I won’t bore you with the details of how I passed the recent minutes, hours and days while in isolation, as nothing has significantly changed since last week, except I finally shaved my disgusting beard, and with Lent ending, I started eating meat again.
The reality of the situation is that while I may be frustrated by being stuck inside, unable to socialise with my friends and family, or not having any live football to watch, I have it so easy compared to some people that I don’t think it is right to be complaining about my circumstances. Unless the season is actually voided, and the wait for Liverpool to win the league continues, as then I’ll really kick-off.
This week’s choice of game won’t necessarily have been an obvious choice to most, but as soon as Pete and I started this quest I knew it would be picked sooner or later. We went for the 1978 FA Cup final between Arsenal and Ipswich Town; back to a dark distant past when the team from Suffolk were actually pretty good and had Bobby Robson in charge. Anyone who hadn’t seen the documentary More Than A Manager might not know that one of the greatest managers of the last 50 years cut his teeth with Ipswich, and oversaw the most successful period of the club’s history.
Under Robson’s guidance, Ipswich had performed well in the league during the mid-70s, with five consecutive top-six finishes. However, in the 1977-78 season, this form had dropped off, with them ending up in a lowly 18th place.
Following their league and cup double at the beginning of the decade, Arsenal themselves had struggled, with three bottom-half finishes in a row between 1973 and 1976. Terry Neil stepped into the hot seat, and slowly began to improve their fortunes, steering them to a 5th place finish in the run-up to this final, making them the slight favourites.
Being the underdog clearly didn’t phase Robson’s men, as throughout the game they were always the most threatening side. They struck the woodwork once in the first half, and twice in the second. This was another game where I knew the final outcome but had no idea when the goal came, meaning I was forever on the edge of my seat. It finally came in the 77th minute. A step over from 19-year old David Gettis got him past the Arsenal left-back and into space, where struck a venomous cross into the area. A defender was able to clear, but only as far as the Ipswich number seven Roger Osbourne, who’s first time shot nestled into the bottom left-hand corner, beyond the helpless Pat Jennings in goal.
What follows is one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen watching a professional game of Football. Osbourne goes crazy, as well you would if you’d just scored a goal at Wembley in a cup final. But he celebrates so wildly that he essentially collapses. Whether it was from the emotion of the moment, or because he’d run himself ragged for the previous 76 minutes, but he’s so shattered that he has to be immediately substituted. Wonderful stuff.
While the quality of football was generally of a high standard, you could tell the fitness of the players was nothing compared to the modern footballer. The match ended up being numerous counter-attacks, where the players were clearly giving every ounce of energy into going forward, then struggling/not bothering too much in tracking back. It made for an incredibly entertaining watch, but you could tell from about 65 minutes on all of the players were blowing out their arses. It probably didn’t help that back then you were only allowed one substitute. Or, more perhaps more pertinent is that several of the Ipswich players were smoking on the pitch following their victory, which may have contributed to their overall fitness issues.
Another thing we noticed was that some of the most ferocious tackles I’d ever seen were often not even given as fouls, let alone leading to a yellow or red card. At one point Ipswich striker was clean through on goal before being taken out by a vicious slide tackle. Instead of rolling around on the floor in false agony, or screaming at the referee to send the defender off, Mariner simply got to his feet and carried on with the game.
When speaking to my Dad about this (he remembers the final like it was yesterday, even if he can’t remember what he had for dinner last night) and simply said ‘That’s how it was back then. If someone clattered into you, you just got on with it, and hoped you’d get them back’. The pitch definitely contributed to this; considering the game was at the end of May, it clearly was incredibly slippery as players were constantly falling over, or sliding for five or six yards every time they threw themselves into a challenge.
With current lockdown restrictions deciding that hairdressers are not essential workers, my barnet has slowly grown out of control. It now resembles a large bird’s nest, which means any form of exercise becomes sweaty and horrible very quickly. Therefore I feel I have the authority to criticise the awful hair on show in this game. A number of the Ipswich players have either perms or mullets, making them look like anything other than professional athletes. In an interview for the 40th anniversary of the game, when shown a picture of the players, the hairdresser for the Ipswich players admitted: “it looks quite horrendous now”.
As always we discussed many other topics, such as what the wages of players were back then (on average about £1600 a month), enjoying the marching band that performed at half time (surely stomping around would’ve made the condition pitch even worse than it already was) and how the two team’s benches were literally right next to each other. Back then, everyone acted professionally and gentlemanly, so instead of being at each others’ throats or trying to fight each other, both sets of substitutes and coaching staff just sat there pleasantly. Different times.
The biggest revelation between the three of us was Chris insisting that Celery is the crucial ingredient for making a Spaghetti Bolognese, and that I, and my mother before me, have been foolishly making it wrong all these years. I’m really starting to regret allowing him into these watch-alongs…
Unfortunately for all involved/reading this there aren’t many other Ipswich matches in full on YouTube, so next week’s match might have to be one that people other than Pete and I actually care about. Or, I’ve got a week to somehow get access to the 2000 playoff final, where the Town smashed Barnsley 4-2 to make it back to the Premier League. Either way, I’m already looking forward to the next classic game.