It can be a bit random the reason why you remember some games more than others. We went into this game top of the second division and looking for our seventh home win of the season as we started to turn Roker Park into a fortress that season.
I was particularly pleased that Billy Hughes had come off the transfer list earlier in the week, he was back to something like his electrifying best and I had not seen a player to match him so far this season in this form, and I had no idea that I was about to in an Orient winger who would be head and shoulders the best player on the park in this contest.
A boisterous expectant crowd of 28,327 had gathered to see us continue our march back to the first division. Orient were mid to lower table coming into the game and we could not have really anticipated the difficulty we were going to have to bag the points given what had passed to date in this season.
Sunderland dominated the early exchanges without particularly threatening to score. Towers, Porterfield, and Kerr were controlling the midfield and Robson, Hughes and Holden were looking lively up front. In the first half hour both Robson and Holden missed gilt-edged chances to put the Lads in front. Orient for their part were putting up some stiff resistance. A young dark-haired defender caught my eye with some timely interceptions and clever use of the ball out of defence, Glen Roeder went on to have a very good game. Quite often he was finding his left winger to relieve the pressure and this lad could shift as well as dribble! Laurie Cunningham was his name and I was mightily impressed with his performance as he led our defence a right merry dance for the first time in this season at Roker Park!
On twenty-four minutes Hoadley in the Orient defence appeared to have a lapse in concentration and unexplainedly handled the ball in the box to concede a penalty. This season would see the emergence of Sunderland’s greatest penalty taker in Gary Rowell (25 from 26), but his debut was still five months away. Not to worry though, because second on our all-time list of successful penalty takers was Tony Towers (12 from 13) and he duly stepped up and put us 1-0 up in this game.
The goal should have opened the floodgates, but instead it seemed to galvanise Orient, who really tested our defence and midfield in the period leading up to half time and just after it. We still held some threat but Cunnigham was running at our defence and causing a lot of concern in the dugout as Bob Stokoe was up and down like a jack-in-the-box and this anxiety was transferring to the terraces.
On the hour, the concerns were realised as Roeder intercepted and slid a good pass to Cunningham, who skipped past two challenges and gave the ball back to Roeder who had continued his run from defence. He slid a perfect pass to Gerry Queen who hammered the ball past Monty in the Sunderland goal.
In this period, the Roker crowd used to respond to a goal from the opposition by roaring for the Lads (not leaving the stadium in their droves) and as on many occasions prior to this, the Lads did respond.
Towers and Porterfield played a couple of slide rule balls in and around the Orient box that caused their defence palpitations. Robson almost got on the end of a lovely little dink from Kerr, who had shaped to shoot. In some kind of symbiotic crescendo, the noise from the crowd ramped up along with the pressure from the Lads and then on seventy minutes it all came together. Porterfield found Bobby Kerr who created a bit of space for himself and fired a pinpoint cross to Billy Hughes. He rose like the proverbial salmon and planted a bullet of a header past Jackson in the Orient goal to cue absolute mayhem in the stands! There was always something gloriously abandon-free about a Billy Hughes goal and his celebration, his black locks flowing, his arms raised and his swagger back to our half, it was like he was saying “I know it, you know it, and now they know it, haway my bonny Lads”!
At 2-1 we were dominant all over the pitch and the crowd were making sure Orient knew this was the case. Then on seventy-two minutes, another reason to remember this game. Referee Keith Styles sank to the turf, without warning or any apparent reason. He appeared to be unconscious before being surrounded by players, officials, and medical staff. He was stretchered from the field with Bob Stokoe and Orient manager George Petchey looking very concerned for his wellbeing. Later in the medical room he said, “I felt a sharp pain at the back of my neck and then the lights went out”.
A call went out over the Tannoy and in little time at all, one of the linesmen had taken over in the middle, and we had the odd sight of a chap in “civvies” (who looked a bit like my dad) running the line! That chap turned out to be local referee Terry Farley, who was meant to be officiating at Spennymoor v Willington in the Northern league that day, but his game was cancelled due to FA Trophy ties and so he had come along to Roker Park. I would love to tell you he tucked his trousers into his socks, but that would be embellishing an already bizarre story. He did alright in his slip-ons and cream trousers (if my memory serves me well) traversing our muddy touchline and managed to play his part in seeing the game to a close.
On the restart our dominance continued and on seventy-nine minutes Porterfield sent over one of those lovely low crosses from the left, right in the corridor of uncertainty which keeper Jackson could only parry to Pop Robson, who despite the awkwardness of the trajectory despatched the ball into the net with balletic grace.
We still had time for two goals to be ruled out for marginal off-side calls, and the inevitable sight of Joe Bolton dumping Cunningham in the red ash in the dying embers of the game. To his credit Cunningham jumped up with a smile on his face and got on with it, no rolling around like a shot giraffe in those days!
The game finished with an almighty roar from the crowd, I remember some of this being relief as well as appreciation. We were still top of the division and had maintained our 100% home record, but Orient had proved stubborn and in Cunnigham had the best individual player on the pitch that day.
Laurie Cunnigham went on to have an eventful career. He played six times for England over the 1979/80 period, he was the first British player to sign for Real Madrid for whom he played forty-four games scoring thirteen goals, winning La Liga and the Copa del Ray twice. He joined the crazy gang at Wimbledon briefly and played in their FA cup final victory against Liverpool in 1988. He was also part of the so called “3 Degrees” at West Brom alongside Cyrille Regis and Brendon Batson. He died far too young at 33years of age in a car crash in Spain where he was playing for Rayo Vallecano, in 1989. He was some sight in full flow and served up notice of his potential, which earned warm applause from the Roker crowd on this day.
Division Two – 11/10/1975
Roker Park – Attendance 28,327
Sunderland 3 – 1 Orient
Sunderland – Montgomery, Malone, Bolton, Moncur, Clarke, Kerr, Towers, Porterfield, Hughes, Robson, Holden, (Sub Gibb).
Orient – Jackson, Fisher, Hoadley, Bennett, Roeder, Grealish, Wailey, Bullock, Queen, Heppolette, Cunningham, (sub Roffey).
Sunderland - Towers pen 24, Hughes 70, Robson 79.
Orient - Queen 60.