|The Cup's Different|
Written by ElephantintheRoom on Sunday, 6th Jan 2019 11:28
For many (dare I say most?) Town supporters, the proudest day in the club’s history is the cup final in 1978. Many know the team off by heart. Real diehards can quote David Coleman verbatim in the breathless build up to “Osborne!.... One-Nil!!!!!”.
But ask me where Town came in the league in 1978 and I cannot tell you. Nor can I remember too many matches nor finishing positions in the many blown league campaigns of the Robson era. But I can remember more than a few cup ties.
My greatest memories as a Town fan are almost exclusively FA Cup ties. My dad’s generation (if you forget the small matter of WW2) were perhaps the luckiest of Town fans. They saw Town win the league AND the Robson years. Us children of the 50s grew up knowing Town as recent champions and accepting the Robson years as our natural right, rather than an all-too brief miracle. My back catalogue of rose-tinted memories beggars belief, given the depths Town have sunk to in recent years.
You see I come from a generation of football fans who would watch every moment of the FA Cup final, no matter who was playing. After all, it was never going to be Ipswich. My friends and I would watch breathlessly as black and white images showed Brylcreemed players we had rarely seen except in Charles Buchan’s Football Weekly, leave their hotels, sit nervously in the coach, peer at the crowd on Wembley Way and inspect the pristine pitch. The game itself was merely the highlight of ‘Cup Final Day’ – itself the highlight of the football year. You see, back then The Cup really was different.
And the third round! Oh the excitement of those shocks that we would discuss endlessly over school dinners the following week. Crawford and Simmons for Colchester against unbeaten Leeds. That Ronnie Radford screamer in the mud at Hereford. The Leatherhead Lip. I could go on, but you get the point.
The Cup meant something back then. Younger readers might not believe this, but once upon a time clubs actually tried to win cup games. You might not win The Cup – but to get through a round or have that holy grail ‘ a good cup run’ It was the stuff of dreams. For every club and every supporter.
But now? I wouldn’t watch a cup game if you paid me. I can’t actually remember the last time I watched a cup game at Portman Road. I certainly haven’t watched an FA Cup game of any sort for over a decade, live or on the TV. The Cup today for me – and I think for most teams, let alone most fans is indeed very different. It just doesn’t matter any more. And when you think back to the proudest day in the club’s history in 1978, that is something of a tragedy.
Nowadays The Cup is more a farce than a competition. I noted with disbelief that over 1,000 Town fans wanted to go to Accrington Stanley. I suppose once upon a time I might have done the same. But not now. I don’t know if Stanley, let alone Town intended to field a competitive team, let alone try and win.
I do know Town have treated cup competitions and their supporters with utter contempt for a decade. So no – it's not for me. I simply find it baffling that so many people pay good money for so very little. By watching these farces they are helping to dishonour those who played so proudly in the past.
Town, of course, are not alone. The way virtually all clubs now treat The Cup is little short of criminal. People pay to watch, people bet on it, TV turns up and breathlessly broadcasts games which are essentially reserve games and talk of ‘shocks’. But nobody mentions the awful, obvious truth. Losing a game you don’t really want to be in, let alone win is not a shock. It’s an affront to football.
How did such a great competition sink so low? Money and the the Premier League for sure, not to mention the devaluation of even the Premier League, let alone The Cup via the ludicrous, overblown ‘Champions League’.
Foreign ownership and managers have played their part too. But so too have supporters who have bought into the myth of ‘giving fringe players a chance’. Wouldn’t trying to win a cup game or two in the last decade have brightened up those long seasons of abject mediocrity for Town?
I am probably wrong but I blame Arsene Wenger for the marginalisation of The Cup. In my mind it was he who started the fad for not trying overly hard in cups and ‘giving fringe players a chance’.
I remember Arsenal fielding a virtual youth team against Wigan, in the League Cup, I think. Arsenal won 6-0 which of course showed the strength of Arsenal’s squad and the brilliance of Carlos Vela (Carlos who?).
But given slightly less airtime were the comments of a rueful Wigan manager, Steve Bruce, who pointed out the difficulties his gnarly professional footballers faced being asked to play boys in a game their more glamorous opponents considered beneath them.
In the end Wigan didn’t care either. And that pernicious attitude has seeped right through the game. But what exactly is the logic of the 88 teams who are not going to win anything treating The Cup with contempt? It’s utterly baffling.
My first real memory of Town in the FA Cup was a third round tie at Chelsea in 1968. A trip to London! Chelsea won 3-0 at a canter, which was a tad disappointing. And at that game I learnt that Town had not only never won the hallowed cup – they had never even got to the quarter-final.
And when that magical moment arrived – it was a mere seven years later and came in a cup run that I still think ranks as the most exciting time to be a Town fan. I may be wrong, but in my mind I am right. Because I was there. In 1975, The Cup, for Town supporters, was different, in just about every way imaginable. Hope. Glory. Almost unbearable cliffhangers. Champions and holders vanquished. Improbable comebacks. Triumph. More triumph. The agony of waiting out injury time. The ecstasy of hearing the final whistle.
The 1975 Cup run was simply epic. First up in the third round was an away tie at Wolves. Town won that one 2-1 – a pleasant surprise and we were rewarded with a home tie against The Cup holders, Liverpool in the fourth round. A huge crowd in excess of 34,000 and a tense, even game won by a slightly streaky Mick Mills goal, the ball barely crossing the line, almost in slow motion. Town had arrived amongst the big boys. Better still a cup quarter-final was just one game away!
