1985 seems so long ago, in many respects, yet the Milk Cup Final of that year feels like yesterday. I was 14. I had been born and brought up in Newcastle, but my Dad had raised me at Roker Park and so I was red and white in a sea of black and white.
I had taken some stick whilst at school, but I was proud to be a Sunderland fan.
In the early Eighties, we had moved to Sheffield. My parents had divorced and both remarried. Moving away meant time away from Roker Park, but my grandparents still lived in Newcastle and my Gran used to keep all the local papers.
Every time I visited, I would spend Saturday afternoon with my Grandpa making a scrapbook from the weeks’ worth of papers that had accumulated since my last visit, before Final Score would come on and we’d see how Sunderland had got on. Much of the cup run that season was to be captured by newspaper clippings.
The Milk Cup run had not really appeared on my radar until we were playing Spurs in a fourth round replay. This one would be on telly through a highlights show. We had a top-loader video in those days, and I managed to persuade my Mum to lend me a VHS tape to record the program. I got up early the next morning to watch Clive Walker and Gordon Chisholm secure our passage to the quarter-finals.
Chris Turner had been superb, saving a second Spurs penalty with a fabulous save. Walker was again the hero of the cup run with a goal against a decent Watford side in the quarters and we faced Chelsea over two-legs in the semi. Two penalties from Colin West meant we had a healthy lead going into the second leg where West scored again, and Clive Walker bagged a brace to see us through to Wembley, 5-2 aggregate winners.
It was only the second time we’d made Wembley since the war. I was two in 1973 and reportedly watched the game being bounced around on my Dad’s knee. I hadn’t any expectations of seeing this one either. I hadn’t been to Roker Park that season and the tokens for tickets were in the programmes, so I had no way of getting near a ticket.
Yet, one evening, my Mum handed me an envelope. Inside were two tickets to Wembley! I couldn’t believe it. I honestly thought this was a wind-up! It turned out my step-father, who ran his own insurance business, had been offered a couple of tickets by a client, knowing I was a big Sunderland fan.
So, there I was, travelling down to Wembley in late March, to watch Sunderland in an actual cup final. When we arrived, I was just amazed by the sheer presence of the stadium. The famous Twin Towers, which had been a sight I’d only ever seen on Cup Final days on TV. This was the place the likes of Liverpool and Everton, Spurs and Arsenal came to play big games, not Sunderland!
The atmosphere was amazing. There was a sea of red and white ahead of me. I could see yellow and green colours in different groups, all making their way up the turnstiles. I held tightly to my ticket, still not believing I was actually there. This is what Charlie Bucket must have felt like when he won his golden ticket to the Wonka factory!
We took our seats in the corner of Wembley. The noise when the teams came out was deafening! The flags and scarves made it a memory to remember. Sunderland fans have always travelled well and in good voice, but that afternoon was something else.
The game kicked off with Norwich attacking the goal in front of us. The first half passed in something of a blur and we went in all square at half time. I was just soaking it all in and was full of hope. We’d faced better sides than Norwich and Clive Walker had seen them all off. We were missing Shaun Elliott and Colin West, but we’d also just beaten Norwich at Carrow Road 3-1 in the league.
The second half started and a Norwich defender hit a hopeful long ball towards the corner on the far side from where we were standing. I couldn’t see much, but there seemed little danger. Our defence were well set up and there was only one yellow shirt chasing the ball. The defender was well ahead of him and would have time to turn and punt the ball back or simply let it roll out of play. At the time, I couldn’t see anything more, but I’ve watched the game back and there is a moment when our teenage defender, David Corner, having opted to shield the ball out, stops, thinking the ball is crossing the line.
The experienced John Deehan managed to come round and stop the ball on the line, pulling it back for former England star Mick Channon, who is tackled by Gordon Chisholm. The ball falls to Asa Hartford, who tries to lift it over the defender towards Turner’s far post. Only the ball bounces off the unfortunate Chisholm and wrong-foots Chris Turner.
My abiding memory of the goal was firstly shock. I couldn’t work out what had just happened. It had looked so safe and yet they had scored. Secondly, it was amazement. Norwich had scored, but all you could hear was “Sun-Der-Land!” being belted out across Wembley. You’d have thought it was us that had just scored. The noise, the reaction – I was just so proud to be a Sunderland fan in that moment.
This was, however, a game of few chances. Arguably, over the 90 minutes, Norwich had the better of it, but the best chance of the game fell to Sunderland. Barry Venison charged into the box on the far side from us and the defender lunged in. Venison tried to take the ball round the prostrate defender, only for the Norwich player to scoop the ball away with his hand!
Clive Walker, the star of our cup run, steps forward. I remember it took an age between the penalty being given and Walker striking the ball. I don’t know if it was the length of time or the occasion or the pressure of facing our noisy fans, but Walker somehow managed to put the ball wide. At first, from my point of view, it was in. The ball was heading for the bottom corner and then I saw it roll beyond the netting, rather than nestling inside.
I couldn’t believe it.
Problem was, I don’t think the rest of the team could either. Our heads seem to drop, and I don’t really remember an opportunity to get ourselves back into the game. Louie Donowa, the Norwich winger, was killing us with his pace and the chances were all falling to the yellow shirts at the far end of the pitch. The final whistle went.
I remember trudging out, disappointed, still not quite sure how they’d scored, but immensely proud. The players had brought us to Wembley. We may not have won the game, but the fans had shown the watching TV world just how great our football club is.
There would be disappointment again five years later when Marco’s team failed to beat Swindon, or a further two years on when John Byrne’s side fell short against Liverpool, or in 1998 when Clive Mendonca broke Wearside hearts.
But on each occasion, just like that moment in 1985, I could not have been prouder to wear the red and white shirt of Sunderland.