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Soccer - FA Cup Final - Leeds United v Sunderland - Wembley Stadium

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Bob Stokoe and Don Revie - The rocky relationship that defined an era

The men who led Sunderland and Leeds out onto the Wembley pitch on this day in 1973 had a long and controversial back-story marred by money, power and deceit.

Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

Our run to the FA Cup Final in 1973 was one that I got to see at very close quarters. I saw every tie, including Reading and Notts County away. I was there for the brilliant game at Maine Road, and of course Hillsborough, where we made Bob Stokoe cry by chanting his name, refusing to leave the ground until he came and gave us a wave.

The only game I could not get a ticket for was the final. This was a heart-breaking experience - I had been swept along by our swashbuckling play, the momentum of our run in the cup and our form in the league, and had never for one moment contemplated that they would even consider playing the final without me there!

This was a big boy experience for me. I had skived school and lied to my parents about my whereabouts on 7th March ‘73. But that is a tale for another day. My sacrifices (in my head) had been many, and here we were at Wembley, and I faced the prospect of not being there.

My parents tried to get me a ticket but could not afford the prices being quoted on the black market. I had begged vouchers from folk who had attended the Bristol City and Carlisle games, where they were issued, in the hope of qualifying through the ballot, all to no avail. I had sold Roker Bingo like some kind of ticket selling Tasmanian Devil in the hope of attracting the enigmatic Corny O’Donnell to my ticketless plight, but he was not looking my way.

Looking back on this, I realise it was the first time I had come face to face with the fact that money power and connections can actually get you what you want.

As “fans” came out from under every stone, I was one of a bemused, maybe even enraged group who were left on our backsides in front of the TV for the biggest day in our Sunderland supporting lives.

Soccer - FA Cup Final - Leeds United v Sunderland - Wembley Stadium Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

My parents did not have a colour TV at the time of the final, but had accepted an invitation from our Newcastle-supporting neighbour to watch the game on his newly purchased coloured set. This was where I landed on Cup Final day.

I remember waking up that morning and looking under my pillow just in case the tooth fairy had left me a ticket. She had not, and so it was to next door and watch the game with the Mags and my family... how the mighty had fallen!

However, I digress. I wanted to reference what for years was one of the iconic visuals of the FA Cup final. The walk out of the tunnel by the two teams led by their managers. The noise would crank right up, and the two managers would usually have a smile and a wave, as well as a friendly word with each other as they strode proudly at the head of their troops.

This was classic FA Cup final fare for what seemed like years and years.

I was seeing this in colour for the first time and was transfixed. My Dad then comments, “doesn’t look like there is a lot of love lost between Stokoe and Revie”. He was right - they hardly look at each other, and certainly did not speak. It seemed an oddity and not at all in keeping with the occasion, or with the laughing box image of my team in the final days leading into the final.

Our victory and my delirium at this pre-occupied me, until Revie was in the news again as his spectacularly unsuccessful tenure as England manager came to an almost bizarre finish in 1977. So, what was so dislikeable about Revie, and what was the rancour between Stokoe and Revie all about?

Soccer - FA Cup Final - Sunderland v Leeds United Photo by Peter Robinson/EMPICS via Getty Images

Revie certainly is a divisive character within football. His Leeds dynasty and team were both revered, feared and loathed in equal measure.

His time as England manager bordered on catastrophic as he struggled to re-create the “Leeds Family” with the national team. His departure from the England post seemed to echo some of the less flattering allegations that persisted throughout his career as a manager. These allegations often involved money, misuse of influence and an untrustworthy way of going about things. You could say misuse of money, connections and power!

Revie was born in Middlesbrough in 1927, a few streets away from where, just seven years later, one of his greatest adversary’s Brian Clough was born. He was 11 years old when WWII started, and not hard to imagine that this in some way helped to shape his character.

Revie signed for Second Division Leicester, and was a key player in their run to the FA Cup final in 1949, where they were beaten by First Division Wolves. Revie, unfortunately, had sustained a nose injury and missed the final. He then signed for Raich Carter, who was player-manager at Hull City, in 1949, when bigger clubs were interested.

Revie himself said of this move that Carter was key to his decision; he wanted to learn from the revered inside forward, who may have been something of a role model. He only lasted two seasons at Hull where his relationship with Carter did not blossom.

Man City then rekindled their interest, and took him to Maine Road. Revie enjoyed his most successful playing period at City, winning his six England caps and an FA Cup winners medal in 1956. He was a beaten finalist in 1955 against Newcastle, for whom the robust Bob Stokoe played centre half.

