Ipswich Town fans fall back in love with the FA Cup
- Credit: Archant
When four Ipswich Town fans decided to embark on an FA Cup journey last summer they couldn’t have dreamed how well the idea would pan out. STUART WATSON reports.
TRY telling four Ipswich Town fans that the romance of the FA Cup is dead.
Football’s most famous club competition has taken some flack in recent times.
Gone is the time the final was the only televised match of the year, when families gathered around the box from first thing in the morning to soak up hours of build-up.
Instead, the financial rewards attached to multiple European qualification places and Premier League status has seen weakened sides fielded from the early rounds.
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Gone is the time when the ‘road to Wembley’ ended with a final under the iconic Twin Towers, with a 3pm kick-off on a stand-alone weekend at the very end of the campaign.
Now the semi-finals are also played at the national football stadium as the FA continues to pay off the cost of its construction. Premier League games take place on the same day, with finals starting at tea time.
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Ipswich Town fan Chris Baker, 47, remembers the halcyon days of the competition, having been in the crowd as a 13-year-old boy when Roger Osborne sealed the Blues a famous victory over Arsenal in 1978’s final.
So when his fellow season ticket holder Gordon Low, 52, suggested they should go and watch local non-league side Ipswich Wanderers in the extra preliminary round, before following the victors in each tie that followed all the way through to the final, he jumped at the idea.
Chris’ son Sam, 26, and fellow Town fan Steve Gregory, 54, were quickly recruited and so it began.
“We didn’t know how it would work out,” explained Gordon. “We wanted to experience the charm of the early rounds, but were always concerned that we might end up inheriting a big club in the third round and following them all the way through.”
As it turned out, they couldn’t have scripted what followed any better.
After trips to Harlow, Aveley, Margate and Slough in the early rounds, the quartet were handed a second round tie between Conference sides Lincoln and Mansfield.
A topsy-turvy tie ended 3-3 after a dramatic equaliser for the visitors and that meant a 300-mile round trip to Nottingamshire in midweek for the replay. Suddenly the required mileage (which eventually exceeded 4,500) and the cost of the exercise hit home.
“I have to be honest and admit that we didn’t realise there were eight rounds before Christmas!” said Chris. “When that equaliser went in at Lincoln we started to think ‘was this such a good idea?!’”
They needed have worried.
Liverpool’s third round win at Mansfield was followed by an incredible run of wins for the underdogs. League One side Oldham knocked out Brendan Rodgers’ men, then took Everton to a replay.
Top-flight strugglers Wigan recorded a shock 3-0 win at Goodison Park in the quarter-finals, before the Latics went on to beat Millwall in the semi-finals.
Then, in arguably one of the biggest final upsets in the competition’s history, big-spending Manchester City were beaten courtesy of Ben Watson’s dramatic last-gasp winner.
And the Blues supporters – in among the jubilant Wigan faithful – were just a few rows behind the goal where the drama unfolded.
“That was an incredible moment,” said Gordon. “After all the travelling and Chris’s frantic e-mails to secure tickets throughout the later rounds, that was the perfect ending.
“It was such a fun experience for us all to share and one we’ll never forget.”
Chris added: “The whole thing just ended up being exactly what we’d hoped it would be.
“I don’t remember much about the ’78 final, in terms of the game, but I do remember being completely captivated by the atmosphere.
“Being with those Oldham and Wigan fans made us realise there is still a lot of romance left in this competition.”