Sunderland had been drawn to play Notts County at their Meadow Lane ground on 13 January 1973 in the Third Round of the FA Cup.
The country was in the grip of the “winter of discontent”. Industrial action and strikes were rife, and the government of the day, led by Ted Heath, directed street lighting to be switched off at 10pm in an attempt to save power as industrial action began to impact. The Prime Minister and his government just about survived the miners’ strike of 1972 - they would not survive a second a couple of years later.
The traditional industries of the North East, mining and shipbuilding, had been particularly hard hit and attendances at Roker Park had reflected this.
Having initially been thoroughly underwhelmed by Bob Stokoe’s appointment at the end of November 1972, I was happy to acknowledge visible improvement in performance and results. The big, seemingly dour Northumbrian was beginning to work his magic on me, just as he was the players. The previous game against Brighton at Roker Park had seen a gallous buccaneering performance and a 4-0 victory. The difference in a few weeks between the restrained un-imaginative football that largely the same group of players had produced under previous manager Alan Brown could not have been more obvious. This seemed to catch the imagination of the hard-core support, as well as enticing a few who had dropped off to return irrespective of hard times.
Despite it still being early days, I was now happy to jump on board the Stokoe Express and see where it would lead. Nottingham was the first port of call and I was determined I would be there. The trip to Meadow Lane was my first, and I was intrigued to visit the oldest established team in the league, as well as sample another away trip.
The bus left around 8am from Morpeth marketplace and I walked to the bus in a high state of anticipation, with a wacking great box of bait from Mam (I was to be grateful for this bait on many occasions as my funds ran out and the adults stopped off for beers on the way home).
By this point in my development, I was an enthusiastic member of the skinhead fraternity. My match-day uniform of oxblood red Doc Marten’s, Skinner jeans and fake Harrington jacket had all been purchased second hand through my hard-earned fiscal schemes. I topped these off with my red and white woolen scarf (I rarely ventured out without this) and a silk scarf for my wrist. Dad had given me a wicked crew cut that was the envy of many of my pals at the time (incredible given his increasing blindness!). As I boarded the bus, I caught a glimpse of myself in a shop window and thought “man, I look the business”!?
Whilst hooliganism was on the rise at this time, police and football authority response was not that sophisticated. Segregation in the grounds was probably more informal and, in some grounds non-existent. Meadow Lane was such a ground, Sunderland fans seemed to be in at least three sides of the ground and hence quite hard to estimate in numbers. I heard someone say 45 buses had come down from the North East. I would estimate 2,500 Sunderland fans were in the ground at kick-off, noisy and boisterous - I think we were generally considered to be a good-natured horde and so it was that day. There also seemed to be something amongst the fans that prior to this game I had not really experienced as a teenage Sunderland fan.
At the time I struggled to identify this, in retrospect I will call it a feeling of illogical hope.
Stokoe had bought two experienced defenders from Newcastle. David Young, a centre back by trade but able to fill in anywhere in the backline and Ron Guthrie, a robust left back. Both were unavailable for this tie, so youngsters John Tones and Joe Bolton kept their places in the starting eleven. Bolton had been away with the England Youth squad all week and was a particular favourite of mine. He was fearless and all-action as well as being tough as teak.
To be fair to Notts County, any feeling that we were favourites and better times were coming was quickly knocked out of us travelling fans when the game commenced.
Jimmy Sirrell the Magpies manager (and good friend of Bob Stokoe) had assembled a really effective squad, who would play their way out of the third division that season. Les Bradd was a regular goalscorer and would go on to become a Notts County legend. Dave Needham was a classy centre half, who would be snapped up by Brian Clough for Forrest and was on the bench for the European cup finals of 1979 and 1980 (a future teammate of Jimmy Montgomery, who was also on the bench for the 1980 final).
County also had the very classy Don Masson in their midfield. As time moved on, I loved watching this lad play and always coveted him for Sunderland.
County totally dominated the first half, and we were lucky to get in at half time only 1-0 down. The goal had been coming but had a touch of misfortune about it as Jimmy Montgomery had made a great save from Kevin Randall, but parried the shot to Bradd, who still had a bit to do, he stuck the shot away with aplomb.
Stokoe had given a young Jackie Ashurst a game in the midfield alongside Ian Porterfield and Mickey Horswill. Don Masson had really pulled the strings in the first half and Kerr, who had been struggling with a back injury prior to the game had not looked effective pushed further forward with Hughes and Tueart, (who had also been doubtful prior to the game with an eye injury).
