Two weeks ago Roker Report featured Sunderland’s 1986-87 run in the Full Members Cup, a competition that had been introduced the season before but one that often struggled to capture the imagination. On This Day (16 September 1986): Saddington’s full Sunderland debut goes the distance! - Roker Report (sbnation.com)
Created in the wake of English clubs being barred from the continent, the cup was open to teams in the top two divisions of the Football League – although in its inaugural season the six sides that would have otherwise qualified for either the European Cup, Cup Winners Cup or the UEFA Cup instead took part in a separate mini competition. Amongst them would have been the Lads had they beaten Norwich City in the 1985 Milk (League) Cup final, but after suffering a Wembley defeat they had to make do with a spot in the larger tournament.
Several other teams remained sceptical however and opted not to take up the invitation. An uneven number of entrants made for a rather unbalanced format therefore, and although technically placed in Group Three of the north area first round section Sunderland were in reality given a two-legged tie by virtue of being drawn alongside only one other side. Whilst Lawrie McMenemy’s men were paired with Grimsby Town though, some other clubs were put into pots of three and played each other in a round robin.
The Mariners were already familiar to the Roker crowd having visited in the league in early September on an afternoon where Sunderland finally broke their goalscoring duck for the campaign despite already being six fixtures in. The first of the two cup matches followed soon after and saw the Wearsiders slip to a 3-2 defeat, but things had picked up since then and by the time Grimsby were back for the ‘second-leg’ on this day, the home side had won three on the bounce.
Still hurting from the double whammy of that Norwich loss and the Division One relegation that soon followed, McMenemy had arrived at a club desperate for an injection of confidence. His first few weeks in charge had been dismal and would prove to be an indication of what was to come, but things momentarily seemed to be on the up at this point and the rematch with Dave Booth’s outfit offered the chance to keep the momentum growing.
The slimmed down version of the match day programme that evening may have further alluded to the fact this wasn’t being seen as a prestige event, but those reading it whilst on the terraces during the warm ups were later praised, as despite the general apathy towards the Full Members Cup there had still been 3,000 more people through the gates than had turned out a first division fixture between Luton Town and Ipswich Town on the same night.
The paying public were treated to a decent level of action too, with both sides keen to push forward from the off. Future Sunderland loanee Tony Ford caused havoc in the home penalty area early on, and whilst his initial cross was cleared Paul Emson was able to put the ball back in for Gary Lund to hook home spectacularly. The Lads were soon level though, with Eric Gates scoring from the spot after George Burley had played him in and the forward had been sandwiched by goalkeeper Nigel Batch and defender Paul Agnew. It was the first of two clinical takes from Gates, although with Booth later accusing him of diving to get this decision and others the pair had an extraordinary exchange of words on the touch line mid-game before the referee stepped in.
It remained 1-1 at half time but both sides were going for it and had been going full throttle. Dave Swindlehurst had been forced off following a collision but his replacement was as equally committed and his pace was proving hard to handle – the substitute was David Hodgson and 15 seconds after the restart he latched onto a Gates through ball to put his team ahead. Things then started getting a bit frantic, and in the closing stages Clive Walker hit the post twice whilst Grimsby’s Andy Moore did likewise at the other end.
The competition may have been maligned in some parts but it wasn’t showing here, and in a desperate attempt to ensure progress the visitors piled forward, only to be denied a certain goal when Bob Bolder bravely threw himself at the feet of Ford. The keeper was still on loan during this period ahead of joining on a permanent deal later in the month and his intervention meant the scores remained level ‘on aggregate’. With no extra-time scheduled, things would have to be decided via Roker’s first ever penalty shoot-out, something that McMenemy had seemingly had in mind all along; when later quizzed on why senior option Walker did not step up, the boss explained that he had decided his first five takers well in advance of kick off and that because the former Chelsea man had not been named in the starting XI he was not considered.
It had certainly not been intended as a slight on Walker, who impressed once he had been brought off the bench, and whilst he may well have taken responsibility had sudden death been needed the job was already done in a dramatic original set. Tasked with a watching brief only, he looked on as Gates, Alan Kennedy and Hodgson all converted in front of the Fulwell End to make the most of Bolder’s two tremendous saves from Jimmy Gilligan and Kevin Moore. A further Grimsby penalty missed the target, whilst Burley struck the post and Frank Gray had his own effort saved by Batch before Hodgson wrapped up the 3-2 success with his right foot.
McMenemy was somewhat bullish when speaking to The Journal the following morning, bombastically proclaiming that “It just goes to show it doesn’t matter what the rest of the country are doing, we do it the right way up here. “It doesn’t look like a silly cup now does it?”. Needless to say given how the rest of his tenure went, he didn’t quite ‘do it the right way’ in the next stage, with Sunderland eliminated in the northern section semi-final at Manchester City.
Tuesday 1 October 1985
Full Members Cup, group stage
Sunderland 2 (Gates 14’, Hodgson 46’)
Grimsby Town 1 (Lund 6’)
Sunderland win 3-2 on penalties (Gates, Kennedy, Hodgson)
Sunderland: Bolder; Burley, Bennett, Elliott, Kennedy; Gray, Daniel, Venison, Atkinson (Walker 46’); Swindlehurst (Hodgson 26’), Gates.
Roker Park, attendance 11,571