Cooper's mascot came up trumps

Goalkeeper Paul Cooper had a surprisingly quiet afternoon in Ipswich Town's 1978 FA Cup final victory over Arsenal.

Nick Garnham

Goalkeeper Paul Cooper had a surprisingly quiet afternoon in Ipswich Town's 1978 FA Cup final victory over Arsenal, as he tells NICK GARNHAM in the sixth of our series, 30 Years of Honour,

IN recent seasons it has become fashionable for players to parade around after winning the FA Cup final with their young children. But back in 1978 after beating Arsenal 1-0, Ipswich Town were accompanied on their lap of honour at Wembley Stadium by none other than Basil Brush!

Goalkeeper Paul Cooper can be clearly seen carrying the popular television character on some of the post-match photographs.

So how did Basil Brush come to be part of the celebrations? Cooper recalled: “An old lady who was an Ipswich fan had sent it in as a good luck charm that season. It travelled with us along with the kit. I can't remember exactly what happened but I think it was Russell Osman, who was not in the team but sat on the bench, who handed it to me.”

Town had certainly had that slice of luck that is often required to win the cup earlier in the competition when they were drawn away to Bristol Rovers in the fifth round.

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Ipswich escaped with a 2-2 draw on an icy, snow-covered pitch thanks to a last-minute equaliser from Robin Turner.

Cooper said: “I think everybody looked at the game at Bristol and saw it as the turning point. They scored a perfectly good 'goal' when they were winning 2-1 but it was disallowed and we then equalised late on to take them back to a replay at Portman Road.

“You would not even consider playing on a pitch like that today,” added Cooper, who was an FA Cup semi-final loser as a 19-year-old with Birmingham City against Leeds United in 1972.

Six years later he helped underdogs Ipswich to defeat West Bromwich Albion at the semi-final stage, only being beaten by a Tony Brown penalty in Town's 3-1 win.

Cooper, who carved out a reputation as one of the best penalty stoppers there has ever been, saving five out of seven spot kicks in the 1979/80 season, said: “Tony was one of those penalty takers who did not even know himself where it was going because he just smashed it.

“If you faced someone who placed it you had more of a chance to save it. As I got older I got more confident and always fancied my chances of saving penalties. It was a challenge because you were not expected to save them.”

Cooper missed the 6-1 defeat at Aston Villa - one of only two out of 58 games that season he did not play in - the week before the final, after failing a fitness test on a back injury.

“I had a fitness test along with Paul Mariner just before the game. With Wembley just a week away I thought what was the point of risking it and missing out on the final?

“I felt sorry afterwards for goalkeeper Paul Overton. It was his only first-team game for Ipswich and we got hammered 6-1!”

In the build-up to the final Cooper found himself on the receiving end of a different sort of pummelling - one from Jack Charlton, the former Leeds United and England defender turned pundit, who said on a television show that Cooper was suspect on crosses.

“Jack Charlton slaughtered me and said I was the weak link. There are two sides to every story and everybody is entitled to their opinion and Jack Charlton was paid to give his opinion.

“Some of my team-mates came into my room and said don't listen to what he was saying as they had every confidence in me.

“It was not nice to hear what he said but you just get on with it and the best answer is to go out and not make a mistake, although I was not that busy.”

Cooper had four international defenders in front of him - Scotland's George Burley, Northern Ireland's Allan Hunter and England's Kevin Beattie and Mick Mills.

He said: “They were a good back four. We had a good rapport and relationship between us. We knew each other's strengths and there was a good camaraderie between the lads.

“We were a small club and out in the sticks and that helped. We were not a big city club where players disappear off into their own world.”

Cooper was only really called upon to make two saves of any real note in the entire 90 minutes.

“The best save was when Alan Sunderland got in and I came off my line and blocked his shot. The shot Malcolm Macdonald had late on was straight at me. Apart from catching some crosses and corners I was never really in the thick of the action, although it was great to watch!

“It was a sense of relief more than anything at the final whistle. I was mentally, although not physically, knackered.

“I remember Mick Mills said 'Take in every moment because your career is soon over and you may never be here again'.

“Although winning the UEFA Cup was a bigger achievement, because we had to beat some top-class teams, it was a great day out. You could see all the faces in the crowd from Portman Road and your family and friends.

“I remember shaking hands with Malcolm Macdonald afterwards and he was mortified. He had been spouting off before the game what they were going to do to us, but we played well.

“Arsenal were saying before the final about the injuries they had and playing on the sympathy vote, but our team never played again together.

“The big man (Allan Hunter) hardly played after that, Kevin Beattie had lots of injury problems and Roger Osborne had a knee operation and then moved to Colchester. Before you knew it the team was being rebuilt for 1981.”

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