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Black Cats Analects: The Thirty-First Minute

Sunderland has always had an affinity for the FA Cup. On 4th January, the Black Cats compete in the competition's third round against Leeds United. It’s their first FA Cup fixture together since that fateful day at Wembley in 1973 . . .

Stu Forster/Getty Images

3:00pm, Saturday 5 May, 1973. Pelés ‘cathedral of football’ boomed under the might of a passionate hundred thousand strong.  The lone figure of referee Ken Burns walked the hallowed turf under dark clouds and beating rain, at the coming of two teams on the hour of the most extraordinary encounter.

Leeds United FC were the defending cup holders, a peerlessly dominant breed of internationals feared across the continent.  And Sunderland AFC were of the Second Division, and so recently broken by inevitable relegation. This was a formality.

Twenty-two walked out under a vehement roar of anticipation. For the systematic Leeds United: Harvey, Reaney, Cherry, Madeley, Hunter, Bremner, Giles, Gray, Lorimer, Clarke, Jones. For their plucky prey, Sunderland: Montgomery, Malone, Watson, Pitt, Guthrie, Kerr, Horswill, Porterfield, Hughes, Halom, Tueart.

Their gaffers took to the dugout. Leeds’ methodical leader was Don Revie; sat all suited, his career once entwined with Sunderlands darkest days in 1958. And Bob Stokoe; Wearsides inspirational manager, stood clad in red and white tracksuit, so achingly determined to propel his players into the heart of a nation.

Ken Burns called the pint-sized captains to the centre circle, the spectacle encompassing them. Billy Bremner was the rugged heart of United, a merciless scrapper of virtue and sin. Conversely, Sunderlands wholehearted skipper Bobby Kerr was unshaken before his menacing counterpart.


Kerr won the toss and the ‘little general’ marched his men to defend in front of a ruthless wall of Leeds fans; and it set the scene.  His team were suffocated by the overwhelming juggernaut of English football. Yet as the seconds wore away, and the Wembley crowd calmed, everything changed . . .

Miles away, the streets of Sunderland were empty in silence. The little town was united by the next ninety minutes and for that a neutral nation embraced them. From the small child, in his red and white scarf, kicking a ball over cobbled allies; to the old man in the stands, waiting 35 years to see his club here again; there was no expectation, only that one chance to embrace the feeling forever and enjoy it.

So it was, that the formidable cup holders had to contend with a club that had nothing to lose, and from the moment their predacious strikers Clarke and Jones kicked off, Leeds entered unfamiliar territory. Sunderland smothered their efficiency with unabated motivation and opportunistic resilience.

Norman Hunter misplaced a pass, then Johnny Giles, then Billy Bremner.  Leeds lost themselves and their influential prowess under Sunderland's stifling energy. The Black Cats matched United’s battling grit early when Richie Pitt annihilated Allan Clarke.  Sunderland brought the fight to the notorious scrapping champions.

Stokoe’s forward three synchronised with immediate fluency: striker Vic Halom was a volcanic force, setting up a 20 yard cannon from Billy Hughes on the right wing, and a volatile scattershot from Dennis Tueart on the left that smacked the chops off Hunter.  In midfield, Ian Porterfield and Micky Horswill sustained the suddenness of the attack.

Without their analytical clutch on the game, Leeds lashed out. Clarke dragged down Billy Hughes in frustration and Hunter went studs to shins on Dennis Tueart. Eventually Johnny Giles crafted meticulous assists but both Peter ‘thunder-boots’ Lorimer and thickset Mick Jones were vetoed by Sunderland’s rigid defence.

Then, on 31’, Hughes prepared himself by a corner flag. At the far post, Sunderland's immovably outstanding defender Dave Watson tussled with Leeds players overly concerned by his aerial presence. Hughes saw the chance and took it; soaring the ball toward the commotion – and over it – off that bulbous barrel-chest of Vic Halom, to the boot of Ian Porterfield and with a monumental volley, the ball tore up the roof of David Harvey’s net.

Wembley became a bombardment of joyous noise. The Dunfermline-born Porterfield was mobbed under a vision of red and white.  266 miles away, his supporters on Wearside rose in a frenzy of tearful laughter and merriment.

Into half time, the match and momentum was with Stokoe’s boys. Leeds’ professionalism had checkmated Revie’s so-routinely efficient victors. Their fearful reputation was shattered in the fallout of a carefree and unpredictable challenger.  But it wasn’t over, not while Bobby Charlton still called for a 6-1 United win.

The teams returned to the turf; the adroit Leeds United with low heads and struggling credence; the Sunderland optimists fuelled with adventurous belief.

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Ever determined, the Whites slowly salvaged their cohesion to wrench apart Sunderland's defence. They had a disallowed ball in the onion bag after Allan Clarke muscled down stopper Jimmy Montgomery. Their protests fell deaf but it was the shape of things to come.

