It’s 1976 and Sunderland have just won promotion back to Division One under legendary manager Bob Stokoe, and what better way to celebrate than to go on an exotic tour of the southern hemisphere.
Starting with two games in beautiful Tahiti against the national team – a 5-1 win followed by a face-saving 2-2 draw – at the beginning of May, the players moved from east to west - on to New Zealand to play Auckland, and then across the Tasman Sea to Australia for an intense series of six matches in two weeks; twice against the national side – the first in Sydney and then in Melbourne, in between games against four state sides, starting in Queensland and continuing to Tasmania and then South Australia.
The final stop on the Aussie leg of the trip was Perth in Western Australia, where Stokoe’s men took on the state’s representative side, who had lost 4-0 to Tottenham Hotspur a week earlier.
A few players had managed to pick up injuries along the way, with Gary Rowell, Roy Greenwood and Mick Henderson out, and Jeff Clarke was rested. Other than that, it was a strong Sunderland side who took the field in front of a crowd of around 3,000 spectators at the Perry Lakes Stadium.
Sunderland Starting XI: Montgomery, Malone, Bolton, Longhorn, Ashurst, Moncur, Kerr, Train, Robson, Hughes, Holden
Sunderland scored twice in the first half, first through Mel Holden, who had scored all five in the demolition of Tasmania a week earlier, and then FA Cup-winning hero Bobby Kerr grabbed a second five minutes before half time.
The game changed in the second period, with the physical home side increasing the pressure on the tourists’ goal, their advances helped in no small way by the local referee, whose decision-making was criticised by captain Bob Moncur after the game.
Things came to a head on 66 minutes when the frustrations of the squad’s “quiet man”, Dennis Longhorn, made him see red – literally. Len Hetherington of the Newcastle Chronicle got the full story when he spoke about it with Moncur:
The refereeing was again terribly biased. The Australian side got away with murder and eventually Dennis lost his cool and got sent off after an hour for whacking an opponent.
Western Australia then looked to press home their numerical advantage and got a goal back on 74 minutes through George McMillan. The professionals of Sunderland were forced to cling onto their lead against the antipodean amateurs in the closing stages to claim their seventh win of the tour. Moncur conceded that fatigue had played a part in the way the game played out:
Actually, we are all very tired and it was not one of our better performances, but we defended well enough when down to ten men, and were content to win, but they certainly came at us hard in the second half.
The Sunderland players would begin their journey back home to Blighty the next day, flying first to Singapore to play their national side before arriving back at Newcastle Airport the following Sunday to rest, recuperate, and prepare for the new season back in the top flight.