After their famous FA Cup success in 1973, Sunderland were expected to kick on during Bob Stokoe’s first full season in charge and return to the top flight with the minimum of fuss.
Things did not quite go to plan however, and with the side breaking up the ‘Messiah’ was forced to reshape his squad.
It would be three years before the club were finally ready to win promotion, but after confirming their place back in the big time five days earlier a win over Portsmouth on this day in 1976 meant they went up as champions too.
Before kick off a crowd of over 40,000, the biggest gate in Britain that day, welcomed the Lads onto the pitch with the visitors forming a guard of honour.
Bottom club Pompey had already been relegated, and after making such a sporting gesture Ian St John’s team did little to spoil the party mood.
They were second best all day, as had been most opposition at Roker Park that season, to be fair.
Following a lively start Sunderland took the lead when Joe Bolton struck from just outside the penalty area.
Collecting the ball off Billy Hughes in the left hand channel the fullback cut inside and hit a lovely shot past Phil Figgins in front of the Fulwell End, and the goalkeeper was beaten again a couple of minutes later following another move down that side of the pitch.
This time it was Hughes that got the goal, heading home smartly from close range when Ray Train’s excellent cross found him unmarked on the edge of the six yard box.
Overseeing proceedings from the dugout was new assistant manager Ian MacFarlane, who had been installed six weeks earlier following the shock departure of the popular Arthur Cox.
The Scot had been at the club for a short coaching stint six years earlier and with Stokoe seemingly agreeing to giving him his head he was now taking a more active role.
In time it would be claimed that his arrival sped up the departure of some of the remaining members of the 1973 side, but at this point Sunderland were on a roll and they continued to pepper Portsmouth’s goal.
Tony Towers hit the post in the second half and top scorer Pop Robson forced a fine save from Figgins, but it was already job done in every sense.
The game had been won and with it so too had the Division Two title; supporters streamed onto the pitch upon hearing the full time whistle, but it was not until Bobby Kerr’s well deserved testimonial two days later that they got to see the trophy being presented.
The side had their moments in 1973-74 and 1974-75 but were never able to sustain it.
By the time of the 1975-6 campaign fans were getting to the point where they didn’t care how Sunderland got up as long as they did it, but the club’s first ever title at this level was still a nice bonus.
The fact it was done courtesy of a comfortable home win was quite apt too – form on the road had been okay, but Roker had been a fortress all year and on this day in 1976 Sunderland were crowned champions.
Saturday 24 April 1976
Football League Division Two
Sunderland 2 (Bolton 28, Hughes 31)
Sunderland: Swinburne; Malone, Moncur, Ashurst, Bolton; Kerr, Towers, Train, Hughes; Holden, Robson. Substitute: Greenwood
Roker Park, attendance 40, 515