Sunderland had been beaten by Northampton Town at home, but that was the only major blot on their copybook as Alan Brown looked to put the disappointment of once again missing out on promotion to Division One on goal difference behind them.
Twice we had finished third, losing the prolific Brian Clough to injury along the way, but all the signs were pointing in the right direction for the home side as George Poyser’s Manchester City arrived at Roker Park for a Saturday afternoon 3pm kickoff in front of almost 40,000 spectators.
The Black Cats had taken seven points from a possible eight away from home, and were scoring freely. This season, the Lads were determined, would be different.
George Herd had been injured in our away draw at Scunthorpe United on the preceding Monday night, and so the dependable Ambrose Fogerty took his spot at inside right in a forward line that included Andy Kerr in the middle, at inside left was Jonny Crossan and the wingers here Brian Usher and George Mulhall.
Mulhall had scored three in the opening two games of the season, and as such had attracted the attention of the Scottish national team selectors who were in attendance ahead of their country’s upcoming fixture against Northern Ireland. He was selected for the Scots and gained his final cap with Crossan on the opposing side.
It was a windy day on Wearside, and the visitors sought to take advantage of the strong sea breeze blowing towards the Roker End by choosing to kick in that direction in the first half. Yet it was Sunderland who were on the attack from the start, Kerr putting Fogarty through into a dangerous position on the right but the referee blew for a free kick.
Nevertheless, the Lads were almost immediately on the attack once again with Usher receiving the ball from Cecil Irwin on the right, who slipped it into Fogarty. The Irishman found his opposite number Crossan in the middle who turned the ball home.
It was Forgarty’s 150th appearance for the club, and he marked it with a goal of his own on 54 minutes. The home side managed the game well, and secured the two points. This was the kind of free-flowing football the crowd had come to see, and the squad’s strength in depth was paying dividends.
The result gave Sunderland the chance to move to the top of the table, in touching distance of the early pace-setters Swindon. With Charley Hurley at centre half, we looked all set for a great season.
There was a weight of expectation on the shoulders of the erstwhile Brown, whose task had been to restore the club that was once the richest in England to its former status after the financial scandals of the late 1950s. Jackie Milburn, writing in that day’s Coventry Telegraph, put it very well indeed:
Sunderland, the team with so much ability, have twice thrown away everything that Alan Brown’s careful planning had accomplished. This season they must go up. They have great strength in defence and an attack of subtle craft and goal power.
Brown is another commonsense manager. He believes i buying the man for the position and letting him get on with it. It is a maxim that has so nearly proved 100 per cent successful and is a lesson that other managers might learn.
Despite Sunderland’s great form, the City game made the national headlines for all the wrong reasons. Four days previously their fans had made their way to Swindon and seen their side on the receiving end of a 3-0 beating, and they hardly took the Sunderland result in their stride.
Their “football special” train back to the north west only got as far as West Hartlepool before the guard, Mr Fletcher, called the local constabulary after being threatened by the rioting mob. The violent actions of the fans were condemned by their club secretary as deplorable, following as they did a similar incident involving Manchester United supporters a few days earlier.
Manchester City would finish the season in sixth position, some way behind the Lads who were promoted back to the top flight for the first time after spending six seasons in Division Two.
Sunderland’s fall from grace had been traumatic, and there’s an argument to be made that we are in some senses still yet to regain what was lost in the late ‘50s, but it was convincing results such as this one which saw us fulfil out potential and get back to the top flight.
It’s why Charley Hurley is held in such hight esteem, and why this season is one that we revisit on these pages time and again.