40th anniversary of Ipswich Town’s FA Cup win: Sheer excitement and dread of losing, what a day!

These Town fans display their banners and flags on Cup Final day. Picture: OWEN HINES/ARCHANT

These Town fans display their banners and flags on Cup Final day. Picture: OWEN HINES/ARCHANT

Archant

Terry Hunt, an Ipswich Town fan for 50 years, looks back at the FA Cup Final of 1978 on the 40th anniversary of the Blues beating Arsenal 1-0 at Wembley.

Blues fans in good spirits on the way to Wembley. Picture: OWEN HINES/ARCHANTBlues fans in good spirits on the way to Wembley. Picture: OWEN HINES/ARCHANT

Only more, ahem, mature football supporters will remember just what a big deal FA Cup Final day used to be.

In stark contrast to these days, when the game itself is squeezed in to suit TV schedules, in the 1960s and 1970s Cup Final day was the biggest day in the footballing calendar.

It was just about the only game which was live on TV, and the television companies made the most of it. Both the BBC and ITV gave the whole day over to the build-up to the match, which always kicked off at 3pm.

As a young fan, I would settle down to watch hour upon hour of football. Heaven. Even if some of the TV was just a little bizarre. Who remembers Cup Final Mastermind, Cup Final It’s A Knockout, and even Bob Wilson interviewing a Labrador?

I lapped it all up, but never did in my wildest imagination did I think that one day my team, Ipswich Town, would feature in this oh-so glamorous highlight of the football year.

But as the 1970s progressed, the great Bobby Robson took our club to unexpected heights. Suddenly, we were one of the best teams in the land, always finishing near the top of the league, competing in Europe - and enjoying cup runs.

In 1975, we all suffered the gut-wrenching disappointment of losing controversially to West Ham in the FA Cup semi-Final. Referee Clive Thomas disallowed what Town fans to this day believe were two perfectly good Bryan Hamilton goals.

The burning sense of injustice drove players like Mick Mills, George Burley, Brian Talbot, and Clive Woods to an even greater determination to taste FA Cup glory.

All aboard the Wembley express! Town fans onboard a coach to the famous stadium. Picture: OWEN HINES/ARCHANTAll aboard the Wembley express! Town fans onboard a coach to the famous stadium. Picture: OWEN HINES/ARCHANT

The opportunity came in 1978. After low-key victories over Cardiff and Hartlepool, and a replay win over Bristol Rovers after a lucky escape at a snowy Eastville, Town hammered Millwall 6-1 at The Den in the quarter-Final.

Memorably, West Brom were seen off in the semi-final at Highbury. I’ll never forget the delirious scenes in the Clock End as we celebrated reaching the cup final at last. How many renditions of “We’re all going to Wembley” did we belt out?

Saturday, May 6, 1978, was the big day. I was away at university and had only seen one game in the cup run. But my dear old dad, bless him, got tickets for the football fans in the family - him, my sister, and me.

What do I remember of the day? The sheer excitement of being there - and the dread of losing. We were with thousands of other Town fans at the tunnel end, squeezed into the banner-waving throng you see in all the photos.

My recollection of the game is hazy. I remember Mariner hitting the bar, Warky twice thumping shots against the same square inch of post, and Pat Jennings’ save from Burley’s header.

At that point, I had a real sinking feeling. We’d had all the play, hit the woodwork three times, and yet we hadn’t scored. Surely the scene was set for Malcom MacDonald to get an undeserved winner for Arsenal?

But, as we all know, along come the most unlikely and yet most fitting scorer. Roger Osborne, the boy from Otley, closed his eyes and slammed a left-foot shot into Arsenal net.

Cue pandemonium at our end. But we still had 13 nervy minutes to endure before, at long last, the final whistle went. We’d won the cup!

Ipswich Town fans enjoy their club's FA Cup victory. Picture: OWEN HINES/ARCHANTIpswich Town fans enjoy their club's FA Cup victory. Picture: OWEN HINES/ARCHANT

Mick Mills lifted the trophy and the boys went on a deliriously happy lap of honour. Was that a crafty fag, Mr. Hunter and Beattie? Hundreds of happy people lined the bridges over the A12 between London and Ipswich to wave to the triumphant Blue and White Army as it made its way back to Suffolk. The following day, thousands lined the streets of Ipswich as the team paraded the trophy from an open-top bus.

Great days. Will we ever see the like again?

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Our FA Cup Final victory taught me a very valuable lesson - to make the absolute most of marvellous days like that one.

Don’t get me wrong - I celebrated with the best of them. But, if I’m brutally honest, I took it all a little bit for granted. I was 21 years old, an age when life can seem a little bit easy...

By 1978, Town had been established as a top club for several years. In my foolish youth, I assumed that happy state of affairs would last forever.

Town fans outside Wembley before kick-off. Picture: OWEN HINES/ARCHANTTown fans outside Wembley before kick-off. Picture: OWEN HINES/ARCHANT

So, while I loved our FA Cup victory, I suppose I sort of assumed that these occasions would come thick and fast in the coming years. Of course, we had the UEFA Cup three years later but, after that, harsh reality arrived. No longer were Ipswich a major force in English football and, eventually, we were relegated. Nightmare.

So, the next time a big Wembley occasion came around, I made absolutely certain I made the very most of it. Mind you, I had to wait a while - 22 years, to be precise. (I’m deliberately forgetting the Charity Shield Final!)

It was, of course, the Play-off final of 2000, which George Burley’s Town reached after so many disappointments. I was EADT Editor by then, and chairman David Sheepshanks very kindly invited my wife Jane and me into the Royal Box.

What a great occasion! A thrilling rollercoaster of a game which Town won in cavalier fashion. After Matt Holland had lifted the trophy, and the players did their lap of honour, and after Martijn Reuser’s unforgettable celebration, I stayed for ages in the Royal Box, lapping up the atmosphere.

By then, I was old enough and wise enough to realise that fantastic occasions like that don’t come around too often - especially if you support a provincial club like Ipswich.

I’m not embarrassed to admit that I shed a tear for my dad, a great Town supporter who had died four years earlier. He would have loved it, just as he had relished the FA Cup Final in 1978.

I know some people dismiss football as meaningless trivia – but it really can teach you some important lessons in life.

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