North Stander: ‘I still don’t understand the need to field a reserve side’
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
North Stander remembers a time when Ipswich Town Football Club showed the FA Cup real respect!
Some of my most vivid Ipswich Town memories are of FA Cup games - but they are all from several decades ago.
There are the epic quarter-final replays against mighty Leeds in 1975, finally settled by Clive Woods' exquisite curling shot.
Or the agonising semi-final in the same year, when referee Clive Thomas broke our hearts by disallowing two Bryan Hamilton 'goals' against West Ham.
There is the ecstasy of winning the semi-final against West Brom at Highbury in 1978, knowing that we were finally on our way to Wembley. And, of course, that unforgettable cup final itself, when we thrashed Arsenal 1-0, Suffolk boy Roger Osborne the unlikely goal scoring hero.
I also think back to the crushing disappointment of the 1981 semi-final, when Manchester City ended our treble hopes, and the sad sight of the great Kevin Beattie's Ipswich career being ended by a broken arm.
Memories of those games will stay with me forever. Some of them glorious, some of them heart-wrenching. They are a crucially important part of our club's rich history.
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However, I dread to think what FA Cup memories the younger generation of Ipswich supporters now have. Just a succession of embarrassing defeats, many of them against lower league opposition, with seriously weakened Town teams.
Almost a decade without a single win in this great competition. We simply haven't shown the FA Cup any respect for years.
When Mick McCarthy was our manager, he used to infuriate me by fielding weakened teams in the cup, Why? We were invariably mid-table, had nothing else to play for, and a run in the cup would at least have brought some much-needed colour and excitement to an otherwise sterile season.
But no, good old Mick stubbornly refused to pick his first team, resulting in a succession of early exits.
There is, I suppose, more reason for Paul Lambert to make wholesale changes. The cup, after all, is hardly our number one priority. I get that. But, actually, I still don't understand why he feels the need to field a reserve team.
It's not as if we're exactly in the middle of a fixture pile-up. In fact, it seems to be something of a stop-start season mainly because of the international breaks.
I would have thought our first choice players needed the time on the pitch.
By fielding a seriously weakened team, you guarantee a disjointed performance, which is precisely what we got against Lincoln, albeit with improvement in the second half. Now we face an unwanted midweek trip to Sincil Bank, the scene of surely our greatest embarrassment - the appalling performance and defeat at the hands of then non-league Lincoln in front of a national TV audience in 2017. I still squirm when I think about it - which isn't very often.
A few years ago, I was told by an impeccable source within the club that players' bonuses for winning early rounds of the FA Cup were "pitiful." Rather like some of our cup performances in recent years, in fact.
That revelation clearly demonstrated where the Cup lies in our list of priorities - pretty much near the bottom. It's a shame - but at least I (and a whole generation of Ipswich fans) still have those fantastic cup memories.
All of the above might seem rather petty, given how much Paul Lambert has achieved during his first year at the club. It goes way beyond the league position, although that is obviously very impressive indeed.
He has brought about a whole change of ethos. The club is now so much more engaged with the community. He has swept away the McCarthy culture, which seemed to be very internally focused. Lambert, quite rightly, realises that the club needs to take the supporters with it.
There are all kinds of examples of community involvement. He is doing a terrific job - I just wish he would pick stronger teams in the cup!
Finally, I cannot resist mentioning our friends over the border. Yes, the struggling Canaries.
I'm surprised how badly they're doing. They were clearly the best team in the Championship last season, and yet it's Sheffield United - inspired by the sublime David McGoldrick - who have adapted to the Premier League far better.
It looks odds-on that Norwich will be back in the Championship next season, which gives us all the more incentive to join them there. If that happens, they will have a relegation hangover and we'll have all the momentum. I know I'm getting ahead of myself - but those derbies could be interesting!