'White Legs' wants revenge and to kick Arsenal out of Cup

The gentleman may not realise it himself, assuming he is still alive, but a white-coated ice-cream vendor at Goodison Park is as much a part of FA Cup history as the white horse at the first Wembley final. The mystery man springs to Terry Conroy's mind whenever Stoke City face Arsenal in the FA Cup, as they will in today's fourth-round tie at a bulging Britannia Stadium. And the memory is about as sweet as a salt and vinegar cornet.

Now 64 and the FA of Ireland's welfare officer for Irish players in England, Conroy served Stoke in various roles over a 40-year period and still works as match-day host, interviewing old team-mates such as Gordon Banks and Jimmy Greenhoff.

With his red hair and sideburns, "White Legs" was flying down the flanks when Stoke reached the semi-finals in both 1971 and '72. On each occasion they were controversially denied the club's first Wembley appearance by Arsenal.

If the first loss hurts more, the circumstances of the following year's failure still rankles with Conroy. "John Radford was yards offside when Charlie George played him in," the Dubliner recalls. "The linesman was a top referee, Bob Mathewson, and when we next had him the lads asked why he didn't flag. We were wearing all white and he said he mistook a guy in white selling ice cream [other accounts claim it was a programme-seller] for a defender on the far side. It beggars belief."

Stoke's supporters' club presented Mr Mathewson with a statuette of a horse's backside, and a new generation of fans has imbibed a sense of injustice with their mothers' milk. They want to see Stoke, back in their famous stripes, right the wrongs of Conroy's time.

In 1971, on a bright spring day in Sheffield, Arsenal were the ones seeking revenge. The previous September, Stoke crushed them 5-0, Conroy scoring a screamer which Bob Wilson had to fish from the net and then analyse for Match of the Day. "I heard later from [Arsenal captain] Frank McLintock that Bertie Mee, their manager, held a crisis meeting the next day," says Conroy. "They went on an amazing run and won the League and Cup double. History may have been different if we'd won 1-0."

In their first-ever semi-final, Stoke surged into a 2-0 interval lead. They were 2-1 up in stoppage time when a free-kick award which still irks Conroy led to what TV footage suggests was a foul by Radford on Banks. A corner was given, McLintock's header was handled by John Mahoney and ice-veined Peter Storey equalised from the spot.

With hindsight, Conroy feels the situation at half-time, when Stoke came in saying "We're nearly there!", required tactical, organisational choices by Stoke's manager Tony Waddington. "But Waddo, bless him, loved expressive players: Peter Dobing, George Eastham and so on," he says. "So he just said, 'Keep playing the way you're playing'."

The referee's timekeeping did not help Stoke either. "In those days you could hang your hat on games finishing at 4.40pm. None of this 4.55pm, Fergie-time nonsense. We were all looking at the big clock at Hillsborough and it was 4.45. The distraction affected our concentration. We asked Pat Partridge: 'How long?' He just said: 'Keep playing.'

"When he blew it was the worst feeling I ever had in a game. We knew our chance had gone. There were tears in the dressing-room. We couldn't lift ourselves for the replay at Villa Park. It was like 'We're going to Wembley', then all of a sudden we weren't."

Twelve months later, back at Villa in the semis, Arsenal led 1-0 when Wilson strained a cartilage. He soldiered on but his immobility contributed to a Stoke goal. With no substitute keeper permitted, Radford donned the jersey for the last 15 minutes. "We bombarded them but he made some fantastic saves. It was there for the taking, but we couldn't finish the job."

Conroy sat out the replay at Everton owing to injury. "It was worse watching. Yes, Arsenal were more battle-hardened than us, but the decisions went massively in their favour. We were one up when they got a soft penalty when Peter Dobing jumped with George Armstrong. Then came the offside goal.

"I look back on my career with no regrets – apart from those games. Reaching the FA Cup final carried huge prestige in those days; it would have meant so much to the club and the area. It set us back, even though we did win the '72 League Cup."

Stoke have been drawn against Arsenal seven times in the great old competition and have yet to beat them. In the Premier League last season, however, Tony Pulis's side won 2-1, an outcome Conroy hopes will have a bearing on today's tie. "Arsenal struggled with our physicality and Rory Delap's long throws. They're not such a big part of our game this time, but they may be in the minds of their players, especially if Arsène Wenger picks a young team."

The flair factor in Stoke's robust game is provided by Tuncay Sanli, the Turkish striker Pulis signed for £5m from Middlesbrough. Both he and left-winger Matthew Etherington are, in the high praise of their illustrious predecessor, "Waddo-type players".

The decibel level may help Stoke. "It's a great atmosphere for the home side but a vile one for the visitors. The stick they get is non-stop. I go to other clubs and there isn't the same intensity. Our fans are making up for lost time. If Mr Wenger fields the younger players, they could be in for a shock."

If there is an upset, Stoke will be three wins from Wembley. "Why shouldn't we win the Cup?" Conroy asks. "Realistically, we'll never be Premier League champions in my lifetime, but this is one we could win. Portsmouth did it two years ago, Manchester United and Liverpool are out, and if we beat Arsenal, the way could open up."

In his pomp as a player, Terry Conroy told Shoot! magazine that his personal ambition was "to be a rich man". Now, laughing heartily at his shallow younger self, he is changing it to Stoke at long last despatching Arsenal from the FA Cup.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital