I cannot tell you what an excited young lad I was when I realised I was going to my first away game to see the Lads play Newcastle. The fact that we could get to St James about twenty-five minutes faster than we could get to Roker Park from my Morpeth home was neither here nor there to me.
I had been taken to Newcastle a couple of times the previous season and had enjoyed the football and the occasion, but my very first trip to Roker Park in March 1966 had totally hooked me, I liked football but loved Sunderland and had taken every opportunity offered to go to Roker and see my heroes. Now I was going to the big one! The derby, the game we all love to win.
I spent the week prior to the game being Jim Baxter on the school playground and on the patch of grass we laughingly called “Wembley” down the close from “wor hoose”. My mates then were mostly Newcastle and Man Utd fans but it bothered me not one jot that week as Baxter ruled the yard and the clarty backfield prior to this my first derby. I even told my Toony supporting Dad we were going to win 3-0!
The statistics leading up to this game were not particularly encouraging. Sunderland had not won at St James’ since Charlie Flemming had scored a brace in a 2-1 victory in 1955. Our away form was similarly worrying, with twenty-four league and cup games without a victory. Add to that the fact we had just beaten league leaders Stoke City at Roker Park 2-1 in a cracking performance with goals from John O’Hare and Niel Martin, good news you would think? Except we had not won two consecutive games since April 2nd of the previous season! I cared nowt for these trivialities, we were going to win 3-0 I was sure of it and told anybody that would listen to me!
The day of the game saw Newcastle hogging the headlines as they had paid a whopping £85,000 for a fearsome ginger haired Welsh centre forward Wyn Davies. Davies would make his debut and what he was going to do to Sunderland and specifically our newest recruit centre back George Kinnell a modest £20,000 buy from third division Oldham was nobody’s business!
Bob Cass in the Journal did forecast a 3-1 Sunderland victory, with Baxter and Mulhall to the fore, but its fair to say he was a lone voice in the local press.
A crowd of 58,740 squeezed into St James’ for this one and there was a raucous atmosphere as kick off approached. I along with two other pals from Morpeth had been positioned on the fence at the front of the Leazes End. I was not the only one on the fence with a red and white scarf on and have a clear memory of looking up, over the stand and seeing red and white dotted all around the ground. (This was not the case when I returned the following season to find myself in the Gallowgate and a much more threatening atmosphere)!
Derby games can be notoriously tight turgid affairs, this game was nothing like that! Sunderland were the better team from start to finish and just had far too much in every department for a Newcastle team that just managed to escape relegation at the end of this season.
With Baxter and Herd dominant in midfield, and George “bullet” Mulhall giving Burnopfield teenager John Craggs the run-around on his wing, Sunderland looked like they were going to pick up where they had left off against Stoke in midweek.
Within seven minutes Sunderland were in front. Baxter fed Mulhall who beat Frank Clark and bent a hard shot past Hollins in at the far post. It was such a well worked goal and was in the back of the net before half the ground realised. I cheered this goal madly from my position on the fence and got a thumbs up from the St John’s ambulance man who was sitting trackside just along from me.
Jim Baxter was involved in a typical piece of “shithousery” when he easily beat John Craggs and the full back came back at him attempting to amputate him at the kneecaps. Slim Jim patted the youngster on the head as he went past him, antagonising both the crowd and Craggs who was already feeling the heat from Mulhall’s raiding down his side of the pitch.
What pressure Newcastle had in this half was easily dealt with by a Sunderland defence who were right at it. Wyn Davies did serve notice of one of the aspects of his game when he kicked Jimmy Montgomery in a challenge, but in truth he was really well marshalled for all of this game by Kinnell who must have been one of the many contenders for man of the match.
On forty-two minutes Len Ashurst burst down his flank and drove a cross at pace across the United box. Bob Cass writing in the Journal described the Newcastle defence as “lampposts” as Niel Martin (who had terrorised the United defence up to this point) raced in from the edge of the box and connected approximately fifteen yards out with a superb header to plant the ball in the back of the net for Sunderland’s second of the game. What a goal this was! Speaking to the press after the game Martin reckoned he had not scored a better goal - what a game to score it in.
I vividly remember half-time in this game and chatting to two brothers who were on the fence beside me. They were canny lads and said that their team was going to come back and win 3-2, I told them what I had been telling folk all week, it was going to be 3-0 and they should keep their eyes on Jim Baxter!
Slim Jim did not let me down in that second half, he oozed class and pulled off one of his best games in a red and white shirt. He loved a big crowd and the big stage, but in this game, he put aside his showboating and became the continuity player that made his reputation, sliding passes long and short, creating space for others and looking like he had all the time in the world to strut his stuff. He was ably assisted by George Herd who could be such a clever operator on his day.
Baxter and Herd seemed to spend the game creating opportunities for our front three all game. The over-worked magpie defence could not handle the clever running and positional play of O’Hare, an unselfish forward who upon his re-introduction to the team seemed to have sparked life into Niel Martin. Martin was a real handful on his day, Bobby Moncur could not handle the rampant Scot, a £45,000 buy from Hibernian who definitely won the battle of the centre forwards and looked a steal in comparison to £85,000 Wyn Davies as his movement, hold up play and goal lit the stage.
Newcastle did create an opportunity on 57 minutes when Jim Iley chipped a free kick to Davies at the far post, who for the only time in the game escaped the shackles of Kinnell and headed the ball back across goal to Hilley, who had the ball whipped of his foot by Herd just as he was about to shoot. That was about as good as it got for United. Todd and Harvey (who had just been placed on the transfer list prior to the game at his request) played superbly, timing tackles, and finding their team mates with passes out of defence and Cecil Irwin had a stormer raiding forward down his wing to create several good opportunities.
On eighty minutes Todd found Baxter who once again fed the lively Mulhall with a lovely, weighted pass. Mulhall beat Craggs all ends up at the bye-line and cut back an accurate pass to the illusive John O’Hare, who side-footed in from about ten yards out for a goal his performance deserved.
The game finished at a canter for Sunderland, United were well beaten and had hardly thrown a punch in a contest that Sunderland had dominated from start to finish.
I could hardly contain myself and waved my scarf and cheered like there was no tomorrow at the end of the game. I had little mercy for the two brothers on the fence beside me, reminding them that I had forecast 3-0 and that indeed was the final score, when I think back to that moment I believe a tad more magnanimity in victory might have been welcomed (but in truth I did not know what that meant then and was completely swept away with the victory).
Speaking to the press after the game Niel Martin reckoned Sunderland “had harder training matches at Cleadon”. Jim Baxter commented “they were never in it, especially after the second goal”. Newcastle director William McKeag graciously conceded “we were walloped by a better side”.
Bob Cass did not hold back in his report on the game, remarking that “Baxter and company took the mickey out of United completely”. “Mulhall gave Craggs and Clark a frightful run-around”.
Cass also had some insightful observations on the burgeoning partnership between O’Hare and Martin, the performance of Kinnell and the possibilities of a partnership with Charlie Hurley in defence who was just about fit again, as well as the influence of coach John Mortimore, whom manager Ian McColl had bought to the club form Chelsea.
The season seemed primed to take off from this point, and we followed this result up with a scintillating 4-1 victory at Roker Park over Sheffield United with Baxter and Martin once more to the fore. However, we flattered to deceive for the rest of the season, unable to win away from home or put a run of victories together. Behind the scenes there was a divided dressing room, an indifferent manager, and a wayward star whose light was fading as alcohol and gambling did their worst.
I have never forgotten my first away game and very first derby. I was lucky enough to be at Roker Park for the return game that season and as a result spent my earliest years as a Sunderland fan believing we always won 3-0, which was a great start for me being brought up in a mixed Newcastle/Sunderland supporting family. I learnt the benefits of magnanimity from Dad as I matured and experienced the other side of derby results, but on this day it was red and white all the way!
Division One – 29/10/1966
St James Park – Attendance 58,740
Newcastle 0 – 3 Sunderland (Mulhall 7, Martin 42, O’Hare 80)
Newcastle – Hollins, Clark, Craggs, Moncur, Iley, Thompson, Suddick, Hilley, McGarry, Robson, Davies. Sub Kettleborough
Sunderland – Montgomery, Ashurst, Irwin, Kinnell, Harvey, Todd, Baxter, Herd, Mulhall, O’Hare, Martin. Sub Elliott