After gaining promotion from the Second Division in 1964 following a six-year “exile” at that level after our first-ever relegation from the First Division in 1958, the Sunderland AFC faithful no doubt hoped that a bright new era lay ahead for their club. However, the reality was quite different, for we went on to experience a more or less constant battle for First Division survival, and after six nervy seasons amongst England’s elite, our luck was to finally run out in 1970 when we somewhat sadly - inevitably - returned “downstairs”.
In spite of our poor league form in season 1969-70, which would perhaps normally have been enough to see a side relegated even before the end of a campaign, we were still in touch with the rest of the First Division as we entered the run-in to the end of the season. However, our final five fixtures couldn’t have been much harder, for these were all against some of the First Divisions giants of the time: we faced a home Easter “double header” against Newcastle and Derby, and if this wasn’t enough, a visit to Manchester City, followed by another home “double header” against Champions-elect Everton and their near-neighbours Liverpool. Rather a stiff challenge indeed!
First up then was the Good Friday meeting with “The Old Foe” from Tyneside, who were seeking a place in Europe. This latest meeting with the Mags actually marked a milestone, for it was the fiftieth league meeting on Wearside, and the one-hundredth occasion of the “renewing of hostilities” overall. So with ourselves and Newcastle in need of the points for entirely different reasons, it all pointed to a keenly-contested affair in front of nearly 52,000 onlookers at Roker. The Mags were still though undoubtedly hot favourites, but as it turned out, we’d go on to nick a welcome if unlikely point, the reward for rather brave resistance to the more or less constant battering we took throughout.
Indeed, the tone of the game, certainly the first-half, was set in the very first minute when Jim Montgomery was beaten, but fortunately Martin Harvey was on hand to clear from the line. Monty then saved well twice from “Pop” Robson (later of course, to appear for us), and Keith Dyson, as Newcastle attacked seemingly at will. And the Mags did actually have the ball in the back of the net in the twenty-sixth minute, but much to the relief of the home support, the goal was chalked off when the referee ruled that Wyn Davies had illegally charged Jim Montgomery and the ball into the back of the net, after the keeper had gathered a free-kick. We did muster one genuine effort on target, when Dennis Tueart sent in a powerful header which was well saved by Willie McFaul.
So due to the rather sterling efforts of Monty and Colin Todd in particular the half-time break was reached, to the relief of the home support, with the scoreline blank. With the wind now in our favour, we began the second-half quite brightly, and Willie McFaul had to be alert to clear from the onrushing Bobby Park. However, normal service was soon resumed and it seemed only a matter of time before our overworked defence finally cracked in the wake of Newcastle’s relentless pressure, and in the fifty-first minute came the inevitable breakthrough for the visitors. Ollie Burton broke up a Sunderland attack and immediately mounted a counter-offensive, bringing in Jimmy Smith, who in turn picked out Keith Dyson. Dyson’s cross then picked out Smith inside our box, and he let loose with an unstoppable shot which left Monty without prayer as it flew into the back of our net.
Had the floodgates then opened? Fortunately not. This setback seemed to inject fresh life into us, as we then began to take the game to the Mags and were rewarded fifteen minutes from time, though there was an element of luck in our equaliser; a cross from the right from Bobby Kerr was caught by the wind, and as a result the ball travelled over both Bob Moncur (who like “Pop” Robson, would later appear for us) and Ollie Burton, and landed at the feet of Dennis Tueart, who laid the ball back to Bobby Park. The youngster then fired in a powerful effort from sixteen yards out which beat Willie McFaul, but the ball then struck the underside of the bar and bounced out. However, Dennis Tueart reacted quickest, and he dived in to head the loose ball home, much to the delight of the home faithful. Most people felt that Tueart should be credited with the goal but manager Alan Brown insisted that Bobby Park’s original effort had crossed the line, and that was how it stood.
It was now anyone’s game, but in spite of the best efforts of both sides the game ended 1-1. Newcastle may have felt aggrieved not to have won, such had been their overall superiority, but there couldn’t have been many complaints on Wearside, after we’d gained a hard-earned point against the odds. In spite of this, we remained in bottom spot in the First Division, albeit just two points worse off then third-bottom Ipswich, and with a better goal average.
1-1 was also the outcome the following day in the clash against Derby, when a Gordon Harris strike earned us another seemingly unlikely point. Then the following Saturday, we chalked up a surprise 1-0 win in the League Cup against eventual Cup-Winners-Cup winners Manchester City, courtesy of a second-half Dennis Tueart effort, and these three welcome points pushed us up to second-bottom spot, giving us a genuine escape route - something which had appeared highly improbable earlier in the campaign. Another hard-earned point, this time from a 0-0 draw in our penultimate fixture at Roker against newly-crowned League Champions Everton, meant we went into our final game of the season against Liverpool needing a win to secure First Division survival. Could we pull it off?
Unfortunately not, for a late goal from The Anfield Reds full-back Chris Lawler sealed our somewhat inevitable fate and we went down by one point, in what was a somewhat cruel, but perhaps unsurprising conclusion to season 1969-70. One could well blame the lost point in the home game against the Mags as the cause of our demise, but really, we’d not been good enough over the course of the campaign, and indeed during our six-year First Division spell as a whole. So while Newcastle eventually did qualify for Europe again (Fairs Cup), we were left to contemplate Second Division football once more, in 1970-71. Quite a contrast in fortunes then for us and our dear rivals from Tyneside, “It never rains but it pours” as they tend to say.