local club,” James began. “I joined them straight from school, in 1992 at a time when Ipswich were founder members of the Premier League. It’s a good club and had built on the traditions set in the Bobby Robson era. I was lucky enough to come through the ranks and work my way up to play in the first team. The club got relegated before I broke through in 1995/96 but I played six seasons for Ipswich in the first team before I made the switch to Leicester in 2001.

“At Ipswich, we got to four play-offs, losing three on the spin and then in the fourth one (1999/00) we got over the line and were promoted back to the Premier League, which was important for the club.

“They believed in young players and eventually achieved their goal. The next season (2000/01) we finished fifth and got into Europe. It was an exciting time.”

At the end of the 2000/01 season, James signed for Peter Taylor’s Leicester City for a reported £3M. Other new signings that summer were Dennis Wise from Chelsea and Ian Walker from Tottenham Hotspur.

“I’d been at Ipswich a long time,” James continued. “Leicester was a good club. It meant moving away from home, but it wasn’t too far. I enjoyed my time at Leicester. I’d had a few options during the summer I moved but I chose Leicester. I knew Peter Taylor as he had been my England Under-21 manager. Also, Leicester had recently had a great time under Martin O’Neill.  

That season I won the Leicester City Goal of the season award. It was against Leeds. I took the ball on my chest from Muzzy Izzet and volleyed it past Nigel Martyn.

James Scowcroft

“I enjoyed my time at Leicester. I missed the first match of the season (a 5-0 home defeat to Bolton Wanderers) as I’d been injured in a pre-season friendly. My first game was away at Arsenal. They were a top, top side. We lost 4-0. It was a baptism of fire.”

Two months after signing for Leicester City, Taylor was sacked.

“It’s not nice to see anyone getting sacked, “James reflected. “I’d only ever had one manager when I was at Ipswich (George Burley) so this was a new situation for me. But it’s football. Dave Bassett and his assistant Micky Adams came in. They were both good to me.

“My first season at Leicester was the last season at Filbert Street, whilst they were building the new stadium. I remember doing a piece for the matchday programme when the new stadium was half built. They took photographs of me standing in the half finished stand. 

“That season I won the Leicester City Goal of the season award. It was against Leeds. I took the ball on my chest from Muzzy Izzet and volleyed it past Nigel Martyn. It was obviously disappointing that we were relegated at the end of the season from the Premier League, but the following season we bounced straight back in what was the first season at the new stadium.

“Also that season the Club went into Administration (in October 2002). As players we didn’t fully understand the situation at first, but the Club was very open with us and told us what was going on. The players deferred money, so we played our part as well. The Club got through administration and came out the other side (in February 2003).

“I think the Club handled itself very well. Had there been a transfer window when Leicester went into administration, I imagine most of the players would have been sold. The Club did very well to keep the team together. Back then you weren’t deducted ten points for going into administration and this caused some controversy when we got promoted back to the Premier League at the first attempt (in 2003).

“That season I played both as a frontman and in midfield. At Ipswich, I preferred playing with my back to goal and I got quite used to dropping in and playing as a No. 10. Micky liked to get as many forward players onto the pitch as possible. I never complained. I just got on with it.”

To prepare for Leicester City’s return to the Premier League in 2003, Micky Adams, who was now the manager, signed many new players despite the Club having very little money to spend. John Curtis, Ben Thatcher, Keith Gillespie, Ricardo Scimeca, Les Ferdinand, Steve Howey, Craig Hignett, Marcus Bent and Lilian Nalis were added to the squad which now had an average age of over 31, making it the oldest squad in Premier League history. 

Thinking back, James recalled, “Micky had to bring in players he could only give short term contracts to. He just had to get a squad together. He couldn’t build a team. It couldn’t have been easy for him. We shouldn’t really have got relegated at the end of the season, but we went down and that was a big disappointment.”  

I would probably have liked to stay longer but your career catches up with you and you move on.

James Scowcroft

The last match of that season was  away to Premier League champions Arsenal who also won the FA Cup that year and were nicknamed ‘The Invincibles’  because they’d remained undefeated throughout the season.

