It seemed a good idea at the time when, in an act of pre-teenage rebellion, I decided to choose my own football team to support. Suckered in by the new all singing and dancing Premier League I settled on Ipswich Town, a team new to the top flight who just so happened to be situated some 245 miles away from my home in North Wales. Details that seemed to pass me by as I was too busy avoiding having my head flushed down the toilet in my first year at high school.
My £5 pocket money and £3 weekly paper round money couldn’t stretch to a match ticket, never mind the train fare to East Anglia, so each year when the third round of the FA Cup came around I would eagerly await the draw and pray for an away tie with either Chester or Wrexham, my nearest clubs. The latter also happened to be the team my Dad had supported for 40 years. I’d spent my formative years as a football fan with my Dad on the Kop at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground. I loved going but they weren’t my team, if you know what I mean?
In late 1994, my wish was granted. Premier League Ipswich were drawn to play second division Wrexham; me versus my Dad. Wrexham were no strangers to hosting the “big” clubs, having defeated reigning champions Arsenal at the Racecourse just three seasons earlier to seal a place in FA Cup folklore. I was on course to watch my team in the flesh for the first time and although I’d be in amongst the home fans but still was better than nothing!
Now came the small matter of getting a ticket. Before the days of pre-sales and membership cards, clubs operated a voucher scheme where you usually had to attend a non-descript league game to be in with a chance at a cup ticket. In this case, the game was a painstaking 0-0 draw with Shrewsbury on a freezing cold January afternoon, the highlight being future Wrexham cult hero Dean Spink getting sent off for the Shrews. Vouchers secured my Dad dutifully went and queued up for tickets whilst I nervously eyed the clock waiting for double Science to finish so I could get home and clap my eyes on them.
The day of the game arrived, I’d persuaded my Dad to get us to the ground extra early to see my heroes arrive and hopefully grab some autographs. With Ipswich struggling in the league this was a welcome distraction, although your typical cup clichés of “potential banana skin” were bandied about. New signing Adrian Paz took his place on the bench. The Uruguayan striker had arrived at Portman Road, much to the fans bewilderment, after local press suggested an impending South American signing would be none other than Gabriel Batistuta.
The game got underway with almost 9,000 crammed into the Racecourse Ground. We had taken our place on a bulging Kop with my autograph book now boasting the names of Frank Yallop, Stuart Slater, and the enigmatic Paz. Ipswich struggled to match Wrexham’s intensity and looked sluggish on the muddy surface. Halftime arrived with the game goalless, my Dad reached for his trusty flask and whilst disappointed not to see an Ipswich goal at our “end” I was quietly confident the much-vaunted higher fitness levels of Premier League sides would come to the fore as the match wore on.
On the hour mark, however, my worst nightmares began to come true. Wrexham broke down the left side and, with a cross launched toward the back post, Kieran Durkan crashed a volley past the flailing Clive Baker. The Kop erupted, and no one noticed the 14-year-old with head in hands. To be fair to my Dad he kept his composure enough to limit his celebrations to a hair ruffle.
Time was running out for the Tractor Boys who had thrown Paz on in the chase for an equaliser. With six minutes to go the Uruguayan swung a corner into the area and centre-half David Linighan rose highest to plant a header past Andy Marriott in the Wrexham goal. I met the sighs of despair on the Kop with a quiet fist pump, relief the main emotion on display.
This was shot to pieces a minute later when a Wrexham free-kick was launched forward, winger Karl Connolly bundled the ball in front of Adam Tanner who scythed the former fishmonger down in the box. Up stepped-leading scorer Gary Bennett to send the Kop into rapture. My Dad didn’t show as much restraint this time and the game was over, another top-flight scalp for Wrexham.
Manchester United awaited in the fourth round for the Welsh club, whilst things only got worse for Ipswich and me. Two months later a 9-0 drubbing at Old Trafford sent Ipswich spiralling towards relegation. Twenty-three years on I still watch the FA Cup third round draw hoping to gain my revenge on both Wrexham and my Dad.
By Matt Evans
Part of our Magic of the Cup series