The day that Leeds won the league in 1969, Sunderland welcomed one of West Germany’s top sides to Wearside at the start of a summer of cultural exchange and bridge-building with our continental European neighbours.
Alan Brown’s Sunderland were close to the end of a pretty mediocre season which saw them finish 17th in Division 1 and knocked out in the third round of the FA Cup. Wins against Burnley and Wolves had secured our place in the league for the following season, and thoughts turned instead to a summer that brought the promise of home and away games against the likes of Napoli, Verona, and Werder Bremen.
We had already entertained Slavia Prague back in the December of 1968, winning 2-0 against the Czech side, and the first of the summer fixtures came before the domestic league calendar had been concluded, as Bremen, who had finished second in Bundesliga in 1967-68, came to town.
Like Sunderland, Die Grün-Weißen had also had a season to forget with a mid-table finish in the German top-flight. Nevertheless, they brought a strong side across the North Sea, featuring West German internationals like midfielder Max Lorenz and ‘keeper Gunder Bernard both of whom had travelled to England for the World Cup three years earlier, but neither of whom had played.
Most notable amongst their starting eleven was perhaps defender Horst-Dieter Höttges - who won 66 caps for his country and picked up European Championship and World Cup winners medals along the way in a nine year international career.
Yet it wasn’t the most auspicious of openings to the summer as the rain hammered down on Wearside on a miserable Monday night in front of a paltry crowd that numbered little over 3,000.
It was poor fare in the first half, Sunderland’s midfield described as “laboured” by the report in the following day’s Newcastle Journal, which contrasted with the powerful and pacy German outfit who were only let down by their finishing.
The Rokerites came out in the second period with a little more vigour, Bobby Kerr at the forefront of everything good for the home side, seeing his low shot saved by Bernard before Calvin Palmer had a lovely goal ruled out for offside.
Kerr opened the scoring on 62 minutes, converting George Mulhall’s cross with a brilliant header which Bernard could only glance at with his fingertips. Mulhall then went close to doubling Sunderland’s lead, striking the crossbar, but Bremen found the equaliser a few minutes later when midfielder Bernd Schmidt hit a 25-yard shot passed Jimmy Montgomery in the Sunderland goal.
One final opportunity for the Lads to take the victory came at the end when Billy Hughes’ header was cleared off the line by Sepp Piontek, but the supporters had to settle for the draw and a much improved second-half performance as consolation for the soaking they’d received from the English spring weather.
Meanwhile, as this ultimately meaningless game was unfolding, Sunderland’s youngsters were down at the Hawthorns playing in the Youth Cup Final 1st Leg - and lost to West Brom by three goals to nil.
Such was the interest in the progress of the kids that updates from the game were relayed to the crowd at Roker Park over the tannoy system. And we’ll have more on how this match-up was concluded - dramatically - in the next few days...
Our guest from Bremen then went down to Doncaster and lost 2-1 a couple of days later, and Sunderland faced off against Die Werderaner for a second time only nine days later. The Lads began their short end-of-season tour of Germany by losing out 1-0 at the Weserstadion to a goal from Danish forward Ole Bjornmose, making an aggregate score of 2-1.
A 0-1 win at Hannover 96, a loss at second-tier TuS Neuendorf (who at that time were on the up) and a 10-0 victory of the amateur minnows SC Borussia 26 Schüttorf rounded off their first foreign foray before Verona and Napoli arrived in the north east of England for a doubleheader at the end of May. We then followed the Italians back to the Mediterranean for return fixtures in the June sunshine.
So, in 1969, whilst Charles De Gaulle was still determined to keep the Brits out of Europe, Sunderland AFC was continuing our long tradition of playing summer friendlies across our continent and spreading the brand of friendship and goodwill that only the beautiful game can bring.