It had been described as Sunderland’s busiest-ever closed season. Alan Brown’s side had already been on tour once after the end of the 1968-69 Division 1 season, playing four games in Germany at the beginning of May, and started a three-fixture tour of Italy on this day 53 years ago.
Before we had set off for both expeditions we had also welcomed German and Italian guests to play at Roker Park, with first Bundesliga Werder Bremen (see Rich’s On This Day story from April this year, below) and then Serie A sides Napoli and Verona arriving for games on Wearside in the late spring.
Napoli had taken a narrow 0-1 victory back to southern Italy, but their northern cousins Hellas Verona had gone down 2-1, with goals from Colin Harris and Gordon Suggett sealing the win for the Lads in front of a crowd of around 3,500 on 24th May.
The club had effectively disposed of the services of long-time servants Len Ashurst and Charlie Hurley and were focusing on their efforts on youth. The young Lads, having won the FA Youth Cup for the second time in three years only a few weeks earlier, were also sent abroad to play and featured in a tournament in the Netherlands against Borussia Mönchengladbach and PSV Eindhoven.
Alan Brown saw exposure to continental football as important to the development of young players like Ritchie Pitt and Dennis Tueart, who has both broken into the first team during the Lads' domestic season, and the club also had an eye on the inaugural Ango Italian Cup, which began in 1970, so return fixtures were organised with both Napoli and Verona, as well as a game against their near neighbours, Vicenza.
Verona had just completed their first season in Serie A where they’d managed a respectable tenth place. Their goalscorer from the first tie, Giulio Sega, missed this match as the hosts manager Giancarlo Cade, in the second of his four stints as Verona boss, made several changes to their starting eleven.
Sergio Madde and Emiliano Mascetti, who had been subbed on at half time in the first game, also came into their starting eleven along with Sergio Petrelli and former Milan and Italy defender Mario Trebbi.
Sunderland had brought young Mick McGiven along with Martin Harvey and Brian Heslop into the side, and made a decent start, scoring the first through a Calvin Palmer penalty on 23 minutes.
However, former Juventus striker Vincenzo Traspedini scored two before and Gianni Bui two after the break to give the home side an unassailable 4-1 lead, before 70 minutes Colin Todd grabbed a consolation for Sunderland.
The next game against Napoli would bring further disappointment, a 5-1 defeat, before some pride was salvaged as the final match against Vicenza was drawn 2-2.
After the end of the tour, Alan Brown told Evening Chronicle on 9th June that:
The tour achieved the purpose for which it was intended. That was to give our young players much-needed experience and to bring them on quickly. Evidence of the success of the tour will show itself in the next year or so.
Italian football is vastly different at home from when they are playing abroad. It is very fast and intelligent and they break away marvellously.
We now know that the following season would be a complete disaster, with relegation from Division 1 before we were knocked out of the Anglo-Italian Cup at the Group Stage. Alan Brown’s youth focus - bringing on the likes of Pitt, Kerr, Tueart, and Porterfield would pay dividends, but only once Bob Stokoe took over the reins.
AC Hellas Verona:
De Min, Ripari, Petrelli, Mascetti, Battistoni, Trebbi, Madde, Mazzanti, Traspendini, Bonatti, Bui
Montgomery, Harvey, Heslop, McGiven, Pitt, Todd, Harris, Tueart (Hughes), Palmer, Suggett, Porterfield.