Bobby Kerr and Bob Stokoe. Sunderland AFC have not had a more successful duo in the post-war era. But, ahead of the 1974-75 Division 2 campaign, Kerr had resigned his leadership position and was set on moving away from the club.
Yet. as the first game of the season came around, peace suddenly broke out and the difficulties were resolved, just in time for the Lads to face First Division Newcastle in the first game of the group stage of the “International League Board Competition” – a cup involving non-Europe qualified sides from across Britain and Ireland, and sponsored by a Texan oil company that had recently entered the UK market.
Kerr told John Donoghue from The Journal.
All I want to think about now is playing football - and for my place.
For his part, Stokoe wanted to focus on the positives:
I am happy that he has come to this decision. It means that we can carry on the preparations for the new season without any major problems in the background.
Yet Bob Moncur, signed from Newcastle, was still the new captain, and he was amongst four new players who made their “competitive debuts” in an ailing minor competition that the Magpies won the previous year. It was far from a priority for Stokoe, whose focus was squarely on promotion to Division 1.
Gateshead-born Stan Ternent had moved from Carlisle but retired soon after at only 28 years of age, becoming a coach at Sunderland before embarking on a long managerial career, most notably with Burnley. Much later in life he would return to the club for a short while to become a scout.
Northern Ireland international midfielder Tom Finney had been signed from Luton town for £60,000, but he too made a small number of appearances for the club over the following two seasons before moving on to Cambridge United.
However, a man with a longer and more famous association with the club also made his home debut that day. Sunderland-born Bryan “Pop” Robson had played over 200 games for Newcastle at the start of his career before moving south to West Ham United, and he went on to play a total of 182 games for the Lads in all competitions in three spells at the club in the 1970s and 1980s.
He would be caretaker manager in the mid-’80s and then return home to be an integral part of the backroom staff in the 2000s, before Ellis Short sacked him as a scout in 2009.
Both Sunderland and Newcastle had faced Scottish league sides in pre-season, Sunderland playing games against Hamilton and Berwick and Newcastle keeping the same side as that which played in the friendly against Queen of the South the previous Monday.
The game itself saw a bumper crowd of 28,000 witness the new-look Sunderland score two second-half goals, the first from Vic Halom and the second 15 minutes later from Kerr. Mag legend Malcolm MacDonald went off injured on 72 minutes, and his replacement Jimmy Smith popped up with a goal three minutes later.
Alas, that one win against our biggest rivals and the cup holders would be our one and only victory in this short-lived competition. A loss against ‘Boro and a draw against Carlisle saw us fall out at the group stage. I doubt very much it was any great worry to Stokoe, who had his eyes on the main prize.
The Mags would go on to retain their “title”, which sits beside the invitational Fairs Cup as the most recent tinpot addition to the St James’ Park trophy cabinet.
It’s a trophy they still hold, as everyone agreed that it was a bit of a waste of time, including the part-time Irish teams. The annual Anglo-Scottish Cup replaced it from 1975 to 1981, before the whole idea was finally junked for good.