The current day Sunderland may be starting their season this afternoon, but 51 years ago preparations for the new campaign were only just starting.
Manager Alan Brown welcomed Danish outfit Aalborg BK for the Lads’ opening pre-season game on this day, and with the league commencing in just two weeks’ time an early boost would be most welcome.
That is what exactly what Sunderland got too, although according to John Donoghue’s match report in the following Monday’s edition of The Journal the 3-1 victory was “satisfactory – nothing more”.
Going off his comments it seems as if the game was your typical pre-season fayre then, where the main aim is to allow the players to ease back into things, and with little in the way of action to describe the piece focused mainly on Dave Watson instead.
Having arrived part way through the previous campaign following a big money move from Rotherham United that saw him become Sunderland’s first £100,000 purchase, Watson was gearing up for his first full season at Roker Park. 4 goals in his first 17 games, including a strike on his debut at Watford, represented a decent return from a centre forward whose role included more than simply scoring and his performances helped soften the blow felt by fans following the sale of crowd favourite Colin Todd.
With the team languishing in Division Two following a bitterly disappointing relegation in 1970, supporters impressed with Watson’s aerial ability and work rate felt he could be the one to help turn the club’s fortunes around.
It was an opinion that Donoghue shared, although he did make the point that if Sunderland were to improve, they would need one or two more prospects to share the load.
The performances of Mick McGiven and Dennis Tueart against Aalborg suggested to him that they could be the pair to do so, although Watson’s importance to the side was further underlined by the fact he was involved in all three goals.
With his help, Richie Pitt opened the scoring from close range and Gordan Harris made it 2-0 ten minutes later. Tueart then extended the lead further when he eased the ball underneath visiting goalkeeper Karsten Simensen in the second half.
Tueart was withdrawn shortly after his goal, with the visitors then making a change another minute after that – substitute Erling Andersen coming on and scoring a consolation for his side.
McGiven played on however, asserting himself physically throughout, and Watson finished the full 90 as well. He would get on the scoresheet himself a week later back at his old club Rotherham in the third and final pre-season fixture.
Watson scored Sunderland’s first competitive goal of 1971-72 as well, and predictions that he would be the main man were proven to be correct as he went on to finish the campaign as both an ever-present and the top scorer in league and FA Cup games.
McGiven and Tueart would indeed make significant contributions too, and whilst the Rokerites still fell short in the promotion race there was at least some signs of improvement and a few more positive results that brought a jump from 13th to 5th.
Saturday 31 July 1971
Sunderland 3 (Pitt 31, Harris 41, Tueart 64)
Aalborg BK 1 (Andersen 77)
Sunderland: Montgomery; Malone, Pitt, Harvey, Irwin; Porterfield, McGiven, Tueart (Kerr 65), Hughes; Watson, Harris (Lowrey).
Roker Park, attendance 4,315