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FA Cup Fairytale: Transporting you back in time as Sunderland edge past Notts County in replay

Kelvin Beattie’s excellent retelling of Sunderland’s magical run to the final of the FA Cup in 1973 takes us to Roker Park for a game played on this day 50 years ago - the 3rd round replay against Notts County.


The Lads had escaped from Meadow Lane the previous Saturday with a hard-earned draw in the FA Cup. Fast-forward to Tuesday night (16/01/73), and it was a chance to not only make progress in the cup, but get our previous captain and hero Charlie Hurley back to Roker Park as manager of Reading, whom we had drawn in the next round.

But first the no small matter of getting past this very handy Notts County outfit.

It’s been said often, but there was something magical about floodlit night games (especially cup ties) at Roker Park. Maybe the cold breeze coming off the North Sea had something to do with it, but the noise from the crowd always seemed amplified on these nights. The floodlights appeared to only work for us, shining a path for a pass or a shot and in reverse blinding or creating eerie shadows for the opposition. My fertile imagination used to conjure a Gandalf-style necromancer, prowling the main stand roof, pointing his staff at the floodlights to do his bidding and make the game flow in our favour.

Whatever the phenomenon, this was one of those nights!

The crowd for this game had doubled in size from our last home game (a carousing 4-0 victory against Brighton). I knew as I trotted to the Fulwell End from the bus that had parked in the harbour, past the Victory Social Club and the New Derby that something was going on. There were big queues everywhere, lots of chatter and something in the air other than the smell of Bovril and cigarettes.

As I climbed the Fulwell End steps I paused at the top and looked out over Fulwell to see a huge throng of snaking queues, four to five deep and doubling back on themselves down the terraced streets.

The cold night air was creating lots of individual steam-train clouds of excited, anticipatory breath, as all paths led to Roker Park and a chance to forget about the state the country was in for a couple of hours.

Winter of Discontent be damned - bring out the Lads, and let’s be at it!

Having been initially underwhelmed by the appointment of Bob Stokoe, what I was witnessing on the pitch in terms of performance was making me think twice. My dad (a Newcastle regular in the 40’s and 50’s) had told me Stokoe was just the lad to sort us out. He retained a discreet if occasionally tormentive persona as over time, I had to give ground and admit he was right!

The game kicked off with the Roker Roar appearing to cascade down from all four stands, seemingly energising the Lads and at the same time momentarily immobilising our opposition.

An early Masson free kick was close enough to get us all exhaling in relief, especially as the free kick awarded by the referee for a Malone push, had looked pretty close to being in our penalty box.

We were raiding with impunity down both flanks and playing the ball with purpose and confidence from defence through our midfield. It seemed only a matter of time, but this County team kept coming back and Bradd had a good chance that was kicked off the line by Horswill on the half hour. It was a fast-exciting game that the Lads seemed to dominate the longer the half went on, with Hughes in particular looking very lively.

It arrived at half-time 0-0 and despite no goals, the Lads were applauded off the pitch. McGiven I thought had played particularly well at the heart of our defence. He had intercepted and carried the ball forward to good effect. He was normally quite a good passer of the ball and had used it accurately in the first 45 minutes, invariably finding a team-mate with short or long passes. His start at the heart of our defence, meant that Dave Watson could play up front. Having scored in the game at Meadow Lane three days earlier to rescue a point and looking a real threat when he was moved up into attack, he had been quite well marshalled by the classy Dave Needham in the first 45 minutes at Roker.

The buzz around the ground at half-time was intense and at the same time unusually joyous. All the chat around me related to the shackles-off performance of these players that some of us had been watching labour through games for a season and more.

We could not wait for the second half to get going.

The roar that greeted the players back onto the pitch made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, and off we went again. Kerr and Porterfield were now dominating the midfield and Masson who had looked a world class player three days previously cut an increasingly isolated figure as the game wore on (and Horswill looked like he was carrying some sort of injury, but soldiered on).

Our midfield that night was an interesting combination of raw grit and balletic perpetual motion. Horswill provided the grit in buckets, but he could play a bit too. He had an eye for a shot and his long ginger locks suited his all-action style, his move from defender to midfield was inspired.

Bobby Kerr had started life as a very nippy skilful winger. I had witnessed his goalscoring debut against Man City at Roker on the last day of 1966, and had seen him play alongside Billy Hughes, Brian Chambers, Colin Suggett and Colin Todd in our FA Youth Cup final against Arsenal in 1966. I really felt a sense of kinship and belonging to these young players as I grew up with them. Kerr had experienced two leg breaks in 12 months and had missed over a season’s worth of playing time but had still made it back, maybe not as quick as he had been, but his ball skill, stamina, courage and game-time intelligence was apparent to all who watched him regularly. Stokoe had resisted the urge to replace him as captain when he arrived, and this proved to be a very astute decision as “The Little General” was born.

Bobby Kerr Sunderland 1975 Photo by Don Morley/Allsport/Getty Images

The third member of our midfield that night was Ian Porterfield. I always felt the Scot suffered a bit when he first arrived at Roker, post the enigmatic but malfunctioning Jim Baxter. Comparisons between the two were regular and quite harsh at times, they were both left footers and had both developed their skills at Raith Rovers.

