Wigan throw it away as Preston capture the title, by Mark Barr

The long-term significance
This was the season that revived two traditional Lancashire clubs. Preston returned to the second level after a nineteen year absence, while runners-up Burnley had spent only two years outside the lower divisions during the same period. Both clubs have remained in the Championship, with Preston qualifying for the playoffs twice. This season Burnley’s victories over Chelsea and Arsenal have take them to their first major cup semi final since 1982-83.

Story of the season
Wigan looked unstoppable after going 24 games unbeaten from the start of the season but they went eight games without a win from early January and fell away to fourth. They were to lose in the playoff final to Gillingham after conceding two goals in the last six minutes of extra time, a defeat that cost manager John Benson his job. Gills’ boss Peter Taylor also left, for Leicester, to be replaced by player- coach Andy Hessenthaler. With a late run of five wins in six matches, Gillingham had nearly snatched second place but blew it on the final day by losing at Wrexham while Stan Ternent’s Burnley won at Scunthorpe. Preston went on an 18 match unbeaten run from September and were top for the final two months. They could count on a mean defence in which right back Graham Alexander and centre half Michael Jackson were ever-presents, with Finnish goalkeeper Teuvo Moilanen having the best season of an otherwise erratic career. Other key contributions came from Sean Gregan as the midfield anchor and former Man Utd trainee Jonathan Macken up front. With Jamie Cureton and Jason Roberts scoring prolifically, Bristol Rovers were top for the first half of March but missed out even on a playoff place after winning only one of their last ten games; they went down the following year. The final relegation issue was settled on the penultimate weekend with Cardiff’s 4-1 defeat at Gillingham proving decisive. It was only a temporary reprieve for Oxford, however, who finished bottom in 2000-01 while conceding 100 goals. In their first season under Icelandic ownership, Stoke beat Bristol City to win the Auto Windscreens Final in front of 75,057 at Wembley but they lost in the playoff semi finals. The other beaten semi finalists, Millwall, went up as champions the following year.

For the record books
Gillingham moved up to the second level for the first time in their history and had their best ever run in the FA Cup, losing 5-0 to Chelsea in the last eight after beating Premier League Bradford City and Sheffield Wednesday. Wigan’s fourth place finish was their highest to date. Preston set a divisional record in conceding only fourteen goals away from home. Andy Payton of Burnley was top scorer with 27 goals, two ahead of Millwall’s Neil Harris. Preston’s 3-0 win at Turf Moor in March drew the biggest crowd, of 22,310.

Same place today
Five of these teams are in League One this season, with Oldham the only ones not to have been promoted or relegated since.

Moved furthest away
Wigan and Stoke are currently in the Premier League. Cambridge Utd, Oxford Utd and Wrexham are all in the Conference and may soon be joined by Bournemouth and Luton.

Went on to greater things
David Moyes Preston’s young manager earned acclaim for his organisational skills in their promotion season, then took them to two successive playoffs before leaving for Everton in 2002.
Lomana Lua Lua The Congolese striker with the acrobatic goal celebration was playing his first full season for Colchester. After moving on to Newcastle and Portsmouth he is now playing in Qatar.  
Graeme Murty A new signing from York, Murty was the only Reading player from this season still at the club when they were promoted to the Premier League in 2006.

Disappearing from view
Ron Noades
Noades stepped down as Brentford’s chairman and manager – the latter being a role he’d held for two seasons -  in the summer of 2000. He remained the majority shareholder until a long drawn-out sale to fans group Bees United was concluded six years later.
Ian Wright The former England striker retired after 15 league appearances for Burnley, whom he joined from Celtic in February 2000.
The Manor Ground In 2001 Oxford United left their home of 76 years to move into the Kassam Stadium, named after their then owner. Supporters have since called for it to be renamed The United Stadium.

From WSC 264 February 2009

Related articles

Massively Violent & Decidedly Average by Lee Howey
Biteback Publishing, £12.99Reviewed by Ed UprightFrom WSC 375, April 2018Buy the book...
How "they won" became "we won" – the rise of the partisan football fanatic
In the game's early days matches were mostly watched by curious observers but, as crowds increased, clubs started to provide their followers with a...
The best and worst moments of 2017 ~ part two
Embed from Getty Imageswindow.gie=window.gie||function(c){(gie.q=gie.q||[]).push(c)};gie(function(){gie.widgets.load({id:'OmUujASISY588bJdMCY9sQ',sig...

Sign up to the WSC Weekly Howl - a small portion of despair and enlightenment delivered to your inbox every Friday