When we think of the historic European footballing cities, Lisbon – home of Sporting Clube de Portugal and their great rivals SL Benfica – is surely one of the first to come to mind.
And it was to the Portuguese capital that Bob Stokoe’s Second Division Sunderland and three hundred die-hard supporters travelled for their UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup Second Round, Second leg tie, with a narrow 2-1 lead. The FA Cup winning manager was taking charge of the club’s first foray into European competition, and for fans this was breaking new territory; Portugal was still a right-wing dictatorship after all.
A band of brave Mackems had already travelled to Hungary in September to see the Lads take a 2-0 win away from Vasas Budapest, and Sunderland had sealed their play in the next round with a 1-0 win at Roker Park. In the first leg at home against Sporting, Sunderland pulled off what was a surprising 2-1 victory to leave the tie finely balanced for the return match two weeks later.
Sunderland’s league form had been suffering from something of a post-FA Cup hangover following the team’s triumph at Wembley earlier in the year. They sat fourteenth in the league going into the second game against the Verde e brancos following a defeat by Hull City, a match for which Stokoe chose to rest most of his regular starting eleven in preparation for the midweek game.
Stokoe had organised for his players to train at a football ground high in the mountains outside the city in the days leading up to the game, and was in bullish mood when interviewed at the time:
We expect Sporting to come at us hard early on Wednesday night, but we should not be afraid. We have shown how effectively we can counter attack. If we can hold out at the back, the I am confident the lads up front will do the rest.
And he wasn’t going to let the capabilities of the Portuguese side to change his focus:
We are not doing anything different for this match. We will stick to the pattern which has brought us this far. When we do come a cropper, as inevitably we must, then I will start to have a re-think. What Sporting are doing, or what they are capable of, does not concern me at the moment.
They weren’t a side to be taken lightly, however. Sporting Lisbon had won the trophy a decade earlier in 1963 and, although the the early 1970s were perhaps the end of Sporting’s post-war glory years, Os Leões had won the Portuguese Cup under the new management of Mario Lino the season before to qualify for the competition, and had a number of Portuguese and other internationals in their side.
Much of the focus in the lead up to the game had been on whether or not their star striker, Hector Yazalde, formerly of CA Independiente in Buenos Aires, would be fit. He had sustained a thigh strain while scoring six as Sporting put eight past Montigo the weekend before the game!
Stokoe was fulsome in his praise for the man whose goal at Roker Park had kept Lisbon’s hopes alive in the competition, but expressed confidence in Sunderland’s defence to keep him quiet.
As far as Yazalde goes, there is no getting away from it that he is an outstanding player. But I think that if we are good enough we will get through no matter whether he plays or not.
Sunderland’s side that day 46 years ago reads like a list of legends: Jim Montgomery, Dick Malone, Joe Bolton, Micky Horswill, Dave Watson, David Young, Bobby Kerr, Billy Hughes, Vic Halom, Ian Porterfield and Dennis Tueart.
Yazalde did recover enough to make it into Lino’s starting eleven, but the game itself was marked by defensive mistakes more than attacking brilliance.
Sunderland once again proved stern and capable opposition in the early exchanges, but then, on 27 minutes, disaster struck. Local hero Montgomery inexplicably threw the ball out at the feet of Yazalde, and he made no mistake in putting the home side level on aggregate, leaving the travelling Sunderland faithful among the 50,000 strong crowd inside the Estádio José Alvalade deflated.
Monty did go on to make an series of important saves to keep the game alive but, when a defensive error from Dave Watson led to an indirect free-kick in the box for Sporting with 20 minutes left, the resulting scramble saw the dangerous Samuel Fraguito drive the ball home from 10 yards out, making it 3-2 overall to the home side.
Sunderland almost brought the aggregate score to 3-3 when Ian Porterfield hit the post with his right foot from inside the box following some good play from Bobby Kerr and a cross from Dennis Tueart, but ultimately they did not have enough to overcome the superior skill and guile of an experienced top-level side.
The game ended 2-1 (3-2 agg), and Sunderland were out of Europe.
After seeing off the English cup winners, Lino’s side went on to reach the Semi-Finals of the Cup Winners’ Cup before losing to eventual champions Magdeburg, of East Germany, as well as winning their first domestic league and cup double in twenty years. This was in no small part due to one man: Hector Yazalde.
He won the European Golden Shoe in 1973-74, scoring 46 goals along the way, and lined up for Argentina at the following summer’s World Cup in West Germany. He would go on to play for with distinction for Marseille in France and Newell’s Old Boys back in his native Argentina, but sadly died prematurely in 1997 at the age of 51. His goals live on.
Sunderland would bounce back strongly in their next game, winning 4-1 at home against the considerably more modest opposition of Swindon Town, thanks to a Tueart hat-trick, and we went on to have a decent domestic season, finishing sixth in the league.
We were only two points behind Carlisle, who were promoted in third place, and that defeat against Hull in the lead up to the Sporting game arguably cost the club promotion.
Stokoe would have to wait another couple of years to add the Division Two trophy to his list of achievements for the Black Cats.
And that was the last game we’ve played in a UEFA competition. I’ve never had the privilege of going to seeing Sunderland play away in Europe in a competitive game, and many have been waiting even long than I to have that privilege once again.
One day, perhaps.
We can still dream...