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On This Day (13 August 1988): Denis Smith issues Sunderland players with a Storm warning

Reigning Western Soccer Alliance champions Seattle Storm were on Wearside 34 years ago today for what proved to be a peculiar afternoon 

Pre match pleasantries, as seen in the 1988-89 Bournemouth edition of the Roker Review

Sunderland’s 2022-23 campaign might be underway already, but the last time they were promoted into the second tier the season didn’t start until the end of August. Preparations for their return to Division Two in 1988 had begun however, and despite a warm-up game played on this day being packed full of incidents, manager Denis Smith was still hoping for more from his squad ahead of the big kick off.

Despite being winners of Division Three in 1987-88, The Lads were not the only ones on a high. Opponents Seattle Storm were in town having topped the Western Soccer Alliance, losing only two of their regular season games as they earned automatic qualification for the Play-Off final. Their dominance was then confirmed less than a month before arriving on Wearside when they beat San Jose Earthquakes 5-0 to be crowned overall champions.

Marco goes close, as seen in the 1988-89 Bournemouth edition of the Roker Review

The visitors looked in good shape during the initial stages too, but they were soon being grateful to their goalkeeper for keeping the score down. In saving two penalties, both from spot kick expert John MacPhail no less, Jeff Koch made a bit of a name for himself - and given the stick he’d received from some sections of the crowd due to his actual name, he no doubt took great satisfaction from it.

Afterward, MacPhail admitted to having changed his mind about which side to put his first penalty just moments before striking the ball. In between the two stops he actually scored from the spot, but later in the second half a third effort was turned away by Koch too, with that stop subsequently being described by MacPhail as “fabulous”; a word Sunderland fans would no doubt use now to describe any positive news about his ongoing battle with serious illness.

MacPhail’s successful shot came shortly after half time to put Sunderland 2-0 up, the hosts having gone ahead just before the break thanks to some classic ‘G Force’ chemistry when Marco Gabbiadini latched onto an Eric Gates flick on and hit home a rising drive. Captain Gary Bennett completed the scoring when he headed home from a set piece, but after gaining complete control Smith was unhappy to see his players take their foot off the pedal.

The boss later told the press he had blasted his side following the game, feeling they had become too casual in the closing stages and failed to treat the match as “practise for the real thing”. There were also voices being raised within the officials’ changing room at the same time seemingly, with Seattle’s Peter Hattrup going in to remonstrate with referee George Tyson over some of his on pitch decisions.

Wharton gets involved, as seen in the 1988-89 Bournemouth edition of the Roker Review

The second half substitute enjoyed several personal successes in 1988, being named in the Western Soccer Alliance All Stars side and representing the United States at futsal, but Tyson, who had also been recognised that year when selected to run the line in the FA Cup final between Liverpool and Wimbledon, felt he went too far with his behaviour and decided to show him a second yellow, effectively sending Hattrup off once the action had ended.

It was unusual conclusion to what had been an unusual day all round. It was rare then for standards to slip under Smith, and even rarer for MacPhail not to tuck away all his chances. A knee ligament injury sustained in training by Tim Carter also meant a late appearance in goal for Barry Richardson, his only game for the first team, whilst perhaps the most unusual sight of all was Sunderland’s mix and match strip – mirroring the supply issues being felt by some clubs in 2022, the Rokerites wore their old Patrick shirts and shorts for the fixture alongside a set of socks that had been provided by their kit new manufacturer Hummel.


Saturday 13 August 1988

Pre-season friendly

Sunderland 3 (Gabbiadini 45, MacPhail, pen, 49, Bennett 53)

Seattle Storm 0

Sunderland: Hesford (Richardson 76): Ogilvie (Kay 69), Bennett, MacPhail, Agboola; Cornforth, Armstrong (Gray 57), Owers (Lemon 69), Pascoe; Gates (Doyle 57), Gabbiadini (Wharton 76).

Roker Park, attendance 3,393

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