The story of Sunderland’s Milk Cup semi-final second leg at Stamford Bridge in March 1985 is well known. The trip to Chelsea was packed full of incident, but we shouldn’t forget that the first leg of the semi-final that was played on this date was almost as highly charged – both on and off the pitch. Roared on by the largest Wearside crowd of the season both sides went full pelt, but not everybody was there to simply back their side and following disturbances in the stands club officials claimed they had been left with the “worst damage we have seen at Roker Park”.
After several scuffles in and around the ground before kick off the main flashpoint was thought to have come when a police officer attempted to arrest a Chelsea supporter for throwing a missile. The situation quickly escalated and further objects started being thrown towards the Sunderland fans, including those in the disabled section. Around 200 seats were reported to have been ripped out during the melees and the Blue Bell pub was targeted after the match. There were over 90 arrests made in total across the evening, although in between all the aggro a football match did manage to break out.
Even then though, Sunderland had to fight in order to earn the right to play. Chelsea did the double over the Lads during the league campaign and were a handy side in every sense, and with the ball bouncing high off a hard surface there was a battle of wills to be had. Len Ashurst’s men seemed up for it however and after starting on the back foot slowly grew into the game. Chelsea looked to play the long ball throughout but most of their openings fizzled out and Chris Turner, who was excellent in some of the earlier rounds of the cup run, had a fairly quiet time of it.
Playing in front of the goalkeeper despite being an injury doubt beforehand was Gordon Chisholm. David Hodgson was also a doubt going into the game, whereas top scorer Clive Walker had to be given a pain killing injection beforehand having picked up a knock in the previous round at Watford and subsequently missed the next two league games. In was an in game problem that had the biggest impact though, when an early injury to Joe McLaughlin saw him replaced by Chelsea substitute Dale Jasper.
McLaughlin suffered a fractured arm following a collision with the bustling Colin West, who harried the Chelsea defence throughout. Paul Canoville was booked for throwing a punch at Barry Venison shortly after, and the temperature continued to rise when Jasper handled the ball in the box barely five minutes after his introduction. Referee Don Shaw adjudged that the new arrival had been climbed on by West and gave the decision to the visitors, but that would be the last thing to go the way of the youngster and a hectic few minutes culminated with him handling once more.
This time a penalty was awarded to Sunderland, who had broken quickly and seen Hodgson’s right wing cross clearly blocked by an arm. Walker, who had left Chelsea over the summer and claimed in the build-up that this was the biggest game of his career, had been the designated penalty taker in previous games but this time the opportunity was given to West instead. He himself had scored twice from the spot earlier in the season and did so again here, thumping the ball past Eddie Niedzwiecki.
The Lads could have easily had a second goal before half time with both Walker and West going close, and the chances continued to come in the second half. Chelsea began to fade as the game went on though, and Jasper gave away another penalty after he unceremoniously barged West over in the 18 yard box when trying to get to a long Hodgson throw in that had looped up. After dusting himself off West stepped up once more and opted for the same side, and whilst Niedzwiecki was able to get a glove on the shot it came off the post and right back into his path for a simple finish.
Some slick moves in the closing stages lead to chances for Hodgson and Peter Daniel but West’s brace proved to be it for the evening – the rest of the drama would have to wait for the second leg 19 days later. With all hell breaking loose around them the team somehow managed to stay composed and finished the job in London, but it could have been very different had they not gone into it with their noses already in front.
Wednesday 13 February 1985
Milk Cup semi-final first leg
Sunderland 2 (West 27, 67)
Sunderland: Turner; Venison, Bennett, Chisholm, Pickering; Hodgson, Elliott, Berry, Walker; Daniel, West. Unused: Wallace.
Roker Park, attendance 32, 440