Following an indifferent showing in the inaugural Anglo-Italian Cup in 1970, Sunderland took part again two years later, only to get off to a bad start.
After throwing away a two-goal lead against Atalanta, the Lads were keen to give a better account of themselves on this day in 1972, but whilst they produced an excellent showing against Cagliari, the match still ended on a sour note.
A cloudburst in Bergamo shortly before the intended kick off had meant that the Atalanta game had to be put back by twenty four hours, but it was a different type of storm that Alan Brown’s men had to endure after they headed to Sardinia.
An on-pitch brawl between the players led to the dismissal of home prospect De Carmine, and following the full-time whistle, sections of an already unhappy crowd, dissatisfied at the performance of Manchester-based referee Bob Matthewson during an often ill-tempered spectacle, started pelting the officials and visiting side with stones.
Police were forced to move in on around one hundred supporters, although they were unable to prevent the wife and young daughter of Cagliari goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi from suffering minor injuries in the melee.
Shameful scenes indeed, but what made them even harder to fathom was the fact the game had not exactly captured the imagination of the locals in the first place – other than a Full Members Cup tie at Charlton Athletic in 1988 and a Football League Trophy trip to Scunthorpe United in 2019, this was the third-lowest attendance to watch a competitive Sunderland first team game since World War II.
Those that did turn up however, and just wanted to enjoy the action, were treated to a very good performance from the Lads against what was a quality side.
The hosts had won Serie A in 1969-70, and during the preceding campaign, they’d finished fourth, qualifying for the UEFA Cup in the process, whilst Albertosi was a regular for the Italian national side. He was fully tested too, with Sunderland, despite the needle, looking to play adventurous football whenever possible.
Dennis Tueart caught the eye and gave his side the lead, which was doubled seconds after by Bobby Kerr. Winger Alessandro Vitali then came up with a quick response and briefly looked as if Sunderland would buckle, but after letting their lead slip and going on to lose 3-2 against Atalanta two days earlier. they were in determined mood.
The side dug in until half time, and after the interval they wrestled control back – John Lathan’s goal with just over fifteen minutes left securing a deserved victory.
With the trip now over, Sunderland returned to Wearside with seven players said to be nursing minor knocks following a bruising encounter, but they still had a slight chance of qualifying for the final.
The tournament format saw teams from Division One, Division Two and Serie A put into mini groups of four- each one comprised of two teams from England and two teams from Italy, with the Lads placed in Group Two, alongside Leicester City.
Each side then played the two teams from the other country twice, with additional points awarded for each goal scored. The points were then used to rank sides from the same country, with the top club from each making the showpiece.
In the final reckoning though, two home draws did for Sunderland and they finished second bottom of the English table.
It was a slightly disappointing end to what had actually been a decent effort. Brown’s team were in the second tier after all, yet had given two very capable sides from the continent plenty of problems. Atalanta had comfortably finished in mid-table in Serie A, and pushing a strong Cagliari team all the way in an entertaining 3-3 draw at Roker Park was no mean feat.
Beating them in their own backyard amidst a very unwelcoming atmosphere was the real eye-catcher however, and it happened half a century ago today.
Sunday 4 June 1972
Anglo-Italian Cup Group Two
Cagliari 1 (Vitali 20)
Sunderland 3 (Tueart 15, Kerr 16, Lathan 73)
Sunderland: Montgomery, Malone, Horswill; Pitt, Bolton, Porterfield; McGiven, Kerr, Tueart; Watson, Lathan.
Stadio Comunale Sant’Elia. Attendance: 1,680.