All-action TC in a world of his own after dream start
TERRY Conroy is approaching the 40th anniversary of Stoke City's most memorable triumph with mixed feelings.
TC himself cheated death only last year after suffering a near-fatal collapse before jinking away from those Pearly Gates.
And now, ahead of the gala dinner at the Britannia Stadium next Sunday to celebrate Stoke's 1972 League Cup victory, he admitted: "The sad part is that it is 40 years now and the likelihood is that we won't get together like this again.
"I suppose the next landmark will be 45 years and the likelihood is that some of us won't be around."
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For once in his life he is talking nonsense, God willing, but you take his point.
Victory 40 years ago began taking shape as early as the fourth minute of that Wembley final, of course, when TC himself netted a rare header to nose Stoke in front.
A dream start that left him in a dream state.
"Yes, when I saw the words 'Conroy 4' on the scoreboard I just couldn't take it in. It was unbelievable. I was sloppy for the next five or 10 minutes because my gaze kept being diverted up to the scoreboard.
"It was an eerie feeling and I don't know if other players have experienced that, but to me it was a unique feeling. Like being in a trance.
"After a few minutes Marshy said 'What are you doing?' I kept giving the ball away and just wasn't at the races, but then I came to and everything went back to normal."
Scoring that goal remains one of his proudest moments as it settled a few nerves elsewhere in a Stoke team sensing it could be their day.
"As a kid, you dream of scoring the winning goal at Wembley. But being Irish I got it the wrong way around by scoring the first and only playing a part in the winner!"
He remembers the next day's homecoming taking on a life of its own as nothing, as far as he knew, had really been planned.
Normally, the players would have taken the train right through to Stoke station, but for some reason a coach was laid on for them at Barlaston instead.
"If you see the pictures, the old bus they got for us was like an old charabanc from the 1920s, like something out of the Keystone Cops.
"Nothing had been prepared as far as I knew. It was all off-the-cuff stuff in those days, typical of Stoke City.
"We might have been told on the Sunday morning there was going to be a bus for us, or maybe it was just a case of let's get off at Barlaston and see what happens."
Unbeknown to the players, the city of Stoke-on-Trent had seemingly evacuated all homes to pay homage to the players winning the club's first-ever trophy.
"There were thousands lining the streets and we certainly weren't expecting that," recalled TC.
"Nobody had experienced anything like that, except Banksy after winning the World Cup. For the rest of us, it was a new and amazing experience.
"The bus kept stopping for the crowds and the police kept saying to hurry up because we had a reception waiting for us at the Town Hall."
The Meir was one of the many locations to throw down the red carpet for the returning heroes, and that was especially emotional for Denis Smith and Alan Bloor.
"Smithy and Bluto were from Meir, of course. They were two hard men, but I promise you they were visibly moved at that moment. And they'd admit that themselves."
TC was grateful he was restricting himself to Coca-Cola in those days, but others had seemingly sunk one or two harder drinks the night before.
"Oh yes, there must have been a few hangovers," he said, "especially among the older players because winning the cup was the culmination of a lifetime's ambition.
"I remember seeing George Eastham being interviewed on telly on the Sunday after the final and he looked like he had just got out of his bed.
"Success had come suddenly to us. Although we'd had a good couple of years, it wasn't like we'd been knocking on the door year after year."
So raise a toast to that wonderful success on its 40th anniversary... and see you at the 50th.