All aboard for Saturday’s Cliftonville-Crusaders Irish Cup Final at Windsor Park — the first occasion these two fierce north Belfast rivals have clashed in a competition still close to the hearts of all football fans.
There is something special about the Irish Cup, a regal quality with the final giving players an air of immortality at the end of a long season’s mine-strewn road.
Cliftonville, the oldest club in Ireland, were the dominant force in the early years bringing off the double in 1899-1900 and 1900-01, while Crusaders achieved it in 1966-67, and 1967-68.
They defeated Belfast’s Big Two which added even greater significance to the feat — Glentoran 3-1 at Windsor Park, Linfield 2-0 at the Oval. And there were no ifs or buts about either victory, no suggestions of a fluke — they won on merit.
Let’s, therefore, rewind the video to that triumph over the Blues on April 27, 1968 — 41 years ago. It was a final of drama, superb football, nail-biting excitement watched by an 18,000 crowd. “What impressed me most about the game, and I can recount virtually every minute of it, was the atmosphere,” said right half Walter McFarland, a powerhouse with a capital P.
“It gripped us all from the moment we stepped on to the turf — what an exhilarating feeling. Yes, a match I’ll never forget nor will the others, some of whom will be club guests on Saturday.”
Drama piled upon drama. Linfield missed two penalties, Crusaders goalkeeper Terry Nicholson struggled through the last five minutes with a fractured nose and Linfield, in desperation, brought on Billy Millen in a vain attempt to turn things around.
Linfield had gone 34 matches without defeat, yet there was a sense that, perhaps, there could be an
upset, a sensational result, with the first portent coming in the 26th minute as centre-forward Joe Meldrum, now residing in Norwich, headed Liam Wilson’s cross past keeper Bertie McGonigal to put Crusaders ahead.
Ten minutes later Linfield were awarded a penalty and Bluemen, reared on a menu of success with the word defeat not in their lexicon, felt this was the breakthrough to put them back on track. Even in that era, penalties were the scourge of the Windsor Park club. This one had been awarded when Alex Anderson brought down Bryan Hamilton in a goalmouth muddle. Up walked Ronnie Wood who, earlier in the season, had missed a penalty against Glentoran, but manager Ewan Fenton retained faith in him only to bury his face in his hands as the power drive rebounded off the bar.
And the agony continued in the 64th minute when the Blues blundered again. Referee Keith Walker, rather harshly in the opinion of many, pointed to the spot after Hamilton had been upended. Wood walked away from the action. Team-mates appeared reluctant to accept the responsibility which eventually fell on the shoulders of young Dessie Cathcart.
Alas, his attempt was foiled by Nicholson, famed for his Beatles-like hairstyle. “As they lined up Anderson pointed to one side so I dived and pushed it away — Alex had called correctly,” he said.
Nicky was the hero — even more so near the finish when centre-forward Sammy Pavis accidentally caught him on the nose trying to connect with a cross. “Nicky refused to go for treatment but it took four minutes to revive him and he remained on the pitch,” wrote my colleague Bill Clark in his Sunday Mirror column. “He grasped the upright like a drunk embracing a lamp post, stumbled through the lap of honour after Meldrum consolidated the victory with his second goal.”
“I don’t remember much after the incident. You know I never went to hospital — my late wife Emerald set the nose for me at home the next day,” revealed Terry, now living at Maralin where he runs an electrical contracting business. “I enjoyed that game but the previous year gave me a greater thrill — just because it was the first.”
Man-of-the-match award justifiably went to veteran Albert Campbell, a Crusaders legend, who had been dropped and moved to right half in several matches. He informed Jimmy Todd he didn’t want to figure in the Cup Final except in his accustomed pivotal role and fortunately, the shrewd manager acceded to the demand. Never has there been a more classic 90-minute individual display by anyone in the Irish Cup. as he shadowed prolific scoring Pavis with adhesive efficiency.
Big Albert, as he was known, epitomised the quality, tenacity, courage — often in adversity — and dedication of Crusaders players since the club’s foundation a century ago in 1909, when they were labelled “The Smoothers” because they used the old cottage laundry as a pavilion and collected subscriptions in a York Street pub to pay the Irish Alliance admittance fee.
1967: Glentoran 1 Crusaders 3 (Windsor Park)
Crusaders: Nicholson, Patterson, Lewis, McPolin, Campbell, S McCullough, Law, Trainor, Meldrum, McNeill, Wilson. Scorers: Trainor, McNeill, McCullough.
Glentoran: Finlay, Creighton, McKeag, Jackson, W McCullough, Stewart, Morrow, Bruce, Thompson, Ross, Weatherup. Scorer: Thompson.
Referee: J Butler (Sunderland). Attendance: 20,000.
1968: Crusaders 2 Linfield 0 (The Oval)
Crusaders: Nicholson, Anderson, Cathcart, W McFarland, Campbell, McPolin, Brush, Trainor, Meldrum, Jamison, Wilson. Scorer: Meldrum (2).
Linfield: McGonigal, Gilliland, Patterson, Andrews, Hatton, Wood, Ferguson, Hamilton, Pavis, Scott, D Cathcart. Sub: Millen.
Referee: K Walker (Maidstone). Attendance: 18,000.