Up to our first relegation in Sunderland’s history at the end of the 1957-58 season, our average final league position was 8th in the top flight.
Even in the early 1950’s, we finished within a point of the title, but by the end of the decade we suffered a relegation that even when we fast forward 14 years to 1972, we still hadn’t really recovered from.
It took Alan Brown six years to get the club back to Division One, and on our return we became perennial strugglers to stay there. This was until, after a spell of four years at Sheffield Wednesday, Alan Brown returned to preside over our second relegation back to the second division at the end of the 1969-70 season.
Once again, Brown attempted to take us back to the top flight, but on this occasion, he would run out of time. During his third attempt, he was sacked as manager of Sunderland at the end of October 1972 after a run of one win in eight games leaving the club close to the relegation places in Division Two.
For his last game in charge, which ended in a goalless draw at Roker Park against Fulham, only 11,618 were in attendance. The Sunderland fans were showing their displeasure at the direction the club was headed, and that only meant one thing for the future of the man in charge - the official statement read “terminated by mutual consent”.
It would be Sunderland’s sixth manager in 13 years and the media speculation began with a whole host of names being linked with the job - Billy Bingham, Len Ashurst, Tommy Docherty, Dave Mackay, Charlie Hurley, Jack Charlton, Brian Doyle, Harry Potts, Jimmy Hagan, Len Shackleton and some shy fella at Derby County called Brian Clough were all linked with the vacancy.
Trainer Billy Elliott took charge as the search went on, and after two draws and a defeat in the next three games, the board’s top target was made public on the 20th November. This would be the current Blackpool manager, Bob Stokoe.
Three days after it was made public who the number one target was, it was made official that he would become the new manager, but only after taking charge of Blackpool’s League Cup quarter-final replay with Wolves on the 28th November.
At that point in time, it meant the then 42-year-old was trading in a chance of promotion to the top flight, with Blackpool at the business end of Division Two as well as a potential trip to Wembley via Blackpool’s good run in the League Cup.
Stokoe was born at Mickley, Northumberland and had started his playing career at Newcastle United, making his debut on Christmas Day 1950 against Middlesbrough and went on to make almost 300 appearances for the club.
As a manager, he started out at Bury before moving on to Charlton Athletic, Carlisle United and Blackpool before receiving the offer from the Roker board to become Alan Brown’s replacement.
The day after Blackpool lost via the only goal of the game to Wolves in the League Cup quarter-final replay, on this day 49 years ago, Bob Stokoe could now be unveiled to the public and presented to the press as Sunderland’s new manager.
As the Journal described him as “the gaunt, craggy Geordie”, Stokoe didn’t waste his time with too many words when talking to the press about the job ahead:
Words can come very easily. You can talk all you like about all sorts of exciting possibilities. But it’s getting the team and myself to work together which is the important part, the part which is really important to Sunderland Football Club.
My aim at this stage is to help to bring about a greater consistency. I will give the players my respect and I will expect the same in return. As far as discipline goes, I don’t mind players taking a drink after a match. They have to unwind. What I am particular about is that they do it at the right time and in the right quantities.
Although Stokoe made no reference as to what the “right” quantities specifically were.
At the same time as the appointment of the new manager, the Sunderland chairman, Keith Collings, outlined that there would be money made available to spend to strengthen the squad, despite the fact the club were said to have owed more than £250,000, which was discussed with the chairman:
What is always forgotton when this figure is thrown at us is that our assets are far in excess of £250,000. We own our ground which is worth about £400,000 and at current market value our Washington training headquarters would run at something like £200,000. These are two good reasons why we would not be afraid to take on further financial commitment.
Bob Stokoe realised the size of the task ahead of him to rejuvenate a club that was at the wrong end of the second division and return them to the top flight of English football and admitted he may not have been the big name that many of the fans were after, as he stated at his unveiling, “I know I haven’t won anything yet”.