The 1970-71 season was a rather disappointing one for Sunderland AFC, for after relegation at the end of the previous campaign it was perhaps hoped that we’d mount a serious promotion challenge.
Alas, this failed to materialise, for our overall form throughout the 70-71 campaign lacked the sort of consistency necessary for a side with genuine First Division ambitions, and as such we never really threatened to make inroads in the promotion pack.
However, at the same time, we were never in any real danger of a second-successive relegation battle and we thus tended to hover around the mid-table region for most part.
But the months of February and March were to provide a really barren spell for us, as we not only failed to register a single win in eight games during this period, but also managed just a solitary goal. More like the form of relegation candidates than promotion hopefuls, and it tended to sum up our season rather well.
As we entered the last month the 70-71 season the team then suddenly discovered much-improved form (albeit a bit late in the day as far as promotion was concerned), and it was all triggered off when Swindon Town visited Roker Park on the first Saturday of April, for what was in effect a pretty meaningless mid-table clash. None of the sparse crowd who turned up could have anticipated what was to come, as we provided what was a rare treat for our long-suffering fans.
So on a cold, blustery afternoon, and with a crowd of no more than about 10,000 present inside Roker (not really a surprise, what in view of our poor form, and as we now had little more than pride to play for), we began the game attacking the Fullwell End.
While the opening minutes were fairly uneventful, we went ahead in the ninth minute following a corner, after a shot from Bobby Kerr had been turned behind ‘by keeper Peter Downsborough. Kerr himself took the kick, making it a short one to Dick Malone, whose centre was headed back by Dave Watson to Paddy Lowrey who scored with a well-placed header.
We continued to attack, and then took a real grip on the game with two goals inside a three-minute spell. On the quarter-hour mark we forced our second goal, Ian Porterfield having started the move, and when the ball reached the middle, Downsborough came out to try and collect only to be challenged by Dave Watson, the ball running loose to Billy Hughes.
He couldn’t get in a shot but the ball broke kindly for Bobby Kerr, who rammed it home from about twelve yards.
Then just three minutes later, it was 3-0. A clever dummy by Watson sent Billy Hughes away to bear down on goal, and while he came under pressure he still managed to roll the ball to Bobby Kerr, whose powerful shot left Downsborough helpless.
It had been quite a breathtaking start to the game by a side which had found goals, never mind wins, so hard to come by of late. Indeed, Swindon were hardly at the races even at this stage of proceedings, as we continued to pour forward at every opportunity.
Just past the half-hour mark, the rather sparse home crowd had a fourth goal to celebrate. A long throw-in by Bobby Kerr was cleared only as far as Dave Watson, who played the ball goal wards, and Billy Hughes got a vital touch to send it home.
Up until now Jim Montgomery had been a virtual spectator, but he was called into serious action for the first time when he dived to turn away a shot from Swindon’s danger man Don Rogers.
Then seven minutes before the break we rather incredibly went 5-0 up, though in all truth it was down to a goalkeeping error. Billy Hughes, after having his initial attempt at a centre charged down, tried again and his in-swinger seemed to deceive Downsborough, for the keeper failed to take the ball cleanly under the crossbar and it was in the back of the net before he had the chance to recover.
Swindon, as well as the home support, were no doubt stunned by the events of the first-half so far, though to their credit the Wiltshire side tried to respond positively, but an effort from Chris Jones effort came back off the post with Jim Montgomery beaten. However, just before the half-time interval the rather shell-shocked visitors did pull a goal back when Joe Butler netted following a determined attack.
So 5-1 then at the break, it had been quite incredible stuff from Sunderland. For having scored just once in the previous eight games, which equated to seven-hundred and eighty or so minutes, they’d now netted five inside just forty-five minutes! And doubtless Swindon now feared the worst, for having been hammered 0-6 on their only previous visit to Roker in our promotion season of 1963-64, would this scoreline now be surpassed or at least equalled?
Unfortunately not as our first-half goal-glut proved to be the end of our own scoring contribution, seemingly content with five - though we did have one or two chances to add to our tally in the second-half. Swindon proved to be a lot more determined in this period and our defence had to be alert to deal with one or two dangerous situations, while Jim Montgomery had to make a couple of great saves.
However, Monty was beaten near the end by Rogers, who added a touch more respectability to the scoreline, but really it was a case of too little, too late as far as the visitors were concerned.
5-2 then, and all-in-all it had been a fine afternoon’s entertainment at Roker. It was a shame that it had been watched by what would turn out to be our lowest home gate of the season, just 8,596, a sign of the times I guess. In fact Roker Park was to become something of a bogey ground for Swindon, for they proceeded to lose on all of their next four visits, including a 0-4 hammering in our Second Division comeback season of 1988-89, when in all truth our goal tally on this particular occasion should have reached double figures.
But to return briefly to 1970-71, and the great win against Swindon that marked the start of an unbeaten run of seven games, which produced eleven points.
In spite of this we still ended the 70-71 season in a rather disappointing thirteenth position, which had been our worst finish since the late 1950’s. But things improved the following season when promotion appeared a realistic proposition at one stage, though again, consistency proved to be a bit of a problem and we had to settle for fifth place in the final analysis.
In the early part of the 72-73 campaign things were starting to go pear-shaped again, and it was perhaps no surprise when manager Alan Brown left the club in early November, with the side stuck in the lower half of the Second Division table.
Enter The Messiah and the rest, as they say, is history.