The second half bought renewed effort from Sunderland, but County still looked dangerous coming forward. A great Bradd header almost doubled the lead for the Magpies. I did not appreciate this at the time, but Monty pulled off the first of a number of spectacular saves on our run to Wembley as he clawed what looked like a certain goal away to safety. It was a trademark reflex save that characterised Monty’s superb skills and made him probably the best uncapped keeper in English football. Our FA cup run could have faltered at the first hurdle but for this save and a response from Stokoe. He substituted Ashurst who had lacked nothing for effort but had hardly laid a glove on Masson. Mick McGiven came on and went to central defence, allowing Dave Watson to be moved up front for the last 20 minutes. Bobby Kerr dropped back into midfield, and we seemed to find our balance and a bit of “go-forward”.
Watson had been bought to the club as a centre forward by Alan Brown, so he was no stranger to playing up front. Born in Nottinghamshire, he had started his career at Notts County in 1966, before being sold for £1000 to Rotherham a year later. We then paid a record transfer fee of £100,000 in 1970 for this phenomenal athlete who would go on to make 177 appearances for us, scoring 27 goals.
Back on home territory Watson scored the first of his four FA Cup goals that season, with a powerful header from a pinpoint Tueart cross. Watson had this way of hanging in the air that used to amaze me, he towered above his marker to meet Tueart’s cross and buried the ball in the back of the net. What a goal! With just over ten minutes left, it triggered relieved but joyous rapture from the travelling ranks.
The game finished with no more scoring, and I departed the ground happy but under no illusions that we had escaped from this quaint, even grand old stadium lucky to still be in the draw.
Attention quickly turned to the replay once back on the bus. We had three days to get the team and ourselves organised to put this tie to bed at Roker. There was no civilised break between replays back then!
The bus stopped in Doncaster on the way home that night and I remember resisting the urge to buy chips as I would need my hard-earned cash for the replay. I satisfied myself with a brave lone walk around “Donny” drawing the attention of some local Leeds supporting skinheads. They were quite friendly (thankfully) and poked gentle fun at my aspirations for my team to have a good cup run. They were extremely confident they would be back again for the cup final, and I joked with them as I left that I would see them all at Wembley. Little was I to realise at the time the bitter irony of this banter.
I tucked into some of Mam’s bait on the bus and read a newspaper as I waited for the adults to return from their revelry. In the news was the Trident Air Disaster enquiry. The story horrified me and put me off flying for a years. The enquiry had found amongst other things that the Pilot/ Captain had been in ill health and his co-pilot had only received 10 hours of Trident specific training. They also found that inside the cockpit had been daubed with abusive scrawling and there were very bad relationships between Pilot and flight crew, all of which had contributed to the disaster. I selfishly determined that when we qualified for Europe, I was going to travel by ferry and train!
It was 10.30pm by the time we left Doncaster, it was already close to the time I had given my parents for my return, in trouble again! The smell of fish and chips that filled the bus as we set off was making me hungry and a bit grumpy as I had to be up early the next morning for my Sunday paper round.
I did make my paper round, despite the early morning hour of my arrival home and I remember reading in one of these papers that Bob Stokoe had not only read the riot act to the team at half-time, but had announced at full-time that Keith Coleman, John Lathan, Brian Chambers and Derek Forster were available for transfer. He also placed Richie Pitt on this transfer list!
So, the journey was well and truly begun. Next stop Roker Park for the replay, which had extra spice added to it when we learned in the draw that a home tie against Reading awaited us if we were victorious in the replay. This would see the return of one of my first Sunderland heroes Charlie Hurley, now managing Reading. I was convinced this was some sort of sign that we would move on to welcome Charlie back to his real home.
13th January 1973
FA Cup 3rd Round
Meadow Lane, Attendance 15,142.
Notts County 1 – 1 Sunderland
(Bradd 29’ – Watson 79’)
Sunderland: Montgomery, Malone, Tones, Watson, Bolton, Horswill, Ashurst (McGiven), Porterfield, Kerr, Tueart, Hughes.
Notts County: Brown, Brindley, Worthington, Needham, Stubbs, Masson, Nixon, Carter, Mann, Bradd, Randall. Sub: Bolton