Baxter of course had then gone on to Rangers and played at the highest level in Europe and for Scotland, before signing for Sunderland. Porterfield signed for Sunderland from Raith and in many respects came into a struggling team and backroom situation.

He had his difficulties at times with previous manager Alan Brown and sometimes found himself either on the bench or frozen out of the first team picture. However, he stuck in and became a popular player with the Roker Park faithful, long before that goal at Wembley.

I always felt you could tell when “Porter” was going to have a good game. He had this hunched shoulder posture that belied his prowess. He possessed an almost balletic way of receiving the ball and moving it on. His radar was superb, long or short ball you wondered if he took it badly if a teammate had to break stride to collect one of his passes.

He also had that lovely knack of being available for the ball (and like Kevin Arnott after him) always seemed to have time to look up and direct the game no matter how frenetic things were round-a-bout him. He was not a thunderous ball winner like Horswill, or an “irritating wasp” in the tackle like Kerr, rather he timed his interventions, manipulating the ball away sometimes before his opponent had realised this.

Soccer - FA Cup - Semi Final - Sunderland v Arsenal Photo by Peter Robinson/EMPICS via Getty Images

In today’s game he would have scored huge stats on interceptions, such was his reading of the game. These three were to become Stokoe’s midfield of choice. Each of them good individual players, collectively a formidable force, that complimented our defence and fuelled our attack.

On 55 minutes, Porterfield intercepted and slid a pass to Bobby Kerr. Kerr cleverly dummied and the ball arrived at Dave Watson’s feet. He took a couple of steps at pace and arrowed a shot across Brown in the County goal and in at the far post.

Although we probably all believed a goal was coming, this was one of those goals that is in the back of the net before you know it.

There was a split second of momentary hush before Roker Park erupted. Hordes of youngsters invaded the pitch and a guttural roar cascaded down from the stands!

I had gravitated from the Boys Enclosure in the Roker End to the back of the Fulwell End on the fence, and then on to my now regular berth just off centre as you looked down the stand - not in the heart of the singers and chanters who all seemed a few years older than me, more to the left of this group where there seemed to be a few lads (and lasses) round-a-bout my age.

The furore that erupted when we scored saw me end up almost on the railings at the front of the stand - the surge of unbridled emotion was both exhilarating and frightening in equal doses. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing up again as the Fulwell End gave it laldy after the goal, I joined in with gusto and sang myself hoarse!

Soccer - Football League Division Two - Sunderland Photocall - Roker Park Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images

The goal rather than galvanising County seemed to release whatever defensive shackles were on us as Bolton and Malone alternatively charged down their flanks and Kerr, Horswill and Hughes fired shots that triggered more surges in the Fulwell and Roker Ends. The noise was deafening, I was still hearing this in my bed, three hours after arriving home from the game as I struggled to sleep, plagued delightfully with alternate thoughts of Hurley and Wembley.

At 1-0 the opposition still has a chance but at this point in the game I really felt that we would score again. Hughes and Tueart sent further shots whistling just wide. Horswill, who had been struggling with what looked like a knee injury, was replaced with John Lathan.

In the dying minutes of the game following a close call on the Sunderland goal, Tueart intercepted an under hit back pass and steered it past Brown to put us 2-0 up. This triggered another pitch invasion as hordes of youngsters streamed onto the Roker paddock in utter delight.

There was still time for Dave Needham to send a header just over Monty’s bar before the final whistle. County had given a really good account of themselves over both ties, but for me there was no denying the momentum that was gathering pace in Stokoe’s team.

Dennis Tueart Sunderland 1975 Photo by Don Morley/Allsport/Getty Images

The walk back to the bus that night was one I have never forgotten, the lights, the cool breeze, the absolute delight on every face passed, as well as the excited chatter of young and old debating who was man of the match and what would Charlie Hurley make of all this when he arrived next month.

John Tones would play no further part in Sunderland’s cup run and would only play one more game for the Lads before a transfer to Arsenal in May 1973.

Mick McGiven would also play no further part in our cup run but did go on to make a number of league appearances that season. A tad harsh given his wholehearted and competent performances. He was transferred at the end of the season to West Ham to replace the icon that was Bobby Moore at Upton Park.

Joe Bolton too played his last game in the FA Cup that season, but like McGiven bolstered the league side when knocks and injuries prevailed. He would also play an off-field role at Wembley that few know about, but more on that in the final chapter of this odyssey.

So, we moved on to the fourth round and the visit of Reading and the great Charlie Hurley to Roker Park in early February 1973, I could hardly wait!

16th January 1973 (FA Cup 3rd round replay at Roker Park)

Sunderland – Montgomery, Malone, Bolton, Tones, McGiven, Kerr, Horswill, Porterfield, Hughes, Watson, Tueart. (Sub Lathan).

Notts County – Brown, Brindley, Worthington, Needham, Stubbs, Masson, Nixon, Mann, Bradd, Carter. (Sub Bolton).

Scorers – Watson 55 minutes, Tueart 88 minutes.

Crowd – 30,033.

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