Sunderland AFC has emerged dynamically from the six-game Autumn winless run that yielded just two goals, and despite a plethora of injuries, the best team seems to have emerged. The young midfield we are blessed with is simply talented and dynamic, and we are looking worthy of a spot in the top two in League One.
So now that Sunderland are scoring goals again, as the three emphatic League One 5-0 home victories in the first half of the season testify to, this brings to mind some other memorable times when our team has hit the back of the net more than perhaps we expected.
One of those formative former memories was early in April 1971, which started as a typical Saturday afternoon when myself and fellow teenage supporters from Boldon would cycle to games, leaving our bikes with my aunt on Roker Avenue.
Our opponents that afternoon were Swindon Town, who at the time was a mid-table Championship (Division Two) team. It was a bit of a low point for the home team, with a meagre Roker Park crowd of just 8,596 in a lull towards the end of the Alan Brown era.
We were 14th in the league having not won since overcoming Blackburn Rovers at home late in January. In six of the eight games since then, we had not scored.
We had a decent-looking side, with seven members of the eventual FA Cup winning side some two years later playing that day. So, many of the stars we now know as Roker legends: Montgomery, Malone, Pitt, Porterfield, Kerr, Watson and Hughes were on the team sheet; an indication that almost all clubs were much more stable in terms of player turnover in those days. Little did we in the crowd expect that the first half against the Robins would prove to be one of the biggest positive surprises of the season.
This is what is so great and almost addictive about attending live games. We can watch history being made, good and bad, experiencing both pleasure and pain.
I was there with the Red and White Army eight years later when nine-man Sunderland won 2-1 at Turf Moor, memorably becoming the first team to have lost two players with the score at 0-0 but still recording a victory.
At the other end of the scale being present at Vicarage Road against eventual Division One (Premier League in today’s money) runners-up Watford, as we went down 8-0, which sticks in the memory for other reasons… and is still our equal record league defeat.
The positive shock to the system I witnessed on April 3rd 1971 was that we scored five goals against a talented Swindon side in just 29 first-half minutes.
Paddy Lowrey, who along with John Lathan had been dominant scorers for the reserve team, claimed an opener after 9 minutes, then Bobby Kerr netted a brace before twenty minutes of the game had elapsed to stun the meagre home crowd.
But when Billy Hughes scored on 32 and 38 minutes, I thought, “What have we just seen?!” – a team in the doldrums, hitting five in under half an hour.
Andrew Cockburn described those five goals in more detail on these pages here - but on that April afternoon, Swindon eventually stabilised, and pulled two back, so the match ended 5-2.
I am not aware whether that is a record goal haul in a half-hour period of play for Sunderland, but it was truly amazing. The TV cameras weren’t there as I recall, but the local evening news announcer said memorably: “Sunderland got their shooting boots on this afternoon” and it was a huge surprise in the context of the season.
Manager Alan Brown, who had successfully rebuilt the side after the illegal payment scandals of the 1950’s, was in his second spell at Roker Park, but struggled to deliver a second promotion to the top division. Remarkably, he led the Black Cats for a total of 550 games but was sacked in November 1972 to make way for a certain Bob Stokoe, and the rest, as they say, is history.