Bob Stokoe was brought in late November 1972 as manager of Sunderland AFC to replace the long-serving Alan Brown. These pages on Roker Report will focus a lot on the charismatic former Newcastle man as we approach the 50th anniversary of the sensational F.A. Cup victory of 1973, but I want to take a look at the reign of Stokoe’s predecessor Brown, the man who was only Sunderland’s seventh manager.
He built much of the FA Cup winning side, although one could argue that Stokoe added important tweaks in Vic Halom, Ron Guthrie and David Young.
My first game at Roker Park was in early May 1968 in my first year as a teen, so the late 1960s and early 1970s represented some of my earliest football memories. The team were languishing near the bottom of the second tier at that time as Brown completed his second spell in charge on November 1st.
When reading of his departure on November 1st,1972 in the excellent “Stokoe, Sunderland and ‘73” book by Lance Hardy, it appears that he was not fired. Syd Collings had been chairman of Sunderland when Brown ended his first spell as manager in 1964, and his son Keith was the newly-minted chairman in 1972. Brown had requested that discussions about his new contract would start and the chairman said that these would take place at the end of the season. The next thing Collings heard via the press was that the manager had resigned; Brown was 58 and never managed again.
The Consett-born man with a reputation as a disciplinarian had been manager at Sunderland from August 1957 to July 1964 for his first spell in charge.
He had steadied the ship after the mid-1950s saw a sharp downturn in Sunderland’s fortunes, as the club was once again implicated in a major financial scandal in 1957. Found guilty of making payments to players in excess of the maximum wage, they were fined £5,000 (£128,000 today), and their chairman and three directors were suspended.
The following year, Sunderland was relegated from the top division for the first time in their 68-year league history. Brown rebuilt the side around youth and took us up in 1964 but left soon after to take the helm at Sheffield Wednesday. In February 1968 he was brought back, until the final parting of the ways just over 50 years ago.
At the time Dave Watson, who had been an Alan Brown signing in 1971 from Rotherham, said:
Everyone was in a state of shock when Browny left. I just thought he was going to be there forever because he was so commanding and demanding. He had principles and he would never change those principles. It was a big blow personally when he left.
Dick Malone, another Brown signing, said:
I felt sad for the man; he wanted to sign a few more players, but the club would not or could not give him the money. But it took the pressure off a little bit when he left because the fans and the press were pillorying the club something rotten.
Not all of the team, notably some of the other true FA Cup-winning heroes were as displeased. Brown had a reputation as a person one did not argue with. For example, Ian Porterfield experienced a falling out with the manager at the start of the 1969-70 season after arguing at a pre-season training camp in Denmark. The Scottish midfielder had already sensed that he would not be one of the blue-eyed boys and as it turned out he was left out of the team virtually the whole season as the side slumped to relegation.
The future FA Cup winner said:
Looking back on those days, I feel I was made an example of by Brown to show others what would happen if they stood up for themselves.
He was back in favour the following season, but it was not a happy time for the midfielder.
Other major talents such as Denis Tueart and Billy Hughes also experiences fallings out with the inflexible Brown, who basically needed players to do as they were told.
One person who prospered under Brown however was Brian Clough who he signed from Middlesbrough; then 63 goals in 74 games in all competitions followed before the injury that would end his career.
Brown’s style of management, tough but fair, no-nonsense and strict codes of conduct would influence Clough during his own managerial career. Both were convinced that they were always right but tried to treat players fairly and give them the confidence to play to the best of their abilities and Clough often cited his mentor as an inspiration.
Ironically, when Bob Stokoe came in as manager, he faced two major issues. The first was that he was seen as a Mag, and secondly, he was not Brian Clough. The Derby boss was seen as being too abrasive and unable to handle the Sunderland hierarchy, so was not approached.
The styles of Stokoe and Alan Brown could not have been any more different. Brown had built a promising side, with an emphasis on youth, but the team performed in a straitjacket mode that forbade much creative play. Stokoe wanted Sunderland to play with the flair and freedom that matched their talent.
Brown will be remembered for stabilising the club after the scandals of the 1950s, and for his outstanding youth policy which resulted in the emergence of Jim Montgomery, Micky Horswill, Ritchie Pitt, Bobby Kerr, Billy Hughes and Denis Tueart. He also signed Dick Malone and Dave Watson.
But I will leave the last word with Hughes who was having regular fall-outs with his manager and was left out of the team for the first eight games of the 1972-73 season.
I just disagreed with his sergeant-major attitude towards players.
He got players playing with fear and I disagreed with it, so we were at loggerheads and I fought with him all the time.
I thought he was wrong and I voiced my opinion and at the time you didn’t do that.
So he used to make me train on my own, all these sorts of things.
Things changed under the charismatic Stokoe, and happily we all know what happened next.