The draw put us in dream time. A home tie against Aston Villa – at last a team from the lower divisions. The quarter-finals beckoned for the first time in the club’s history. Another massive crowd and another epic. Somehow Town slipped two goals behind to be on the brink of going out. But a Bryan Hamilton-inspired comeback saw Town triumph 3-2. Town had done it and done it the hard way. We were in the FA Cup quarter-final for the first time ever. A cup run no less, where one of the truly great FA Cup tales was about to unfold.
Next up another home game against the invincible juggernaut of Don Revie’s champions, Leeds United. Another huge crowd, another attendance record, the crush hardly eased by allowing some of the crowd out of the stands to sit alongside the pitch. Another tense even game. 0-0. Town’s chance had surely gone. But what an occasion to be part of – a Cup quarter-final and a crowd record that will surely never be beaten.
All I recall about the replay is hearing Town had pulled off a surprise draw on the radio as I was back at university. In the morning I learned David Johnson had scored early on, and Leeds only equalised in the 90th minute. Town had almost beaten the champions on their own ground! Town had actually had one foot in an FA Cup semi-final!
A second replay was now necessary. At neutral Leicester, no less. I hitchhiked there from Bristol to see the match with my brothers. Another 0-0 draw of almost unbearable tension. Town had now gone toe to toe in three epic encounters with the champions and let in just one goal. Again no penalty shoot-out. The teams simply played again two days later in the same place. A THIRD replay!
So I went home with my brothers and we did it all again a couple of days later. Beattie was injured. In came some kid called John Wark to mark Sniffer Clarke. Nowadays Wark would have been on loan at Rotherham and a loanee would have been dragged in at 24 hours’ notice to take Beattie’s place.
What unfolded that night at Filbert Street was the greatest match you could imagine. A thrilling, edge of the seat, see-saw encounter that ended in high anxiety and Town fans desperately whistling for the end.
Clive Woods’s curler that nobody will ever forget, followed Whymark and Hamilton efforts that anyone scarcely remembers. The crowd was tiny compared to the game two days previously – but what a night. A 3-2 triumph at the fourth time of asking (two going to extra-time) – and Town were actually in an FA Cup semi-final!
As Town had knocked out the two favourites they were now nailed-on favourites to win the competition. This was heady stuff indeed. The whole of Suffolk (and most of the country) now believed much-admired Ipswich Town were going to win The Cup. Only West Ham – and then Fulham or Birmingham stood between Town and the FA Cup. Oh - and a referee called Clive Thomas, as it happens.
The convoy of Town fans driving up to Birmingham, scarves streaming in the wind, seemed endless. The scruffy kids demanding money to look after our car slightly intimidating. The game itself an awful anti-climax. Beattie injured yet again and Whymark filling in in central defence. Another 0-0. Another replay. This time at Stamford Bridge.
The 9th April 1975 is indelibly etched in my mind as the greatest and worst night in my Town supporting life. Another huge crowd, another see-saw game with Town undeniably the better team.
Town scored, we went wild. Clive Thomas said no. West Ham scored to sneak ahead. No matter, Town were by far the better side.
Then right in front of me, Hamilton calmly stroked the ball in and we went wild again. Disconsolate West Ham players trooped back to the halfway line. But yet again Clive Thomas said no. You can see that ‘goal’ on You Tube and in the Bobby Robson documentary. What you can’t see is why Clive Thomas disallowed it. To this day the bitterness and injustice wrankles. Far more so than when Roy Capey gave Alan Hudson ‘the goal that never was’ in front of me on the same ground. You see The Cup really is different. Or was.
West Ham scored again after Laurie Sivell’s lack of inches were exposed (not for the first time it has to be said). Town’s only response a somewhat unsatisfactory own goal. And then, unbelievably Town were out. Thank you Clive Thomas.
The trip back to Paddington on the underground surrounded by singing West Ham fans was unbelievably awful. As was the news that Second Division Fulham had won their own semi-final replay against Birmingham. The final would surely have been a gimme – and Town had been robbed. I had waited my entire life for Town to reach the FA Cup quarter-final, seen perhaps the greatest quarter-final ever. And my dreams now lay in ashes. Thanks to Clive Bl***dy Thomas.
Still, there was always next year. And the year after that. And after that.
By 1978 the 1975 team was still largely intact. But the cup run was utterly mundane by comparison. Every match until the semi-final was against lower league opposition, even the quarter-final, technically now my fourth as a Town fan was a 6-0 cakewalk in the Lions’ Den. The semi was against one of Town’s traditional whipping boys, West Brom. Only the final seemed daunting – and that as we know turned out strangely and wonderfully one-sided.
But to my mind the 1978 Cup run, was nothing like as exciting as the 1975 Cup run. Every game in 1975 from round four onwards was an absolute epic. The crowds were massive. As was, ultimately the heartbreak. Forty-four years on the sense of pride and injustice still burns bright in my mind.
If only the same could be still said of the FA and all the clubs that now demean the FA Cup. Sadly Town have dishonoured the memory of those Cup runs and the competition, perhaps football itself in the last 10 years. Will I ever watch a cup game again? I doubt it. But I DO have my memories. And what memories. And that’s what, even then, made The Cup so very different. Memories.
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