On this day in 1969, Alan Brown’s Sunderland took on Coventry City at Roker Park in this first-day-of-the-season clash.
Big-name £30,000 signing, former Arsenal, Torino and England striker Joe Baker, debuted alongside youth team product Mick McGiven and former Sheffield Wednesday midfielder Colin Symm, in a team also including future FA Cup winners Jimmy Montgomery, Richie Pitt, Dennis Tueart and Billy Hughes.
Coventry, who had missed the drop by a single point the season prior, included former Sunderland player Neil Martin, who’d bagged two goals in Coventry’s 3-1 against us at Highfield Road five months earlier.
Despite the addition of Baker to the forward line, however, attacking action was in short supply in a dull fixture which finished 0-0.
“More boring than a 100-yard sprint for snails,” the match report said.
“[The game] was informative only to the point of realising the worst fears of the 20,000 diehard Sunderland fans who turned up.
“Coventry, the team that should have been, and will be, annihilated by other opponents who show only the basics of First Division skill, strolled comfortably to the point and, but for a couple of saves by Montgomery – surely the biggest Aunt Sally of the coming season – would have gone away with two.”
The experienced Baker (“probably the best investment at the price Alan Brown could have made”) struggled to make an impact against a robust Coventry defence. And that set the tone for the season.
After netting 93 in 144 games for Arsenal, and 41 in 118 for Forest, Baker only found the net twice in 24 First Division games for Sunderland that season.
The mention of ‘Aunt Sally’ in the match report was in reference to a game in which players threw balls at a wooden dummy and inferred Monty was in for a lot of work that season.
And so it proved.
The opening day draw was costly – even at such an early stage of the season. We only won four home games that season in addition to two away, and were relegated by a single point. Our top scorer - Gordon Harris – netted seven, four of which were from the spot.
Baker never replicated the goalscoring form of his earlier career for Sunderland. He scored 10 goals the following season in Division Two (in which we finished mid-table) before returning to first club Hibernian, where he scored 12 in 20 games, and Raith Rovers (34 in 49).