Last week we looked at Sunderland’s friendly game against Werder Bremen on 28 April 1969, which was played at the same time as our youth team was taking part in the first leg of the FA Youth Cup against West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns, and we promised to revisit the story this week to look at the tie’s remarkable conclusion.
Sunderland had beaten midlands opposition two years previously, prevailing over Birmingham City in 1967 and this side was, according to those in the know at the club, even stronger than that one.
But the first game of the 1969 final in front of 17,000 people was lost 3-0 despite Sunderland completely dominating the game. The Baggies ‘keeper Gordon Nisbet was the decisive factor, his form kept the Lads from scoring despite relentless pressure whilst the home side was clinically dangerous on the break.
Such was the sense that we were clearly the stronger side, Sunderland AFC pulled out all the stops to give the boys the best chance of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. The players were treated to a night in the Seaburn Hotel to get them in the big-match mood.
Youth team boss Alan Ashman and manager Alan Brown put all their hopes on making a quick start and scoring early goals despite the counterattacking threat posed by the likes of a young Len Cantello. As Brown told the Newcastle Journal:
I think we will have to take that risk. Obviously, it’s a tall order for them to pull back three goals, but it’s well within their capabilities.
Both sides announced unchanged starting elevens in advance of the game itself, and Sunderland’s approach of all-out attack early on was to prove a masterstroke.
Silksworth-born fullback John Tones set... well... the tone for the game with the first for the Lads in the seventh minute with a smart finish from a Mick McGiven cross and, according to reports, when the lead was doubled on 22 minutes the visitors “lost their heads” and “began to kick everything that moved” and had two players sent off!
There was little that Nisbet could do to stop Paddy Lowrey, who picked up a quick hattrick with McGiven once again providing inspiration for Sunderland going forward as well as frustration for West Brom, playing their midfield out of the game.
As a result of McGiven’s domination, West Brom’s Richard Hartford, who would go on to be a Scottish international, was given his marching orders after a series of bad fouls and a volley bad language aimed at the officials. Young Bobby Park also scored a penalty after McGiven had been headbutted in the box by his countryman Jim Holton, his first spot-kick for the club.
A final score of 6-0 saw Sunderland lift the FA Youth Cup for the second time in three seasons, and yet, remarkably, the youngsters seemed unable to final pleasure in their glorious victory. Despite scoring a hattrick, Lowrey told the Journal that he was a bit disappointed:
I didn’t feel any great sense of achievement scoring those goals. We didn't want to do it this way, with two of their lads set off. We were quite capable of beating them fair and squad and it was a pity the match was spiled as a contest.
Skipper Keith Coleman, however, was a little cheerier, grinning as he stated to the papers that he knew we had them beaten “from the moment we kicked off”.
Sunderland’s Scottish forward Park was considered to have the potential to be one of the best young players of his generation and scored a penalty against Newcastle the subsequent year, but unfortunately had to retire aged only 17 after breaking his leg three times. Andrew Smithson told his tragic story in an On This Day last August.
Richie Pitt, of course, would play a big part in that whole famous 1973 FA Cup campaign including the victory at Wembley. Tones and McGiven both played in the two Third Round games it took Bob Stokoe’s side to progress past Notts County but otherwise missed out.
Coleman, despite playing the first half of the 1973 season at left-back, only featured as an unused sub in the FA Cup fourth round reply at Reading, whilst forward John Lathan - who had a fine game against West Brom and made a total of 62 senior appearances for the club - only played in that game too as well as coming on as a sub at Notts County.
Only Lunn and McIver from that Youth Cup Final squad failed to play for our first team, but for a team that had much promise, it ultimately only produced a trickle of players who really made it for the senior squad. Indeed, it could be argued that the West Brom side probably produced more famous names in the long run.
But Sunderland’s remarkable 6-3 aggregate victory Youth Cup win sits in the club’s history books amongst the most unlikely honours we’ve achieved down the years.