1955 was not all about failure though - he was voted the Player of the Season as his distinctive style of centre forward play, where he would sit behind his inside forwards, allowing him to display his intelligent passing and control, was being noticed.

Medal Revie
Revie was successful as a player at Man City

In keeping with a pattern of difficult relationships, Revie fell somewhat out of favour with City management and was transferred to Sunderland. With Len Shackleton, Billy Bingham (the first Sunderland player to play at a World Cup, in 1958) and Billy Elliott (assistant coach of Sunderland in the 1973 Cup Final) as teammates, this might have augured well on the pitch.

It did not. Beset with rumours of illegal payments to players, the Bank of England scandal hit the club with a force that would reverberate for a decade and more. Probably indicative of Revie’s relationship with Sunderland, his one full season in 57/58 ended in relegation for the first time ever from the top division of English football.

Revie did start the following season under disciplinarian Alan Brown, but in a repeated pattern, fell out with his manager after a victory at Rotherham in November 1958.

Revie was transferred to Leeds for £12,000, and the love affair began. He would occupy the role of player-assistant manager, and then player-manager, as he began to fashion a team in his likeness.

Revie during his time at Sunderland

Bob Stokoe was born in Mickley in Northumberland, the son of a Sunderland-supporting miner, in 1930. He signed youth terms with his local club Newcastle, and made his full debut in 1950. He played 261 games, most of these as an uncompromising centre half in a distinguished 10-year career for The Magpies.

He moved to Bury initially as a player, leading them to promotion to the Second Division in 1960. At 31 years old, he became the second youngest player-manager in the Football League, where he led Bury to the semi-finals of the League Cup.

He stopped playing in 1964 and managed Bury for one more season, before spells managing Charlton, Rochdale, Carlisle and Blackpool. He was offered the job at his “first love”, Sunderland, in November 1972, despite the oft-repeated story that Brian Clough and Don Revie had both been interviewed by chairmen Keith Collings for the job.

Stokoe was noted for his honesty, candour and respectful demeanour. He also was an emotional man, given to show his affection and displeasure with equal ease. An indicator of his character and trustworthiness would be his return to previous clubs Blackpool, Carlisle, Rochdale, Bury and of course Sunderland in 1987 in a managerial capacity to help them through crises of one kind or another. Stokoe was never sacked from any managerial post.

Whilst we are focussing on the relationship between Revie and Stokoe, it is worth noting that Stokoe and Clough had history. Many Sunderland fans will have seen the picture of Brian Clough lying injured at the Fulwell End on a frosty boxing day pitch in 1962. This injury ultimately ended his career. The opposition player standing over him in many of the photos is Bob Stokoe, who was incensed at what he regarded as Clough’s attempt to kid the referee into awarding a penalty. Stokoe typically made his feelings known to Clough and the referee. Clough allegedly never forgot the slight.

We can possibly see that Revie and Stokoe, whilst raised and playing in the same era, emerge as very different characters. Revie managed as he played; subtle, sly, full of plans and looking for control. Stokoe on the other hand was robust, obvious, there to do a job and ready to stand tall whatever.

Soccer - Football League Division One - Arsenal v Newcastle United
Bob Stokoe during his playing career at Newcastle
Photo by Barratts/PA Images via Getty Images

Our two protagonists played against each other on a number of occasions, most notably the 1955 FA Cup final. Given their positions on the pitch, they undoubtedly will have had a sense of who and what kind person each was. There is though nothing particular of note in their games against each other as players that can account for the rancour at the 1973 Cup Final.

There is of course a rich history of rancour between Revie’s Leeds and Sunderland leading up to the 1973 Cup Final. Bobby Kerr’s broken leg, sustained in a controversial 1967 FA Cup Fifth Round tie that required three games to decide, lives long in the memory of older supporters. Kerr sustained his fracture on the hour mark of the first tie at Roker Park after a tackle by Norman Hunter. The game was a hotly contested affair, both teams had been promoted together in 64/65, and the rivalry was intense.

The replay was drawn at Elland Road, although most of the action there was off the pitch. 50,000 were inside the ground and the gates were locked half an hour before kick-off, yet fans had scrambled up onto the roof of the Scratching Shed roof. A crush barrier collapsed at the Lowfield/Scratchings corner and many supporters spilled onto the pitch. 18 supporters were taken away in ambulances and, after an appeal for calm by the Leeds chairman, the game resumed but even after extra-time a winner could not be found.

