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ITHICS Fanzine: The Mackem curse is real - let’s hope Sunderland don’t return to Wembley in May!

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The ‘six in a row’ that we really didn’t want - Sunderland’s Wembley curse is real. Let’s hope we don’t have to return there in May for the Play Off Final!

Danny Roberts

The last time we won at Wembley, I was seven years old. I remember the shouts from open living-room windows up and down my Washington street at 3.30pm on Saturday 5th May 1973. I also remember hearing the heady, drunken celebrations as lads staggered up the streets as I was in bed trying to get to sleep.

Our next appearance between the twin towers was in 1985. Whereas now we have the iconic arch designed by Norman Foster, in its former incarnation the stadium was identifiable by its twin towers. We were to play Norwich City, fellow relegation candidates whom we had beaten 3-1 at their place the week before.

I was a student in Liverpool at the time and travelled down from Lime Street on a train which also conveyed Howard Kendall, the then Everton manager. Everton were romping to the league title and the weekend coincided with the annual PFA dinner that evening, which was the principal reason for Kendall’s journey to London. I asked him who he thought would win? Sunderland was his monosyllabic reply. “Why?”, I asked. “I told you Sunderland didn’t I, what more do you want to know?” was his rather curt retort. After such a rebuke I headed back to my seat with my tail firmly between my legs.

Twin Towers Photo by Peter King/Fox Photos/Getty Images

Luckily for Everton fans, Kendall was considerably better at managing football teams than he was a predicting our results. We lost 1-0 to a Gordon Chisholm own goal, though Asa Hartford claimed the deflection. Added to Clive Walker’s penalty miss, my miserable streak of Wembley defeats watching Sunderland had just begun.

We were back at the home of football in 1990 to contest the second division play-off final, having famously despatched the mags in the semi final. Swindon, managed by Lou Macari, stood in our way, and another dreadful performance saw us lose 1-0, though we still went up due to Swindon’s financial foul play.

We were back again two years later, at the end of a heady FA cup run which had seen classic games at West Ham where we were 2-0 up after ten minutes, were pulled back to 2-2 by half time before David Rush smashed in the winner in front of 4,000 ecstatic mackems ten minutes from time. Then at home to Chelsea where Davenport opened scoring on the half hour, Wise equalised for them with five minutes of normal time to go and Gordon Armstrong headed Brian Atkinson’s corner in the Roker End with a minute to go.

That led to an all night camp-out outside Roker Park for tickets to the semi-final. You think it was hard getting tickets for the Checkatrade final this year? Getting tickets for the 1992 semi-final at Hillsborough was just nuts.

John Byrne missed the opportunity to write the record books by becoming the first player to score in every round of the cup, and we were lucky not to concede a penalty just before half time as McManaman had his legs taken from under him. But, overall, we had shaded a tense first half. The second saw us succumb to unstoppable strikes from Michael Thomas and Ian Rush.

My eye-wateringly expensive £92 face value seat from the Olympic gallery - suspended from the roof - made defeat no easier to take.

1985 Milk Cup Final Norwich City v Sunderland Photo by Bob Martin/Allsport/Getty Images

The fact that the play off final against Charlton in 1998 is often said to be the greatest game ever staged at Wembley is no compensation to the thousands of Sunderland supporters who went through agony in a topsy-turvey match, which mirrored the season we had just endured.

First Charlton took the lead, we equalised, and then took the lead. Charlton made it 2-2 and then we scored again, they equalised again and we then made it 4-3. Then Lionel Perez cocked up a looping shot from Mendonca just before the end of extra time to make it 4-4 - Peter Reid swore the keeper would never play for the club again after that howler.

Every player scored their penalties, until Michael Gray missed his and the club’s eighth kick. The penalty shoot-out was lost 8-7.

That defeat did, however, prompt the club to romp the league the following season with 106 points.

Michael Gray of Sunderland
Gutted.

Sunderland had to wait 16 years before it was next at Wembley, and the new incarnation had been created and built during its absence.

Gus Poyet took the team to the League cup final against Manchester City who were to win the Premier league that season too. The mood was buoyant and fans were optimistic, despite the odds. Again, a decent first half showing saw us go into half time 1-0 up thanks to a 13th minute goal from Fabio Borini.

Wonder goals from Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri in quick succession in the second half swung the tie into city’s favour, though. They added a further goal from Navas in stoppage time, but we seldom looked like threatening the City goal in the second half.

Although we lost the game, the manner of the effort the team put in and an energetic first half was a refreshing change to previous Wembley showings.

Manchester City v Sunderland - Capital One Final Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

And so to Sunday for the Checkatrade trophy final - a lower league competition that we will hope we don’t have to contest again. The fans were in good voice, as ever, and a chilly Wembley morning turned into a majestically sunny afternoon as a vibrant Sunderland team swarmed all over Portsmouth in the first half.

Lewis Morgan was particularly busy before Aiden McGeady deservedly put us 1-0 up in the 38th minute. Truthfully, by half time, we should have been two or three goals to the good - something we would later come to regret.

The second half saw Portsmouth take control and it was only a matter of time before they equalised, which they did in the 82nd minute. We played better in the first period of extra time, but didn’t score; however, when Portsmouth took the lead with six minutes to go, we looked to have been defeated. Cue Aiden McGeady popping up with an equaliser with a minute to go to take the game to penalties.

Lee Cattermole was an odd choice as penalty taker, and so it proved when he placed his kick at an easy height for the Portsmouth keeper to palm away. With all other penalty takers successful, Portsmouth lifted the trophy, leaving us with an unwanted six-game streak of Wembley efforts. The one six-in-a-row that we didn’t want.

So we now have nine games to play to ensure we don’t have to go back to Wembley in May, for the Mackem’s Wembley curse is real!