Sunderland’s 1973 FA Cup triumph was not just the stand out moment of the decade for the club, but possibly of its entire history. The rest of the 1970s saw some wild fluctuations in knock out football however, although two ties – both played on this date but six years apart – showed that when they were on it the Lads were still capable of giving anybody a game.
The Wembley joy set up the Lads’ first foray into competitive European football and after a thrilling win behind the Iron Curtain in September, the following month saw Hungarian side Vasas Budapest arriving on Wearside for the return leg of their Cup Winners Cup first round clash. Dennis Tueart had scored arguably one of the best ever goals seen in red and white in the first match, and whilst both he and Vic Halom had efforts ruled out for offside before half time at Roker he was again proving just as hard to track.
The closest the visitors went to scoring was when Ron Guthrie sliced a Bela Varadi cross against his own bar, and with Tueart finding gaps across the pitch it felt like only a matter of time before Bob Stokoe’s men extended their 2-0 aggregate advantage. Doubts momentarily crept in when Tueart missed an early second half sitter, but with the game approaching the hour mark he calmly sent goalkeeper Ferenc Meszaros the wrong way from the spot. The penalty had been awarded when Bobby Kerr’s corner had been handballed by Balint Toth, and whilst the Vasas manager Lajos Baroti was adamant it was a poor call from the officials television replays proved otherwise.
Ironically, the presence of the cameras had been a bit of a sore point ahead of the game; colour broadcast requirements had necessitated improvements to the floodlighting and admission was raised to £1 for the terraces and £2 for the seats to help cover the cost.
The relatively low attendance that followed remains an occasional talking point 50 years later, although it should also be acknowledged that extremely poor weather on the night was another factor; secretary Ron Linney revealed the following morning that the rain storms had been so severe that at one point it was touch and go whether the fixture would be allowed to go ahead.
Following up from Linney’s comments, assistant commercial manager Corny O’Donnell also told the press that scores of fans had already put down £5 travel deposits ahead of the next round – well before the opponents and destination had been confirmed.
The increased gate prices had no doubt put some supporters off during a time of undoubted financial uncertainly across the country, but there was still clearly a large proportion of the fanbase that was either affluent enough, or just willing to beg borrow or steal enough, so that they could back the Lads in person.
In recent years the League Cup has often struggled to attract big crowds but in 1979 it was possible to see decent numbers in the early rounds if the opposition was right.
The economic climate was still as unnerving as it had been in 1973, but for Sunderland fans the prospects on the pitch were starting to look promising again – Stokoe’s Stars had been dismantled, but under current boss Ken Knighton another squad sprinkled with talent that had come through the youth ranks was taking shape.
Progress over Newcastle United in round two had set up a tie with Manchester City and after a draw at Maine Road the replay sparked great memories of a magical evening against the Citizens en route to winning the FA Cup six years before.
The presence of Sky Blue boss Malcolm Allison, Sunderland’s adversary during their 1976 FA Cup run, only added to the mix and with the visitors struggling in Division One expectations of an upset resulted in over 33,000 turning up.
It was significantly more than had witnessed the Vasas match, and also beat the attendance for the next round against the famous Sporting Lisbon. It would also prove to be the third best crowd seen at Roker during 1979-80 – not bad considering the season ended in promotion. There may have been a bigger total even had people not been met once again by heavy rain, but it was a deluge of a different kind that the Lads had to ensure with the away side dominating possession in the second half and piling on the pressure.
Kazimierz Deyna brought a fantastic stop from Chris Turner but in terms of clear cut chances that was about it. Sunderland worked tremendously hard to keep City away from their goal, successfully defending a lead given to them by Bryan Robson in the opening stages. ‘Pop’ provided the guile in a new look front three alongside debutant and joint record signing John Hawley plus Barry Dunn, who barely a week earlier was still working as a gas fitter and had made his own bow on the Saturday after signing from Blue Star in the Wearside League and going full time.
Dunn continually had his marker Ray Ranson on the back foot whereas Hawley was involved in the goal, setting Robson up for a delightful and athletic finish from distance that proved enough to beat the side from the higher division. It would prove to be the last cup victory of a decade that had brought the ultimate success and brought progress to the fourth round of the League Cup for the first time since 1967.
Wednesday 3 October 1973
European Cup Winners Cup first round, second leg
Sunderland 1 (Tueart pen, 57’)
Vasas Budapest 0
Sunderland: Montgomery, Malone, Guthrie, Horswill, Watson, Young, Kerr, Hughes, Halom, Porterfield, Tueart. Unused: Swinburne, Bolton, Ashurst, Mitchell, Lathan.
Roker Park, attendance 22,762
Wednesday 3 October 1979
League Cup third round replay
Sunderland 1 (Robson 12’)
Manchester City 0
Sunderland: Turner, Whitworth, Gilbert, Clarke, Elliott, Chisholm, Buckley (Rostron 43’), Lee, Hawley, Robson, Dunn.
Roker Park, attendance 33,559