Bremner got nothing for a dramatic box tumble and Lorimer thrashed the side netting. Sunderlands goalmouth was the setting of a gripping siege as the pitch tore up under the mild deluge, the defensive errors piled up, and the mighty Leeds United got closer and closer to a goal until . . .

With twenty minutes remaining, Paul Reaney crossed to the far post on keeper Montgomery’s blindside, to the rampaging Trevor Cherry who bulleted a point-blank diving header. Monty swerved as Sunderland hearts pounded and the Hendon-born Black Cat stopper palmed it across the face of goal, to the feet of Peter Lorimer.

In that second, it happened. Lorimer’s Leeds career exposed itself: the future club ambassador, on 111 goals in 290, the man whose strikes clocked 100 mph with the hardest and most accurate shots in all the game; now stood leering at an open net from five yards.  The country took the deepest breath, hearts emerging from one collective throat . . .

". . . and Lorimer makes it one each!" shouted BBC Commentator, David Coleman.

He hadn’t.  Monty had scrambled to his feet and heroically launched himself at the shot, deflecting it to flail the underside of the crossbar and out. The keepers’ reflexes were so phenomenally baffling that it took three slowed replays to comprehend it.

Cherry shredded up the turf in frustrated fury. Lorimer stood in a daze of bewilderment.  Don Revie looked on bamboozled and Bob Stokoe relished the moment with the sincerest pride.  It was becoming real.  His team could do this.  He believed it, his players believed it.

The broadly loathed Leeds cranked up their attack as their determination fell into desperation. Revie subbed regular match winner Eddie Gray, whose expected destruction of Sunderlands flanks was eclipsed by the twice-broken-legged Kerr, and rolled the dice on Terry Yorath.

In the closing minutes, Yorath unleashed an angled pot-shot – Monty saved again. Paul Madeleys strike was blocked on the line and Lorimer unleashed a pile-driver, but each time Sunderland, inspired by that hard nut Dave Watson, refused to surrender. Every clearance was cheered and each counter attack roared on.

The game reached its suspenseful death with seconds to spare. Stokoe ruffled a blanket to diffuse his anxiety while Don Revie glared in disbelief, out of ideas and his team out of steam. Sunderland supporters in the stands abandoned their seats, wandering aimlessly; bashing their fists, biting their nails. Fans back home dawdled apprehensively in the streets.  No one could watch. Everybody stared lifeless into an abyss of the impossible dream. Surely, not since David picked up the sling and took aim . . .

In Sunderland's last act, Vic Halom bulldozed stopper Harvey over the line with the ball for a disallowed goal. That was it – all who followed Sunderland on their most incredible cup run could collectively exhale in relief.  Leeds had one goal kick remaining at quarter to five in injury time. You know the feeling that brings.

At the sound of the sweetest whistle in Sunderlands history, Bob Stokoe charged the field; his raincoat flapping in the wind and his narrow-trimmed trilby hat held high. Amidst enormous ecstasy, he embraced his heroic goalkeeper as Don Revie – his old enemy – watched a broken man from the dugout, and the professional Leeds United crumbled under the weight of a bad dream.

Brian Moore called it then, ". . . they came from the north east with hope and they’re going back with the cup."


Back home, the community was united in the purest euphoria, enthralling an impassable Sunderland town centre. Car horns blared, banners were held high. It continued ‘til the day their heroes made that long open-bus journey down the A690 from Carville to Roker Park, as half a million mackems decked the town in red and white. Babies in club hats, animals with coloured badges, and hospital patients demanding to be wheeled from their beds, all to see the men who defied logic when all ‘experts’ denied them. The eternal wait was over and Sunderland had life again.

Still, that was a long time ago now.

The FA Cup may have since lost its glamour, but to Sunderland the legacy of that fateful day is imprinted on the clubs identity and DNA of each supporter. Stokoe was revered; the man who taught police how to stop a riot at Roker Park with just the sound of his voice. He now stands immortalised outside the Stadium of Light.  His players exist in club folklore as legends of its finest hour, none more so than Jimmy Montgomery.

Supporters may be right; those who believe the FA Cup is a trivial cause and no club should live off the glory of one accomplishment 41 years ago.  But it still matters. It matters because on one day, our club united the nation against the great despised power and won.  It matters because, as one fan explained, fate happens when the city wills it. It matters because Bob Stokoe once told how there’d never be another moment like it, yet eight months ago we were so agonisingly close.

We are Sunderland. We beat our chests and dared to dream. We can do that again and it could start on Sunday, January 4th 2015.  It could start again where it ended, in the fixture that defined this club.

Brian Moore once said that the great result for Sunderland was a great result for football. This year, we can hope that a great result for football may become the greatest result for Sunderland.

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