So, to a third tie at “neutral” Boothferry Park in Hull. Over 140,000 fans watched these three games, with few neutrals in the ground, which added to the white-hot atmosphere. Rodney Belfitt, later to sign for Sunderland, had put Leeds ahead in another humdinger of a game. 11 minutes from time an Alan Gauden left foot swerver deservedly equalised, and the ie looked to be heading into extra-time.

A hotly disputed penalty came when Jimmy Greenhoff managed to convince the referee that not only was he on-side, but that Cecil Irwin had fouled him in the box. The Sunderland players were incensed at the decision, supporters were on the pitch. Herd and Mulhall were sent off. Johnny Giles sent Monty the wrong way to score the penalty and settle it for Leeds.

Many years later Peter Lorimer, in his autobiography would confirm the belief by many who watched Leeds in that era, that they played to con and pressure referees, and would target certain opposition players. Referring specifically to this match Lorimer, said that Revie had urged his players to dive if they got anywhere near the box and that referee Ken Stokes was likely to give anything controversial. Greenhoff certainly took him at his word, he looked closer to the halfway line when he fell!

Revie’s Leeds was also the opposition for Sunderland in an early season clash in 1962/63, when the promising young Willie McPheat had his leg broken in a horrendous tackle by Bobby Collins. This both ended McPheat’s top-level career and commenced the bitter animosity between the clubs that was to last a decade and some.

Whilst these incidents might explain the rancour between the clubs, and give an indicator of how Revie was managing his team and their style of play, they do not directly address the relationship between Revie and Stokoe.

Just prior to taking the job at Sunderland, Stokoe had a marvellously talented Scottish midfielder called Tony Green at Blackpool. Stokoe knew he was going to have to sell his prodigious talent, and had approached Bill Shankly to see if he was interested. Stokoe was keen that if he was to lose his protégé he wanted him to go to a good club with a manager who would look after him.

In discussing the situation with Shankly, Stokoe let him know that Leeds were very keen and had offered over the asking price but he was reluctant to sell to Revie. Shankly, perhaps thinking this was a ruse to get him to buy asked why he did not want to do business with Revie. Stokoe recounted an incident during his spell as player-manager of Bury, in the 1961/62 season where Leeds under the player-management of Don Revie were the opposition at Gigg Lane.

Bill Shankly
Bill Shankly (1913 - 1981)
Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images

Bury were not safe from relegation themselves, and were due to play fellow strugglers Leeds home and away within a four-day period. Stokoe alleged that Revie approached him in the car park at Gigg Lane and offered him £500 cash to go easy. Stokoe told Revie where to put his £500. Revie then approached some of the Bury players directly, further incensing the Bury player-manager. Shankly was apparently horrified at this story.

Many years later, Stokoe disclosed that he had discussed the bribery attempt with his chairman before the game and was advised to say nothing. Both games ended in draws and were described as hard-fought, blood and thunder relegation battles. Stokoe obviously made sure Leeds got as little as possible out of less fashionable Bury. In an adjunct to this tale, Stokoe points a finger at his former club Newcastle who, with safety assured themselves, mysteriously lay down in the final game of the 61/62 season at St James Park, gifting Leeds a 3-0 victory, and relegation was avoided! Maybe that £500 found its way into someone else’s pocket, we can only guess?

Stokoe has gone down in Sunderland folklore. His statue outside the Stadium of Light is a deserved and permanent reminder of those halcyon days where the good times returned, and better times were promised.

Revie of course is a revered figure at Leeds. But not really throughout football. The manner of his departure from the England job earned him a 10-year ban for bringing the game into disrepute. Whilst he won a legal appeal in 1978, the judge was not complimentary about his reliability as a witness or his candour! Subsequent disclosures by some of his players lay testament to his tactics and strategies some underhand and some illegal. The balance of doubt gives some credence to Stokoe’s allegation.

Revie made a small fortune in the middle East before returning to the UK in 1984. After an unsuccessful application for the QPR job he retired to Edinburgh in 1985.

Revie was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in 1987, and was quickly confined to a wheelchair as the disease took a cruel hold. He died in Edinburgh in 1989 aged just 61 years old. Bob Stokoe died in 2004 aged 73. He had been unwell for some time with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Alzheimer’s and Motor Neurone Disease are very hot topics within the world of contact sports today, I suspect there is more to come from that situation as medical science increases our knowledge and highlights the risks of repeated head trauma.

Stokoe was cremated in Newcastle, and was remembered as a “real gentleman” by the minister conducting the funeral, who also noted those in attendance from both sides of the Tyne and Wear football communities. Here was a man who even in death continued to unite this passionate footballing divide.

Sunderland v Stoke City - Premier League Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
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