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Road To Wembley: Success for Stokoe’s Sunderland in 1973

In the final step on our Road to Wembley series, Lars Knutsen recalls a golden period in Sunderland’s post-war history; the path to FA Cup victory over Dirty Leeds at Wembley in May 1973.

Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

Every Sunderland fan knows the date of 5th May 1973, which was a truly staggering day in the club’s history. The series of games that led to that Wembley victory in 1973 started in the most inauspicious way though, as we were 19th in Division 2 at the time of the FA Cup 3rd. round. So expectations were not high, despite the fact that the charismatic Bob Stokoe had been brought to the helm at Roker around the end of November. Home crowds had slumped to around 11,000 just before his arrival, so Sunderland AFC was at a bit of a low. Amazingly, Stokoe was only our ninth manager since 1880; these days we seem to change managers more often than some Newcastle supporters change their underwear.

On Wednesday, January 16th, a few days before my 18th birthday, my friends and I had our usual matchday routine on a cold winter evening. Cycle after school from Boldon to Roker Avenue, leaving the bikes with my Auntie Joan, then walking on to the Fulwell End at Roker Park. Those were the days of no TV at games, pay at the turnstile, one substitute, no advance tickets, zero transfer window, smoking, swearing, fans drinking Bovril, Leeds kicking everybody, no-nonsense era of football, just emerging from the flat cap era. Roker Park was a special place.

Scene set, on to the football. We joined with a quite surprisingly large FA Cup crowd of 30,033 to see the Black Cats beat Notts County 2-0 with goals from those Sunderland greats Dave Watson and Denis Tueart. This was a 3rd round replay, as we had drawn 1-1 at Meadow Lane four days earlier. I do not remember the game well unlike later rounds, but a win was secured. Watson had been signed from Rotherham for £100,000 by Alan Brown in December 1970, and Tueart came through the ranks at Roker, debuting in 1968.

The Sunderland team was one of either few stars, or all-stars, depending on how you saw things. Montgomery, Malone, Bolton, Horswill, Watson, Tones, Kerr, McGiven, Hughes, Porterfield, Tueart, with Lathan as substitute represented us that day, so this was before the dynamic and talented Vic Halom joined us from Luton for £30,000 in February, 1973.

Sunderland Play
Ritchie Pitt, (No 6), and Sunderland AFC teammate Dave Watson during the 1973 season
Photo by Central Press/Getty Images

Since I have such a strong recollection of games, my friends sometimes sarcastically ask me what was the weather was like that day. I do have a powerful memory of the 4th round when we were drawn at home vs. Reading, who happened to be managed by Roker legend Charlie Hurley. Goalkeeper Steve D’eath put in an amazing performance and a game dominated by the home side ended 1-1, with a Tueart goal. No problems in the replay though with Sunderland 3-0 up within half an hour, which took us through to the 5th round, when things started getting exciting, with a trip to Maine Road beckoning on February 24th.

Manchester City away was rapidly sold out, but the game was shown on Match of the Day, so it felt like I had been there; being so young I had not travelled to many away games, aside from the season opener at Ashton Gate 18 months previously. The Lads showed great momentum, emerging with a 2-2 draw, playing what became the FA Cup winning line-up, and Mickey Horswill starring.

I was, however, at the evening replay, where we had again to deal with City stars such as Mike Summerbee, Colin Bell, Rodney Marsh and Francis Lee. Roker park was rocking with almost 52,000 fans, and Bob Stokoe had got the team playing without fear. I was in the Fulwell End just behind the line of flight for Vic Halom’s amazing opener, with Billy Hughes chipping in with two goals in a 3-1 win.

It was tense towards hour mark because Lee netted but when the Scotsman got his second in the 78th minute, the sense of relief was there, we could celebrate that we had beaten a top-class side over two games, not just lower league opposition; one could sense something special happening. We overcame a team that had won the Championship in 1968 with a 4-3 win at St. James’, on the day that the Black Cats overcame runners-up Manchester City 2-1 at Old Trafford.

The 6th round was a fairly routine 2-0 win over Luton Town on March 17th but the run-up to the game was made more interesting by Hatters’ manager Harry Haslam saying that it would be an easy game for the visitors, who had already won at Roker before Stokoe’s arrival. In fact, they did do the double over us in the league, as we lost there 0-1 the previous Saturday. As was the story that season, the FA Cup was just a totally different sequence of games; the stark fact was that we were still 16th in Division 2 at that time.

Tickets for the semi-final at Hillsborough against Arsenal in early April were made available by draws from coupons presented at League games. Along with a couple of fellow Boldon supporters we somehow acquired seven tickets for that game. My parents kindly lent me the family Ford Zodiac for the trip to Sheffield, for an amazingly memorable game enjoyed with friends.

Vic Halom put us ahead after a failed back-pass from Gunners’ centre half Jeff Blockley, and on a couple of occasions Jim Montgomery kept us in the game with his heroics, before a Billy Hughes back-header made it 2-0 after the hour mark. Charlie George pulled one back for Arsenal to make it a tense finish, but the game was hours, which made it a joyous journey home to Wearside:

A word on Billy Hughes, and a comparison to our current top goalscorer, Charlie Wyke. Hughes was not really seen as an out and out goalscorer, despite his average of a netting every 4 games for Sunderland. He scored 15 though in the FA Cup winning season, but just 9 and 8 in the previous 2 seasons. Wyke already has 26 goals this season ahead of the EFL Cup Final at Wembley, but only netted 4 in 2018-19, with 5 the year after.

So his improvement in form has been stunning, with the Yorkshireman hitting amazing form in front of goal and increasing in self-confidence, devouring those crosses into the box. Despite all this, I have noted some contributors on these pages suggesting that we do not offer him a new contract next season. I know he had an unconvincing, ungainly start at the Stadium of Light, but in my view, he is a must-have for next season, very likely in the Championship.

This is where my description of live football games end for 1973, as I did not get a ticket to the final on May 5th. It was still a staggering day in the club’s history, watched with friends at home on TV, as we did not just beat Leeds United, but at times late in the game toyed with them by playing possession football. It was a truly remarkable game, made memorable not just by Ian Porterfield’s goal but Montgomery’s heroics; one of the highlights of my young life.

Lars with his FA Cup hero, Bobby Kerr (L), at the Fan Museum in 2020

But the abiding memory of the year was how, what seemed in autumn 1972 to be a fairly ordinary team, with a few reinforcements, came together under Bob Stokoe to play with a compelling attacking style, that took them to a pinnacle, a Wembley victory in the FA Cup, beating three top First Division sides in the process.

Meeting “Little General” Bobby Kerr in person at the Monkwearmouth Fans’ Museum in February 2020 brought back a host of happy memories, all of which cemented my commitment to what is an amazing football club.


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