Northern Ireland amateur international Joe Meldrum lives in Norfolk now - a far cry from that day 41 years ago when the ex- policeman was the goal-scoring hero of an Irish Cup Final staged at a packed, vibrant Oval.
The date — April 27, 1968. Joe got both goals — one in each half — to give Crusaders a merited 2-0 victory over odds-on favourites Linfield and retain the trophy. A year earlier they had performed a giant-killing act on Glentoran with a 3-1 triumph at Windsor Park.
Crusaders, often affectionately referred to as “that wee club from the Shore Road”, had really come of age in those two seasons. Their preparations were meticulous and professional and included a special vegetarian diet introduced by the renowned cross-Channel swimmer Jack McClelland.
“We all felt super,” admitted skipper Albert Campbell. “At the end everyone was ready to have a go again. You were on the top of the world.”
“Easy, easy” taunted Crusaders fans as the final whistle approached in what can only be described as a disaster for Linfield. The performance was not only sub-standard but, to make matters worse, they missed two penalties as well.
Joe, now 75, justifiably collected the Man of the Match award. He masterminded the attacking show, linked perfectly with the late Danny Trainor and constantly challenged and harassed the Linfield defence.
Not only did Linfield’s unbeaten 34-match run come to an end but they also failed to overhaul the record of 37 held by Belfast Celtic.
Meldrum’s first goal came in the 26th minute; Joe Wilson and Trainor had combined on the flank before floating a cross which Meldrum headed into the net — assisted on its way by Blues centre-half Sammy Hatton who made a valiant attempt to clear off the line.
And those penalties? Linfield supporters just couldn’t believe what was happening. Firstly, Ronnie Wood hit the crossbar, then opted against taking the second awarded when John McPolin had brought down Bryan Hamilton.
A hush came over the stadium as Dessie Cathcart lined up the ball but his left-foot shot was saved by diving goalkeeper Terry Nicholson, who produced a five-star show, although he doesn’t remember much about the final 15 minutes.
He was concussed when diving at the feet of Linfield centre-forward Sammy Pavis who throughout could make no impact against skipper Albert Campbell. It took some time to revive Terry but, after discussion with coach Jimmy Todd, it was decided to let him continue despite his damaged nose.
Gallantly he battled on, clinging to the post at times for support, and as he left the pitch he had to be propped up by colleagues. Fortunately, he eventually recovered in the sanctuary of the dressing room.
Let’s leave the final word to the late world-acclaimed legislator, Irish FA President Harry Cavan: “Crusaders were worthy of victory. No team that misses two penalty kicks, as Linfield did, deserves to be winners.”
Irish Cup Final: Crusaders 2 Linfield 0 — at the Oval, Saturday April 27, 1968: attendance 18,000.
Crusaders: Nicholson; Anderson, Cathcart; Campbell, McFarland, McPolin, Brush, Trainor, Meldrum, Jamison, Wilkinson.
Linfield: McGonigal; Gilliland, Patterson; Andrews, Hatton, Wood; Ferguson, Hamilton, Pavis, Scott, Cathcart.
Referee: Keith Walker (Maidstone).