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On This Day (15 Nov 1975): Super Mel rules the skies for Sunderland at the Valley

Sunderland were mounting a credible challenge for promotion in season 1975/76. At home we looked invincible but away from home was a different matter. Next up was a trip to the Valley, where we had not won for twenty-one years!

We arrived in South London top of the second division and with only three defeats in twenty-one league games. Our goals were coming from a variety of players - Towers, Hughes, Robson, Halom and Kerr so far in the season.

Mel Holden, our beanpole striker, had not hit his straps and shared the same number of goals as Tommy Gibb and Bobby Moncur for the campaign to date, one single goal!

Consequently, he started this game on the bench.

Bob Stokoe was returning to the Valley where he had been in charge for two seasons (1965-67) and Vic Halom was returning to the club where he had started his career. David Young, our substitute in the 1973 FA Cup final, was now fully ensconced in the Charlton set-up as club captain, having been transferred from Sunderland the previous season. Youngster Micky Henderson played his third game in a row at left back, with Joe Bolton still injured.

Charlton were no easy touch on their patch, and in Hales and Flanagan possessed two of the most feared forwards outside the top division. Unusually both sported full beards that added to their growing reputation giving them something of a marauding Viking look!

Soccer - Football League Division Three - Charlton Athletic Photocall Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images

I joined a sizeable away following, making a bit of a din as kick-off approached in the 22,307 crowd. It was my first visit to the Valley, and whilst the journey to South London had been a bit of a trek, the grand old stadium had come as a pleasant surprise, if a little in need of a lick of paint here and there. I had also enjoyed a very hearty pre-match in the Rose of Denmark if memory serves me well!

The game kicked off with Charlton immediately on the attack, with Hales, Flanagan and winger Colin Powell prominent for the Addicks, as we struggled to get a grip early on.

Within four minutes, after almost constant Charlton pressure, Vic Halom cleared a good shot off the line to prevent us from going a goal down. One thing I noticed throughout the first half was the amount of times Sunderland players slipped on the turf. The pitch looked in good nick, but clearly some of our players had the wrong size studs in their boots!

On seven minutes disaster struck in the shape of a bad double leg break for Billy Hughes. The tackle had been robust and viewed illegal by the referee, but Hughes had this way of trying to ride tackles, and on this occasion my view of it was his injury was exacerbated by his distinctive side-step at the point of contact.

It was a severe blow, not just to the player, but our promotion effort. Hughes had been in great form and amongst the goals despite some early season difficulties with Stokoe and a possible “tap up” from Leeds Utd. Mel Holden took his place as the dynamic forward was stretchered in obvious pain from the field to applause from the whole crowd.

Soccer - Football League Division One - West Ham United v Sunderland Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

Montgomery had to make good saves from Hales and Flanagan and there was another goal-line clearance from Bobby Kerr as we struggled to find our rhythm. Eventually though we began to play our way into the game. Towers, Porterfield, and Kerr began to get a grip of the midfield, with a bit of help from Pop Robson, who was dropping effectively into the 8/10 position at times.

On thirty-seven minutes an accurate cross-field ball from Malone found Halom at the far post, he headed powerfully into the ground toward goal. As Tutt in the Charlton goal dived to smother the ball, Pop Robson just got a toe to it and knocked it across goal for Mel Holden to tap in from a yard out. This sent the away contingent of approximately two and a half thousand into raptures as they proclaimed the goal loud and long.

Less than a minute or two after this, Towers fed Porterfield with a lovely slide-rule pass, Porter’ bent the ball with the inside of his left foot right into the path of Holden who was steaming in on goal. If you watched Holden play enough for us around this period you would know that a chance like this would either get smashed into the back of the net or he would miss-time the ball or miss it completely. On this occasion, he missed it completely! But we were well into this game now, as Halom got on the end of a well-worked Kerr cross and put it just over the bar, then Holden sent a scorcher just past the post.

The second half resumed with both teams having a right go, and as we applied more pressure we got caught on the break. A nice ball from Powell to Flanagan sent him in on goal with just Monty to beat, instead of shooting he squared it to Hales who hammered it into the goal to bring the game all square at 1-1.

Thankfully, the goal spurred Sunderland on to even greater efforts as the midfield re-asserted control and Malone started raiding down his wing to good effect.

On sixty-four minutes a great passage of play saw Towers feed Porterfield again, his cross was just cleared by Young for a corner. Bobby Kerr sent over a hard accurate cross to the lurking Holden at the near post. With a delightfully delicate touch, he glanced a header past Tutt and a defender and in at the far post. It was a goal that had been coming and though I did not realise it at the time, proved to be our 5,000-league goal.

The game see-sawed back and forth after the goal. But I would say we held the more likely threat as Kerr, Malone and Porterfield made good incursions, with Holden and Halom menacing the Addicks back four.

This game was never going to just peter out though, and in the last minute an explosive finale! A Charlton throw in our half saw the ball come to Hales, with Henderson at his back.

The young full back made contact with the bearded forward and the ball was played to safety. In real time it looked like Hales had taken umbrage at losing the ball, he turned and kicked the prone Henderson in the groin. Sunderland players took umbrage and Hales started retreating at a rate on knots as first Towers then Clarke went for him.

The melee that ensued was calmed by 1974 world cup referee Jack Taylor, who almost nonchalantly jotted Hales’ name in his book and sent him from the field of play, with the away contingent giving him a good accompaniment of waves and cheerios.

The result left us on twenty-six points, two points clear of Bolton and five points clear of the two Bristol Clubs and Notts County. As for me, I had thoroughly enjoyed the game and my first trip to the Valley. Despite the trek I would return to watch us play there again as we fought our way out of the division in the 1979/80 season, Hales would be playing in that game also.

Soccer - Football League Division Two - Charlton Athletic v Cardiff City Photo by Peter Robinson/EMPICS via Getty Images

I was a lucky traveller that season, we only won five away games and I saw four of them as we went up as champions, with a cracking home record that saw us only drop a point to the two Bristol teams in the league.

The TV coverage of the game saw Derek Hales somewhat vilified for his well-aimed kick on young Mickey Henderson, as he was tried, judged, and found guilty by the national media.

By the time the furore had died down, I almost felt a little sorry for him... almost!

Division Two – 15/11/1975

Venue – The Valley

Attendance – 22,307

Charlton 1 – 2 Sunderland

Charlton – Tutt, Penfold, Warman, Giles, Young, Bowman, Powell, Hunt, Peacock, Flanagan, Hales (1)

Sub Curtis

Sunderland – Montgomery, Malone, Henderson, Clarke, Moncur, Kerr, Towers, Porterfield, Hughes sub-Holden (2), Robson, Halom


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