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The Relegations: #2 - 1969-70

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Given the grim familiarity which Sunderland fans now have with relegation, it’s hard to imagine that there was once a time when it was an entirely novel sensation. You can read part one of this series here - today, Richard looks back at the 1969-1970 season.

Following six seasons in the Second Division, Sunderland had won promotion back to the top flight in 1963-64, with Johnny Crossan’s twenty two goals helping the club to a second place finish behind former Sunderland man Don Revie’s Leeds United.

Whilst Revie launched his side into their greatest period of success, including two league titles and an FA Cup win, Sunderland were to spend the next six seasons largely at the wrong end of the table, before succumbing once again to relegation.

1969-70 started badly, the club failing to record a win for twelve games (including a second round dismissal from the League Cup by Bradford City), and it didn’t get much better as it went on.

The first win of the season didn’t come until the middle of September against Nottingham Forest, and ended up being just one of four victories at Roker Park all season. The team which had so recently featured players like Nick Sharkey and Jim Baxter only managed to muster thirty goals over the course of a forty two game campaign, conceding a mind-boggling sixty eight in the process, the joint worst in the division (20th placed Crystal Palace also let in sixty eight, managing to score four more than Sunderland).

Gordon Harris was the team’s top scorer with just seven goals (four of which came from the penalty spot), whilst Billy Hughes, Mick McGivern and Dennis Tueart (one of which came against Tottenham as you can see in the above video) shared second place with four goals apiece. 1969-70 was also Len Ashurst’s last season as a Sunderland player, following a testimonial against Newcastle he was given a free transfer to Hartlepool United where he became player-manager in March 1971.

The relegated Sunderland team of 1969-70 contained many of the players who would go on to be part of the club’s greatest post-war success in 1973.

Jimmy Montgomery, Richie Pitt, Bobby Kerr, Billy Hughes, Dennis Tueart and Ian Porterfield all appeared for the club during that season, whilst Colin Todd would rejoin his former youth team coach Brian Clough at Derby County mid-way through the 1970-71 season for a British record £175,000.

Sunderland were relegated along with Sheffield Wednesday, and would spend another six seasons in the Second Division before their return to top-flight football in 1976.

A rotten season was rounded out by the club’s inaugural participation in the Anglo-Italian Cup, which saw them knocked out at the group stage following away defeats by Lazio and Fiorentina.