On this day in 1968, Ron Greenwood’s “School of Soccer Science” were the pre-Christmas visitors to Roker Park.
An 8-0 (yes Eight!) mauling in October at the Boleyn Ground had reduced me to tears earlier in the season. Geoff Hurst had scored a double hat-trick on a day that had famously prompted Ronald Atkin of the Observer to record, “Hurst was allowed to keep the match ball, which was only proper since he had it for most of the game”.
I galloped to my position in the Boy’s Enclosure of the Roker End, still traumatised by this beating, but clutching at any straws I could find. These straws were:
- Todd had not been playing that day back in October, he was in the first team today and Hurst would not get a look in!
- The first of Hurst’s six goals was undoubtedly put into the net by his hand, had this been spotted by the referee it would have made all the difference?
- Our home form coming into this game was not too bad (we had won 7 and drawn 2, losing only 2 to Man City the champions from 67/68, and Leeds who would go on to be champions that season).
- Our clutch of home-grown young players, Kerr, Suggett and Hughes (as well as Todd) would be too much for an ageing West Ham defence.
So there you have it, the logic of a ten-and-a-half-year-old - we were going to win and avenge the 8-0 drubbing and this would be the start of our push for Europe!
A bone-hard pitch and a bone chilling day was the welcome for the aristocrats from the capital as they took the field. Apart from our chief tormentor Hurst, I recognised Martin Peters and the ever-resplendent Bobby Moore.
I was disappointed that Ian Porterfield was only named as sub - Calvin Palmer and Gordon Harris had not grown on me at all and seemed out of place in what seemed to my young eyes to be a young vibrant midfield and forward line!
We set off at a great pace as the game kicked off, moving the ball accurately and well about the whole of the park and crunching into tackles when the Hammers dared to gain some possession.
After five minutes or so, the very lively Suggest won a free-kick outside the Hammers box. “Bullet” Mulhall found Palmer just inside their box and his lob seemed to confuse Ferguson in the West Ham goal (as well as me, I thought Palmer had squaffed it!), the roar of the crowd confirmed we were 1-0 up.
It gave us a chance to leap up and down and get warm in the Boy's Enclosure.
The game continued with Sunderland generally in the ascendency and on thirteen minutes a free kick from Cecil Irwin was headed on by Hurley to Harris, who had the simple task of tapping the ball over the line, cue more celebrations, with the Boys enclosure in particular enjoying some more warming leaping up and down on a very cold day.
Two nil and seemingly cruising, West Ham contrived to get back into the game.
On 27 minutes Bobby Moore collected a ball on the edge of his own box, in a flash he had delivered an inch perfect pass to Martin Peters who wasted no time in pinging a pinpoint cross to you know who! Hurst slammed a header into the back of our goal before Monty had the chance to even move, his seventh goal against us that season!
If this was the cue for West Ham to kick on, thankfully it did not happen exactly that way.
Kerr and Hurley both went close for us before half-time. Monty produced a fantastic save from West Ham’s lively winger, who had been giving the usually calm Martin Harvey a torrid afternoon, though it meant little to me at the time, that winger was Harry Redknapp.
Moore and Peters both went close before the break with long range shots that Monty managed to hang on to.
Half-time was met with a loud roar of approval and applause for our Lads as they trooped off. Todd and Hurley had been particularly prominent and my two least favourite players had scored the goals that had us in front.
The second half resumed at much the same pace, we were generally on top, and snapping into tackles when we did not have the ball. Bobby Moore seemed to have all the time in the world to play his game, but in Todd and Hurley he had good company that day, as all three displayed their ability to bring the ball out of defence and find a pass to a teammate.
Whilst only one goal in front in any game, it’s hard not to feel a little nervous as a fan.
So it was in this game, despite our general dominance.
In the last quarter of the game, Hurst was put through by a defence-splitting Moore pass. He looked odds on for his eighth goal against us that season, and from no-where Hurley slid in with perfect timing, taking ball and man and saving the day - what a roar he got from the crowd.
Porterfield had replaced Mulhall and showed some lovely touches given the surface.
In the dying minutes, Hurley could have increased our lead with an excellent header from a Suggett cross. If Ferguson had been somewhat bemused by our first goal, he made amends with an excellent save to deny our Man of the Match.
The game finished with a 2-1 victory for the Lads. As I made my way out into the cold evening air, I convinced myself we were avenged for our earlier season drubbing and that the only way was up for my team.
It did not work out that way, the second half of the 68/69 season was a bit of a slog as our home form just about deserted us and our away form continued to be dire.
We spent the second half of the season looking anxiously at the bottom of the table rather than the top and finished the season in 17th place on 34 points, just four points in front of relegated Leicester who went down with a badly misfiring QPR on 18 points.
I remember this game particularly as one where I not only appreciated my own team’s performance, but was able to acknowledge the skills of Moore and the tricky Hammers winger Redknapp.
This game was also the first of two games in five days over the festive period for me, I thought at the time all my Christmases had come at once when I was picked up and whisked off to the Boxing day game against Sheffield Wednesday!
SAFC: Montgomery. Harvey. Irwin. Hurley. Todd. Harris. Palmer. Kerr. Suggett. Mulhall (Porterfield). Hughes.
West Ham: Ferguson. Charles. Bonds. Moore. Stephenson. Cushley. Lindsay. Boyce. Peters. Hurst. Redknapp.
Scorers: Sunderland - Palmer 5mins. Harris 13mins. West Ham - Hurst 27mins.