“We’d drawn 1-1 with Arsenal at home that season,” James recalled, “and in that last match, we scored first. That stirred the hornets’ nest. They suddenly woke up and scored twice later on. What a team they were! The top of the Premier League then was as strong then as it is now. Manchester United and Liverpool had both recently won trebles, at home and in Europe, in league and cup competitions.”

The following season (2004/05) was James’ last playing for the Foxes.

“In my final season at Leicester, Craig Levein came in as manager (in November 2004),” James explained. “I found him good to work with. I would probably have liked to stay longer but your career catches up with you and you move on. When a new manager arrives, it affects you personally because every manager wants their own players to come in and this happened with Craig.

“My last match for Leicester was against Ipswich (in February 2005), which was ironic. Until then I’d played in every game that season, but my contract was nearly up and unfortunately you move on. That’s the life of a footballer. I was quite lucky with injuries in my career and I played nearly 150 games for Leicester.

“I went back to Ipswich on loan until the end of the season. Leicester were OK for me to go. Ipswich were in a good position. Joe Royle was the manager but maybe I should have stayed at Leicester. I was only back at Ipswich for a couple of months. It was very strange going back to a club that I’d been at for a long time until I’d left four years earlier.”

The following season (2005/06) James moved to Coventry City where Micky Adams was manager. He stayed there for a season, played in 45 games, scored three times and helped the Sky Blues to finish eighth in the Championship.

He remembered: “I was at the crossroads of my career when I went to Coventry . Micky Adams was their manager. Also I was living in Leicester, Coventry was on my doorstep and so it was natural for me to go there.”

James’ next move was to Crystal Palace in July 2006 for a reported fee of £500,000.

“At the end of the season Crystal Palace came for me,” the forward continued. “A very good and big club that had huge potential. I spent three years there. Peter Taylor signed me and I was with him for a year and a half and then Neil Warnock became the manager which was very interesting as well.

“He was good, very, very good. He’s outspoken. His style of football is winning games. There’s a little meme on social media which says, ‘You’ve got to die for three points’ and that was his outlook. He knew how to win games of football and he was very driven, very passionate, and you couldn't help but admire him. At my age he was perfect for me. His man-management skills were as good as I saw anywhere. 

I still felt fit, so I played semi-pro for a year and a bit for Bury Town in Suffolk, which was really enjoyable.

James Scowcroft

“I enjoyed it at Crystal Palace. We were in the Championship, but the club had just recently had a season in the Premier League under Iain Dowie with Simon Jordan as Chairman. It was a good club with fantastic away support. I had two really good seasons there.

“For those two years I was fit and probably played some of the best football of my career. Looking back, I was 30 and 31. I was strong mentally, experienced and in good shape. I made some good friends there and played with their current Sporting Director, Dougie Freedman.

“Crystal Palace are coming up for 10 years in the Premier League now. Chairman Steve Parish deserves a lot of credit. Similar to Leicester the club went into administration. He took over, guided it through and got up into the Premier League. For a club that hasn’t got huge resources, I think Steve Parish has done an amazing job. He is one of the best owners in the Premier League and he’s a proper, proper fan as well.”

“I left Palace after three years (in 2009) when I was coming into my mid-30s. I then had a year at Leyton Orient. This was a final little chapter as my career was coming to an end. I’d played over 600 games. I was very lucky, played for some very, very good clubs and had a good career.”

In 2010, James returned to Suffolk.

“Suffolk was home,” James continued. “I still felt fit, so I played semi-pro for a year and a bit for Bury Town in Suffolk, which was really enjoyable. Then I spent five years coaching at Ipswich’s academy. It was where I started off, and coaching youngsters there was really enjoyable.

 “I also spent two or three years working in the media. That was a transition stage really between stopping playing and then going into the second part of my career and life. It’s great being paid to talk about football. I did TV, radio, some journalism and a little bit of writing. It was enjoyable but it wasn’t something I wanted to do long term although, I still do  little bits of media stuff.

James concluded by saying: “I’m actually lucky enough now to work for Crystal Palace in their scouting department. I was invited to do this three years ago by Dougie Freedman, the club’s Sporting Director. I really enjoy this work.”

Leicester City Crest





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