Injury almost cost me biggest moment

ALLAN Hunter came perilously close to missing out on taking part in the biggest match of his career.

Nick Garnham

ALLAN Hunter came perilously close to missing out on taking part in the biggest match of his career.

The commanding centre half was only passed fit to play in the final itself on the morning of the match.

Hunter, now 61, injured his left knee in the 6-1 defeat at Aston Villa a week before the final and was Town's major worry in the days leading up to the game.

“I had a lot of fluid drained off it on the Sunday, but I was never

confident that I would be fit enough to play.

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“I would have been heartbroken. I remembered watching my first final in 1957 and thinking I wanted to play in one and there I was thinking I was going to miss it.

“The thing about the cup final is not just the day itself but also the build up, but it was ruined for me because I was not sure I was going to play.”

Hunter, who was 30 at the time, recalled: “I remember Danny Blanchflower (who had been Hunter's Northern Ireland manager) coming to the hotel to do a television interview. He said to me 'if you were 23 I would tell you to forget about it, but this could be your last chance, so if you think you can play then do so'.

“He said I had nothing to lose. I had a strenuous fitness test at 8.30 on the morning of the final, but I still had doubts that I was going to play because I was really frightened I might get a reaction right up to two o'clock. If the truth be known I was doubtful right up until five o'clock!

“I shared a room with Mick Mills at our cup final hotel at Sopwell House (just outside St Albans in Hertfordshire) and I remember him saying to me around 11 o'clock 'do you think you can manage about an hour?'

“I said 'yes' and he said 'in that case play' and I felt as though I was needed.”

Hunter admitted: “During the match it was always on my mind. In truth it did not feel right, but I had a good strapping on it and I was able to play the whole game.

“If I had come off after five minutes and we had lost, what would the people of this town have thought of me for the next 30 years?

“It was a tremendous day. We were definitely the better team on the day, although it looked as though we might not score and they might steal it.”

The day was made even more

special because his parents, Mary and Albert, were both there to see it - the only time his mum ever

travelled out of Ireland.

“The final was such a big occasion then, but unfortunately a lot of the romance of the FA Cup has gone because there is so much football on television now.

“I remember shaking hands

afterwards with Arsenal's Sammy Nelson, who was a Northern Ireland colleague of mine, and tears were running down his face because he had lost an FA Cup final.”

Hunter, who won 53 caps for Northern Ireland - 47 while an Ipswich Town player - added: “I always said we should have won the cup in 1975 as well.

“I should have had two winners' medals instead of one,” he said, referring to Town's semi-final defeat to West Ham United when referee Clive Thomas controversially disallowed two Ipswich goals.

However, he is also the proud owner of an Irish Cup medal which he won with Coleraine in 1964/65 after scoring the winning goal in the semi-final and was a member of the first Irish side to play behind the Iron Curtain the following season in the Cup Winners' Cup against crack Russian side Dynamo Kiev, who beat them 10-1 on aggregate!