Season 1963/64 for many supporters of a generation was memorable for the promotion spearheaded by manager Alan Brown and his iconic captain Charlie Hurley.
Our return to the top flight following the club’s first-ever relegation from Division One in 1958 was a season never to be forgotten for the Roker fans that filled the stadium every game. The team played scintillating football going forward scoring a total of 81 goals in the league and were parsimonious in defence, conceding only 37 goals all season.
What arguably is often overlooked in this season was a fantastic FA cup run to the quarter-finals.
The run had started in the 3rd round at Roker in early January against Northampton Town and a two goal victory with goals from Crossan and Usher in front of a whopping 40,683 fans.
Next up was Bristol City at a cold and wintery straw-lined Roker Park on the 25th January. Bristol City were in the third division and to a degree presented an unknown challenge, in a team built around former England centre forward John Atyeo.
Sunderland stuck with the team that had just about played every game up to that point in the season, and this proved to be a good decision by Alan Brown, as class and continuity won the game at a canter.
Despite the distance and time of the year, a healthy following from Bristol were housed in the paddock and created a bit of a din as their team took the field. The Roker crowd responded as their heroes charged out of the tunnel . The big crowd (46,201) would be feeling the cold, but goals a-plenty would soon warm them up.
Sunderland were on the attack right from the off. Irwin and Usher were combining effectively down the right-hand side, as inside forwards Herd and Crossan began to terrorise the Bristol defence.
On five minutes Jim McNab found George Herd in the box with a cultured pass. Herd buried the ball in the back of the net to trigger the Roker roar, as well as some playful straw throwing from the youngsters gathered at the hoardings around the pitch.
A rare attack from City saw a good shot from Williams well saved by Montgomery, the same player then hit the post shortly afterward.
Shots from Sharkey, Hurley and a great save by Gibson from Mulhall following a corner, should have seen the Lads extend their lead.
On 17 minutes, McNab chipped another exquisite pass to Hurley, who blasted the ball in from 20 yards out giving Gibson no chance in the Bristol goal.
On 33 minutes another rare Bristol attack saw a great left foot drive from Hooper flash past Montgomery to make the score 2-1. A goal hardly deserved, but there was no doubting the quality of the strike.
Sunderland’s dominance told again on 39 minutes. After a sustained period of pressure Herd scored his second goal through a ruck of players in the box. It was no more than Sunderland deserved, with Herd, Crossan and Usher to the fore. Just before half-time Sharkey set Mulhall up with an exceptionally good pass, unfortunately “Bullet” put the chance past the post. 3-1 at half-time and Sunderland were applauded off the pitch.
The second half resumed in similar fashion. Usher saw a glorious swerving shot just saved by Gibson. It was all Sunderland, with Sharkey joining Crossan, Usher and Herd in tormenting the Bristol defence. On fifty-five minutes Sharkey made a great run into the box to clip the ball past Gibson for our fourth of the game.
Sunderland were now completely dominant and Crossan scored two goals in the last thirty minutes, to cap a fantastic all-round performance on the day.
There was much excitement when we drew reigning league champions Everton in round 5 at Roker.
A huge crowd of 62,851 witnessed a thrilling 3-1 victory, which earned us the right to play the current cup holders Manchester United at Old Trafford. In an epic encounter the game finished 3-3 and by all accounts, we should have won.
The replay at Roker saw an official attendance of 46,727 but some commentators say there were as many as 80,000 in the ground with a further 20,000 locked out. The game went to extra-time and finished 2-2 to tee up a third game at “neutral” Huddersfield. 54,000 packed into Leeds Road as Sunderland ran out of gas against an all-star United who finished 5-1 winners.
The lure of the FA cup was in no doubt back then, with a total of 313,114 fans watching the six games Sunderland were involved in.
Sunderland 6 – Bristol City 1
Sunderland – Montgomery, Irwin, Ashurst, Hurley (1), Harvey, McNab, Herd (2), Crossan (2), Usher, Sharkey (1), Mulhall.
Bristol City – Gibson, Thresher, Briggs, Low, Connor, Parr, Williams, Clark, Hooper (1), Atyeo, Derrick.