When Jim saved the day to become O'Neill's hero
Incredible stop helped Sunderland win 1973 Cup final. It still reduces him to tears
On a quiet day, Joy Montgomery will slip a DVD into the machine in her front room and husband Jim will quietly sit down beside her.
By the end, the pair will be be filling up with tears. It is a telling reminder to those who endlessly feel the need to bang on about the FA Cup having lost its romance.
Martin O'Neill had just agreed his first mortgage in Nottingham when Sunderland took on the mighty Leeds United in the 1973 FA Cup final. His brothers had come over from Ireland to watch the game in his front room. He was, as he admits, a professional footballer by then "and not the 12-year-old Sunderland fan" he had been. But as the story of that '73 final unfolded, with Ian Porterfield's lone strike and Montgomery's miraculous double save, the years rolled back.
"Oh, absolutely I got drawn into the occasion," O'Neill says. "I remember it as if it was yesterday. Do I remember that particular moment, the double save? I do, because I've seen it that often!
"Sunderland looked as if this major giant-killing act was on. As time drew closer it was amazing. You felt after the Montgomery save that actually winning the Cup was on. I do remember Bob Stokoe going over and giving Montgomery the big hug.
"I'd just bought a house in Nottingham and I was trying to make my way in the game and you think you must be earning some money but I think the mortgage was crippling! I remember being as delighted as anybody because we'd won the game. I was very much supporting Sunderland to win. It was nail-biting. You always felt Leeds were capable of scoring a goal but not until the final moment of the game did you really believe it had happened."
Montgomery is never given the opportunity to forget, be it by his wife, who was pregnant with their daughter Joanne when Sunderland produced a huge upset to beat Leeds, or by a set of supporters for whom that was their last taste of silverware.
Photos of the goalkeeper bedeck the walls at the Academy of Light, where Montgomery modestly recalls: "I walk down the streets, and even though it was 39 years ago it is the first thing people want to talk about. Maybe I should have caught the first one and people would have had nothing to talk about! It was just reaction and reaction. You stop the first one and you react to the second one.
"When the final whistle went I turned around to our supporters behind the goal. As I turned back Stokoe was 10 yards from me. That was all I knew. I was oblivious to what Bob Stokoe was saying. It was only later I realised it was because of the saves. It was an hour later before they showed me the replays on television.
"My wife still puts it on now. When it shows that moment and then it's Stokoe running in slow motion and they're playing You'll Never Walk Alone, it always brings tears to our eyes. It's still brilliant. Sometimes I do think what would have happened if I hadn't made those saves. It made our lives: me, Dennis Tueart, Bobby Kerr, Dave Watson and the rest of the team."
Seven years later, Montgomery and O'Neill were in a final of their own as team-mates. The goalkeeper, having signed as cover for Peter Shilton at Nottingham Forest, was on the substitutes' bench as they beat Hamburg in the European Cup final.
"He was great in the dressing-room and very unassuming," added O'Neill. "He had been a hero six years before and ended up winning a European Cup medal, which people seem to forget. He was great to have around. He didn't boast about what he had done but we were aware."
Today, Montgomery, now 68, begins his new role at Sunderland as the club's first ambassador. Typically the FA Cup still dominates. "It is Arsenal in the fifth round," he adds. "We played them in the semi-final in 1973; we had a new manager and had been struggling at the bottom before he arrived, and that has been the same for the team this season. I am hoping there are parallels.
"I'm delighted it's Martin. He is the one man who can kick-start Sunderland Football Club. He's a man-manager, like Brian Clough; he's taken the great things from Brian Clough and taken them into his management.
"Would I swap five fourth-place finishes for what happened to me? No, not at all. If you ask any British professional footballer what would they like to do, I'd guarantee that they'd want to go to Wembley and win the Cup."
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