With Sunderland having secured another trip to Wembley, and the FA Cup final taking place this weekend, I’ve been reminiscing about my first ever visit to the legendary stadium - that epic FA Cup final victory over Leeds United on 5th May 1973. I thought I would share my memories of that memorable weekend.
At the time, I was nineteen years old, having supported Sunderland since the age of ten.
In the previous nine years, I cannot recall us getting past the fifth round of the cup, so when we were drawn away to Notts County in the third round in 1972/1973. I wasn’t jumping to the conclusion that we would be reaching the final.
Reach it we did, however, after some memorable games along the way. One game that I remember particularly well was the fifth round replay against Manchester City, in which we won 3-1. Roker Park was rocking that night!
In those days, my routine on matchdays was to meet up with my pals in our local pub in Jarrow for a few pints before we all headed over to the match. During the 1973 cup run, we were lucky enough to get tickets for all of the games, including the final itself.
Oh, what a weekend that was!
At around midnight on the eve of the final, we set off from Jarrow in two cars and travelled to the capital. We checked into our accommodation early on the Saturday morning before heading into London. I can’t remember whether it was Piccadilly or Leicester Square that we headed for, but I do remember that it was hammering down with rain all morning. In fact, there was a rumour spreading that the match might be postponed if the rain continued.
We called into a pub before heading to Wembley, which was full of Sunderland supporters. Not long after we arrived, a group of Leeds fans came in, sat with us and we all had a good bit of banter - so much so, in fact, that we arranged to meet up with them back at the pub after the match.
We then headed to the stadium for the game. As we walked down Wembley Way, the rain had stopped, the sun had come out, and I remember thinking, ‘I hope we just put up a good performance and don’t get a hiding’.
I thought that winning the cup was too much to expect, especially against a Leeds side who were regarded by many as the best team in the country at that time.
The match itself was incredible.
Some of the football we played was a joy to watch, and there was no question of Sunderland freezing on the big occasion. We were standing behind the goal where Ian Porterfield scored and Jimmy Montgomery made his iconic double save, and my nerves got a bit frayed near the end as Leeds pushed for an equaliser, especially when the match went into time added on.
In those days, there was no fourth official holding up the board to show how much time would be added on, so we were all screaming for the referee to blow the whistle. Those few minutes seemed like an eternity to me but at last, the final whistle blew and we’d won the FA Cup.
As we headed back down Wembley Way after the match, we were all slightly subdued.
Looking back, I think it was because none of us could take in what had just happened. By the time we got back to the pub we’d found earlier that day, the realisation that we’d won the cup had sunk in and the drink flowed merrily.
Later that night some of the Leeds fans that we’d met earlier returned to the pub to a huge welcome, and a good night was had by all.
At closing time, we went out into the streets to celebrate with the other Sunderland fans before we somehow managed to find our way back to our accommodation to sleep it off.
Even the car journey home the following day was eventful. We were busy discussing the match and the celebrations when one of our eagle-eyed group spotted that we’d taken a wrong turn and were heading to Wales. A quick turnaround followed, and we were back on the motorway heading home when one of our cars broke down. Fortunately, two of the lads were car mechanics, so they came in handy.
I’ve had four more trips to Wembley to watch Sunderland, all of which have ended in defeat. That first trip to Wembley in 1973, however, is forever etched in my memory.