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The Road To Wembley: Ex-Sunderland Vice Chairman John Fickling remembers the 1973 FA Cup final

Lifelong supporter and former Vice Chairman John Fickling recalls the 1973 Cup Run, and how his job at the time gave him an enviable role in the celebrations when the team returned home.

“A young me! Having picked up courage to come out of the shadows from downstairs on the bus to be brave enough to venture upstairs. I think we were passing The Wheatsheaf at the time with Wearmouth Colliery visible in the background. Ironically, now the site of The Stadium of Light.”

Although I had been a regular attender at Roker Park from 1958, it was in the late 1960s and early 1970s when, with two friends, we started to travel to home and certain away games together.

In 1972/73 season, being regular attenders, we managed to collect vouchers that were valid for Cup games. As a result, we managed to attend the home games during the Cup run as well as travelling to Maine Road for the Fifth Round and Hillsborough for the Semi-Final.

Although I was a regular attender at games, I was not a season ticket holder, along with my two friends, simply because we could not afford one.

I remember vividly the queues ‘snaking’ around Roker Park – voucher holders waiting to redeem their vouchers for tickets for the home Cup ties.

Soccer - FA Cup - Semi Final - Sunderland v Arsenal
John Fickling and friends are in there somewhere!
Photo by Peter Robinson/EMPICS via Getty Images

We were fortunate that our vouchers did allow us to attend all the home Cup games including of course the Fifth Round replay against Manchester City, which many fans, including myself still talk about today, remembering the tremendous game and the atmosphere at Roker Park that night.

My friends and I made a pact that unless all 3 of us got tickets for Wembley, then none of us would go. Sadly, we only managed to get 1 ticket between us and therefore I did not get to Wembley.

I remember, at the time, knowing that some people and friends of friends, who hardly ever attended games, somehow managed to get tickets for Wembley. It was a very bitter pill to swallow.

On the day of the Final however, I was fortunate to be able to watch the Final on my friend’s, parents’ brand-new colour television at South Hetton. We did of course celebrate the win, but it was no substitute for being at Wembley.

Soccer - FA Cup Final - Leeds United v Sunderland - Wembley Stadium
John missed out on a Wembley ticket – but he did get to take part in the celebrations in a different way.
Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

Fortune, however, did shine on me,

I was working as a young engineer at The Northern Bus Company and after the Wembley win the Company had a double decker bus that had gone under a low bridge, removing the top and of course this proved to be ideal for the celebration parade. The bus was offered to the football club, who accepted. The bus needed a little bit of work carrying out on it which I was involved with and subsequently I drove this vehicle to Sunderland Park Lane bus station to be used for the parade.

At Park Lane the players wives and club officials started to board the vehicle and a senior Northern Bus Driver had been given the privilege to drive the bus however, I just sat downstairs at the back of the bus and kept quiet. Suddenly the bus started heading off to the motorway at Carrville to meet the team with me discretely still sitting downstairs in the corner of the bus.

The rest is well known. The journey taking well over three hours from Carrville back to Roker Park with hundreds of thousands of people along the way wanting sight of the Cup and the team. Those sights and sounds I have never forgot and never will.

This journey, did somewhat, make up for me not being at Wembley!

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