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A little story of SAFC in Europe...

Hands up if you remember Sunderland’s last foray into Europe? Ok, well I’m not counting the Amsterdam Tournament, so I really should have said, who remembers our European run in 1973/4?

Of course we do, it’s etched in every SAFC fans minds. Trips to Vasas Budapest and Sporting Lisbon, were the last time Sunderland kicked a ball in anger in Europe. However, that team was primed to play in Europe, having competed admirably in the 1972 Anglo-Italian Cup.

The what now? Yes, the Anglo-Italian Cup! Teams from England and Italy battling it out for European supremacy, and a bit of silverware. Yes, silverware, no certificates back in those days. (Take note Newcastle & Intertoto).

The format of said tournament was certainly an odd one prior to its re-jig in 1992. SAFC are placed in the ‘English’ group, but only play against Italian teams, and vice versa, with the ludicrous points system (the likes of only Sepp Blatter would think are a good idea) of 2 for a win, 1 for a draw, and 1 for each goal scored.

Picture yourself on June 2nd 1972, the Stadio Atleti Azzuri d’Italia in Bergamo, as Sunderland head out on to the pitch to face Giulio Corsini’s Atalanta BC, who despite being relegated to Serie B for the start of the 1973 season, had just spent 10 years in the Italian top flight.

Sunderland battled well by all accounts, but goals from Bobby Kerr & Johnny Lathan was not enough as Atalanta rode out a 3-2 victory. However, this was to be SAFC’s only defeat of the tournament.

Next on the horizon for Sunderland was a trip south, to face Cagliari. Cagliari were a much more formidable foe. A team with 6 players who had been in the 1970 World Cup finals for Italy, including goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi and defender Comunardo Niccolai, not to mention the icing on the cake; Gigi Riva, the all-time leading Italian national team scorer, who had recently turned down a move to Juventus.

Those world class stars lined up against the likes of Richie Pitt, Bobby Kerr & Ian Porterfield, all of whom went on to be SAFC legends of course, but in 1972, relatively unhearalded.

SAFC dominated the match and rarely seemed troubled by their Italian opponents, and whilst Bobby Kerr & Johnny Lathan added to their tallies for the competition, Dennis Tueart also managed to get in on the action.

Following the two game stint in Italy, Sunderland headed back to Roker Park in high spirits. A return game against Atalanta on the 7th of June beckoned. Sunderland and Atalanta played out an uneventful 0-0 draw with the Serie B outfit, in front of a crowd of just under 6000. Manager Alan Brown tried in vain to get things going, bringing on the likes of Billy Hughes replace the ineffectual Lathan, whilst bringing on Brian Chambers for Dick Malone provided a more attacking threat, but to no avail as the cattenacio tactics of the visitors held firm.

6 days later, the star-studded Cagliari made their way to Roker. A noticeably lower crowd of just over 4000 knew SAFC needed a big win to have any chance of progressing to the final, and whilst the attack did their part with goals from Mick McGiven, Dennis Tueart and Dave Watson, the defence couldn’t hold firm and allowed the Italians into the game. 3-3 the final result, and Sunderland settled for a middling position within the English group despite only one defeat.

Blackpool it was who progressed to the final against Roma, following a 10-0 victory over Vicenza. Blackpool lost the final in Rome 3-1 to the Italians, but I’m sure their manager, Bob Stokoe, would have been delighted with the effort.

Bob Stokoe, Bob Stokoe... hmmm... that name sounds familiar actually, I wonder what ever happened to him as SAFC entered the 1972/3 season...


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