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Len Ashurst

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On This Day (16 March 1985): Len issues language warning as SAFC beat Norwich in Cup rehearsal

Ashurst wasn’t happy with the behaviour of Sunderland’s supporters at Carrow Road, as new signing Ian Wallace staked a claim for a Wembley start.

Photo by Monte Fresco/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

The 1985 Milk Cup Final has gone down in folklore for all of the right reasons – off the field at least. Sunderland and Norwich supporters got on like a house on fire, the lads and lasses from the north east being magnanimous in defeat, so much so that, for a few years after that 1-0 defeat at Wembley we competed for the ‘Friendly Cup’ whenever we played the Canaries. At the time, hooliganism was rife, football supporters were continually lambasted and treated like crap, and the ‘Friendly Final’ was held up as a beacon of what football should be like.

However, it was something of a parallel universe the weekend before. Sunderland not only emerged victorious in a hugely important league game – we went into the match in 18th position – but the fans faced Len’s wrath for misbehaving at Carrow Road, for trading obscenities – and coins – with their opposite numbers.

After the successful dress rehearsal, Ashurst said.

I didn’t like the behaviour of a section of our fans at Norwich one bit.

They were mouthing foul abuse at the Norwich fans and were getting it back.

Right now, everyone is talking about the conduct of fans. I think their language was filthy with the obscene chants behind the goal.

I don’t want to see or hear that sort of thing at Wembley. I want clean mouths and a decent attitude.

Sunderland had warmed up for Wembley with a convincing 3-1 win, in which youngsters David Corner and Paul Lemon, and Ian Wallace – who had played in place of Colin West, who’d been left out of the team – had played their part.

Soccer - Canon League Division One - Nottingham Forest v Birmingham City
Wallace had been a big money signing for Forest
Photo by Peter Robinson/EMPICS via Getty Images

Wallace, in particular, starred at Carrow Road. In truth, he’d struggled since his arrival at Roker Park in January. His 10th-minute opener was his first goal in red and white, picking up a pass from Dave Hodgson, he put the ball past England international keeper Chris Woods (who of course played for Sunderland in the final ever game at Roker Park more than a decade earlier).

Five years earlier, Brian Clough had made Wallace one of the world’s most expensive strikers after signing him for £1.25m for Forest from Coventry. He’d done reasonably well at Forest – he was top scorer in his first three seasons with the club – but never really hit the heights Clough had hoped, and departed for a short spell at Brest in France.

He’s lasted six months in France before joining Sunderland in the new year, and the 28-year-old was hoping his career was back on the up.

When I scored it was the happiest moment for me for eight months. It was soul destroying at times in France, but now, incredibly, I could be playing at Wembley.

I am certainly ready if needed.

A Greg Downs own goal had extended Sunderland’s lead – Paul Lemon’s free-kick was headed by Wallace onto Down’s bald pate. John Deehan – who would play a crucial role the following weekend – headed a goal for Norwich just before halftime, but Sunderland looked in control despite Norwich’s pursuit of a second-half equaliser.

Gary Rowell
Rowell was on Norwich’s books at the time, having joined from Sunderland the summer before. He only managed one goal for the Canaries, before heading back north to play for Middlesbrough
Photo by J. McKeown/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

With almost 30 minutes left on the clock and the game finely balanced, Norwich brought on one Gary Rowell as they sought out an equaliser, but it was Sunderland who scored the game’s fourth and final goal – the impressive Hodgson scoring in the last minute after good work from Howard Gayle, who carried the ball more than 60 yards before setting up the former Liverpool forward.

All eyes, naturally, turned immediately to Wembley – would West, who’d scored a hattrick in the semi against Chelsea be recalled, or would Wallace retain his place?

I think we all know the answer to that one.


Norwich 1-3 Sunderland

Carrow Road, 13,389

Wallace 10, Downs (OG) 31, Deehan 43, Hodgson 89

Sunderland: Turner, Venison, Pickering, Corner, Chisholm, Elliott, Wallace (Gayle 73), Lemon, Hodgson, Berry, Walker.

Norwich: Woods, Haylock, Downs, Van Wijk, Mendham, Watson, Barham, Channon, Deehan, Hartford, Donowa (Rowell 64)

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