Since winning the FA Cup in 1973 our record had been pretty dismal in the competition, that was until 1992 when we lost out to Liverpool in the final. In between those occasions, we only went beyond the fourth round once, and in 18 attempts were knocked out in the third round 11 times.
So when the cup-run of 1992 came around, it not only came from nowhere, but rekindled a passion for a competition that for too long had not even hinted at success. On that run to the final in 1992, Malcolm Crosby’s side took down three sides from the top flight in West Ham United, Chelsea and Norwich City, which meant we still had an appetite for FA Cup giant-killing 12 months later.
Just as the previous year, the cup was giving us a distraction when we had knocked out Notts County 2-0 at Meadow Lane in the third round and then drawn top flight opposition in the form of Trevor Francis’ Sheffield Wednesday.
As a hangover of the previous season there was excitement around the draw, despite us once again struggling in Barclays League Division One, in the opening season of the newly formed Premier League.
The adventure that took us to the Wembley final against Liverpool masked a whole host of issues at the club as Malcolm Crosby was promoted from caretaker to manager - and anticipation was high that an appearance in a major final could be the springboard for better times.
But our summer dealings hinted otherwise. Grimsby Town’s captain Shaun Cunnington was signed for around £650,000, along with John Colquhoun from Millwall for £250,000 and Terry Butcher, who was with Wednesday as a non-contract player the previous season, signed as a free agent.
By the time the cup competition arrived at the beginning of 1993, our highest league position had been 14th, and we sat 17th and seven points above the drop-zone as, in typical fashion, 7,500 planned their trip to South Yorkshire from Wearside.
In other news in the days leading up to our big fourth round tie, magistrates in Newcastle were told that environmental health officers had found pies that were destined for consumption at Roker Park, were being stored in a “dilapidated, filthy depot” in Newcastle. It was reported that the floor of the warehouse was “covered in cigarette ends, dustbins overflowed with rubbish and birds circled above an uncovered crate of pies”.
I always knew there was something beyond the blocks of ice in the middle of those pies that wasn’t quite right.
It had been around nine months since our victory over Norwich City at Hillsborough and we began once again undaunted against top flight opposition to defy our league form. Michael Gray had made his debut for the club at Derby County about a month earlier and whilst impressing at full-back, created an early opportunity for Shaun Cunnington; the ex-Grimsby Town man placed his shot wide.
After that, it was a dogged, rear-guard action from Malcolm Crosby’s side, who were missing top scorer Don Goodman through an ankle injury picked up in training. Chris Waddle had returned to England from the continent when he signed for Wednesday for £1million from Marseille the previous summer and was constantly pulling the strings.
Time after time Waddle would create a chance for a colleague, and time after time they would find Tony Norman in inspired form, just as he was throughout the cup run the previous year. But just as it looked like we would get through it and claim a replay under the lights at Roker, it happened.
After consistent high quality supply from Chris Waddle throughout the match, it was maybe ironic that it came from a ball in from Nigel Worthington that was smashed high into the sky, which although looked routine for Norman to claim, led commentator Clive Tyldesley to utter the words “it’s an awkward one for Norman”.
It wasn’t, but then it was, as Norman could only palm the ball back into the goalmouth as the Welsh international fell back away from goal, to leave a simple finish for Mark Bright to score; knocking last season’s finalists out of the cup and leave Malcolm Crosby lamenting the fact we couldn’t hold out for a result in front of the travelling fans:
It was one of those balls that Tony would pull out of the air nine times out of ten. Unfortunately, he dropped so late we couldn’t fight our way back at that stage. It is cruel but we have to now look forward to the last half of the League season. We still have something to play for.
We didn’t come here for a draw, but to get one would have been a good result and I would have been confident if we had hung on and got them back to our place. We did everything right but one mistake cost us the game. We proved we are a very hard side to beat and we have lost only two games in the last ten, so things look good for the future.
Well, on that front, it also turned out after the final whistle that South Yorkshire police were reporting Terry Butcher to the Football Association for crowd incitement. Officials claimed it led to a pitch invasion from the Sunderland fans, but Butcher commented on the reasons for his actions:
I’ve been doing it for the last two months, home and away and it will be very disappointing if people regard it as more than just a bit of good-natured fun. The fans wait for it, they expect it and it just shows the rapport that I have built up with them.
That rapport would be tested to the limit when the ex-England international was appointed as the new player-manager of Sunderland a fortnight later.
Sunday 24th January, 1993
FA Cup 4th Round
Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 Sunderland
Sheffield Wednesday: Woods, Nilsson, Pearson (Palmer), Shirtliff, Worthington, Harkes, Wilson, Sheridan, Waddle, Bright, Watson (Bart-Williams)
Sunderland: Norman, Kay, Butcher, Ball, Gray, Cunnington, Atkinson, Armstrong, Mooney (Owers), Rush, Davenport Substitute not used: Bennett