There was an air of expectancy on Wearside in the summer of 1980 after we’d ended our latest First Division exile by gaining promotion as runners-up to Second Division Champions Leicester City.
I’d been one of the 47,000 or so who’d crammed into Roker Park to witness the final game of 1979-80 against FA Cup winners West Ham, when a 2-0 win on a dramatic night had ensured our return to the First Division after a three-year absence. And perhaps not surprisingly, the release of the fixtures for season 1980-81 was eagerly anticipated by all connected with SAFC, for instead of visits to Cambridge, Orient & Preston (no disrespect intended of course to those clubs), we’d be off to the likes of Anfield, Old Trafford & Villa Park.
However, to set the ball rolling we’d face Everton on the first day of the season at Roker Park - rather ironic in a way, for it was of course The Toffees who’d helped to seal our relegation fate at Goodison Park on the rather fateful night of May 19, 1977 - helped in no small way by the rather controversial events at Highfield Road - something still no doubt quite fresh in the memory of all connected with Sunderland AFC.
Thus we had an early chance of revenge of sorts, and on Saturday, August 16, 1980, a crowd of just over 32,000 were present at Roker Park to greet the lads on their First Division comeback, and it had to be said that I - and no doubt most of the rest of the home crowd - were confident of a win to get our First Division campaign off to the best possible start. After all, Everton were fallen giants of a sort, having only narrowly avoided relegation at the end of the previous campaign, and as it happened none of us were to be disappointed.
We began the game brightly, though despite coming close once or twice, we had to wait until the twenty-fourth minute to force the breakthrough. An astute pass from Mick Buckley sent Stan Cummins away, and as the ‘little fellow’ surged into the box he was hauled down by Everton defender John Gidman, leaving the referee with no option but to point to the penalty spot. John Hawley duly rammed home the spot-kick, giving keeper Jim McDonagh - later of course to appear on loan for us - no chance.
And the cheers had barely died down when we extended our lead just three minutes later, when Hawley turned provider; he shook off a challenge from Kevin Ratcliffe before sending over a long cross which was met at the far post by Sam Allardyce, who nodded the ball into the path of Cummins, who gained retribution of sorts for having been fouled earlier by powering a header into the roof of the net.
So 2-0 then at the break and things were looking good. We continued in very much the same vein in the second period and should really have gone 3-0 up when John Hawley had a great chance after being sent clear by a clever pass by Mick Buckley, but after rounding McDonagh he seemed to lose his composure and the Everton defence managed to clear the danger.
We then seemed to go off the boil a little, which seemed to give Everton hope that they may just be able to force their way back into the game, but Chris Turner pulled off a super save more or less from point-blank range from Billy Wright. There was then a real let-off when Joe McBride smacked a powerful drive against an upright with Turner well beaten.
However, twelve minutes from time we more or less put the result beyond doubt, albeit in rather bizarre fashion, and courtesy of a misunderstanding between defender and goalkeeper - a long kick from Chris Turner landed just outside the Everton penalty area and defender Billy Wright, under no real pressure, somewhat casually lobbed the ball back to McDonagh not realising that the ‘keeper was off his line, and both players could only watch in horror as the ball travelled on into the net, much to the delight of the Fulwell End and indeed most of Roker Park.
Game over then, though Everton did managed a consolation goal and rather strangely it was similar in a way to the own-goal they conceded; a neat ball from Asa Hartford picked out Peter Easton who lobbed Chris Turner as the ‘keeper advanced to try and close down the danger. But it was a case of too little, too late for Everton, as the game ended 3-1, a perfect way for us to mark our return to the big time.
And things were to get even better the following Wednesday when we triumphed 4-0 at problem-ridden Manchester City, thanks mainly to a John Hawley hat-trick, a result which also saw us top Division One for the first time since season 1955-56!
However, the bubble was burst the following Saturday when a Southampton side including their new star-signing Kevin Keegan (Ed - BOOOO) triumphed 2-1 at Roker Park, before we picked up a well-deserved point from a battling 1-1 draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford the following week.
But perhaps somewhat inevitably things were to turn sour, and before too long a rather familiar scenario reared it’s head again, i.e. a First Division relegation battle. And perhaps not surprisingly our fate was once again left to the final day, though the lads were to come up trumps when they rather surprisingly/ironically defeated Everton’s fierce local rivals Liverpool 1-0 at Anfield to thus prevent an instant return downstairs.
Who says that Sunderland ever did/do things the easy way?