It was exactly seven days after our historic win against Newcastle United in the play-off semi-final at St James’ Park, and the anticipation for the final against Swindon Town was cranking up by the day.
Demand was so high that the game was about to set a new record attendance for the play-offs, with around 80,000 expected at the national stadium, beating the previous record of 66,081 over two legs that was set when Chelsea met Middlesbrough in 1988.
It was the first year that the Wembley was due to host the Football League play-offs over the bank holiday weekend, and Sunderland’s initial allocation of 30,000 were quickly snapped up by season ticket holders and members.
Sunderland then pleaded for an increase to the initial allocation and received an extra 3,000 that were delivered in the middle of the night by car, but as Sunderland general manager Geoff Davidson explained in the Chronicle, it was doubtful we would receive any further additional tickets:
The fervent feeling from Sunderland fans has been incredible. We have been simply overwhelmed by the demand. Season ticket holder had snapped up virtually all our original allocation of 30,000 when we stopped selling tonight.
That meant we literally only had a handful for the general public, but fortunately we have another consignment of about 3,000 being delivered overnight.
We hope that supporters will bear with us on Wednesday morning because there may be a delay before we get the extra tickets from Wembley on sale.
Denis Smith was present in his office as fans queued up in the hope that they would get there hands on a coveted ticket for the game, and the Sunderland manager commented on the scenes:
Just looking out there at all those fans makes me realise why I came here. The demand for tickets is staggering. It should be a terrific atmosphere at Wembley. This game has really captured the imagination both up here and in Swindon where I understand they have sold out as well.
Meanwhile, it was announced that Sunderland had lost the toss ahead of the game, meaning they would be the ‘away’ side and would need to play in their changed blue kit. Sunderland had the choice of wearing the blue or the yellow third strip that was worn on occasions, but as Denis Smith explained, the side seemed to perform better in the second blue colours:
It doesn’t matter at all what we are wearing, the real battle is out there on the pitch. We have lost a few games in the yellow strip and some of the lads are superstitious, so there’s no problem.
Thanks Denis, glad you cleared that one up.
The players had just arrived back from a trip to Minorca that followed the victory against Newcastle, and speculation gathered as to who would be taking the place on the left of midfield for Sunderland.
It had been Warren Hawke who was in possession of the place at St James’ Park after he was handed his first start of the season in a surprise move by Denis Smith, with the likes of Kieron Brady and Brian Atkinson looking to take the place of the injured Colin Pascoe and the suspended Paul Hardyman.
In other news, it was announced that the futures of John MacPhail and Eric Gates would not be decided until we knew our fate. Both players were out of contract and their futures were uncertain and could rest on the result of the final against Swindon.
There was also transfer speculation as Sunderland were linked with bring former central defender Rob Hindmarsh back to Roker, six years after he was released on a free transfer. Wolves were also interested in the £300,000-rated defender, while newly promoted Sheffield United were also monitoring the situation following their step up to Division One.