Sunderland’s 1967-68 campaign wasn’t really going to plan - six wins from the opening 22 games meant the club was struggling at the wrong end of the table. However, it was very much following the pattern of the previous couple of campaigns.
Having being promoted for the first-ever time in 1963-64, under Alan Brown – who then departed for Sheffield Wednesday after a dispute over whether or not he was entitled to buy his club house – the team bobbed around the bottom third of the top flight, firstly under the control of a ‘selection committee’ with Charlie Hurley leading the dressing room, then under the stewardship of ‘caretaker’ George Hardwick.
Despite performing impressively, Hardwick wasn’t kept on and was replaced by ex-Scotland boss Ian McColl at the beginning of the 65-66 season, becoming only the club’s third permanent manager in 26 years.
Despite the signing of superstar Jim Baxter at the start of his reign, McColl had failed to ignite the club. And as the end of 1967 approached, McColl was under pressure.
He’d sold Baxter to Nottingham Forest for £100,000 – a huge fee when you consider the transfer record for a British club at the time was £115,000 for Denis Law’s move to Torino –and after Christmas paid £45,000 to Raith Rovers for 21-year-old Ian Porterfield who’d impressed after starring for a Fife Select XI against Sunderland in a friendly a few months earlier.
Over the festive period back in the 50s and 60s, it wasn’t uncommon to play back-to-back games against the same club – and this season was one of those instances.
After going down 2-1 at St James Park on Boxing Day, Sunderland returned to Roker Park to face Newcastle in front of over 46,000 spectators only four days later.
In the line up for 19th-place Sunderland was Porterfield, who was thrown straight into the deepest of deep ends, replacing Martin Harvey who’d been injured in the previous game.
Sunderland: Montgomery, Irwin, Ashurst, Todd, Hurley (Kinnell 60), Porterfield, Stuckey, Suggett, Martin, Brand, Mulhall.
Newcastle: Marshall, Burton, Clark, Elliott, McNamee, Moncur, Scott, Bennett, Davies, Iley, Robson.
After losing the derby game only a few days earlier thanks to a controversial Newcastle goal that was allowed to stand, despite a clear foul on Montgomery (who’d incidentally had a transfer request turned down only a couple of weeks earlier) Sunderland fell behind again –this time to a 13th minute Ollie Burton penalty.
The team responded well, however, particularly considering they’d not registered a win for seven games – and stormed into a 3-1 lead before half time.
Colin Suggett bagged two of them – the 19-year-old demonstrating ‘the speed and flair of Jimmy Greaves, the brilliant ball-hugging control of Alan Ball and the uncanny goal-sense and positioning of Geoff Hurst’.
Suggett’s first was a ‘masterpiece of opportunism’ – taking a chest-high ball from Brand and hooking chest high into the net – the second demonstrating a poacher’s instinct.
Bruce Stuckey added a third, which looked to have sealed the game.
In the second half, however, it was a different story. Charlie Hurley departed through injury, and the black and whites laid siege to the Sunderland goal. Former Sunderland player Dave Elliott was fouled by Brand in the box, and Burton blasted home his second of the game.
Sunderland looked to be clinging on – Montgomery pulling off a super save from a McNamee header, before the Scot headed home past Monty in the closing stages to secure a 3-3 draw.
Porterfield had a quietly impressive game – ‘not quite getting the derby message, but displaying a football brain that stamps him as a useful acquisition’ according to the match report, while the presence of Porterfield – in addition to Suggett, Colin Todd and Stuckey – was enough to give Sunderland supporters a lot of hope; a young quarter with bags of potential.
Porterfield said: “Though it was nothing like I know I can do, I was satisfied. I’ll admit I am no defender. I prefer to have people watching me than me watching them.”
One man who didn’t see Porterfield’s debut, however, was the man who signed him.
Remarkably, manager Ian McColl decided he’d be better served scouting a potential signing than taking the team for the derby game.
“I don’t want to tell you where I was,” he said. “But I can tell you nothing will come of it.”
McColl, perhaps unsurprisingly, didn’t last much longer at Roker Park. He oversaw a further three league games and an FA Cup Third Round replay defeat at home to Division Two Norwich City, before being replaced by the returning Alan Brown. Brown, eventually managed to guide the club to 15th place in a 22-team top flight.
As far as Porterfield goes, however, it was the start of a long and successful spell at the club. After his debut he went on to make a further 268 appearances, scoring 19 goals... including one particularly memorable one.