Sunderland AFC ended the 1970’s in style, gearing up for what would be a successful promotion push during the second half of the campaign with a series of noteworthy events as 1979 unfolded.
A whirlwind couple of months started when the Lads overcame Newcastle United on penalties in the League Cup, and despite being eliminated from that competition two rounds later, silverware was to follow after victory in the ‘Daily Express Five-a-side National Football Championship’ at Wembley Arena.
They were both enjoyable evenings but it was the programme of events organised to mark the club’s centenary, to be held between those wins, that marked the real celebrations.
Jack Ditchburn, vice-chairman of the club since 1971, headed up the committee that made the arrangements, starting with a Grand Dinner Dance at the Roker Hotel in October. There was also a cabaret evening at Roker Park, plus other events such as staff dances, a Supporters’ Association night, and a ‘Photographic Exhibition and Disco’ for junior fans.
The schedule eventually culminated with a lavish Centenary Banquet at the Mayfair Ballroom of the Mecca Centre on Newcastle Road (which, for those not old enough to remember it, was where Tesco Extra now stands, close to the Stadium of Light).
Before that however, there had also been time for a bit of actual football when on this day, Roker Park staged a match against an England XI.
Admission was set at £1 for those wishing to sit, and it was 10p to get into the Roker End or 50p for all other standing spots.
Whether that represented value for money or not depends on your viewpoint. There are many supporters for whom the opposition makes no difference, and this was of course a special occasion but on the other hand, national boss Ron Greenwood didn’t exactly pick an attractive side.
None of his team could be described as a regulars at international level, and several of the players who featured failed to earn any full caps at all.
On the plus side, two of Greenwood’s picks were boyhood Sunderland fans, with local lads David Armstrong and David Hodgson no doubt appreciating their call-ups.
The pair both provided an assist as well, with Everton’s Bob Latchford scoring a header in each half from their crosses to give the select side a 2-0 win. Struggling with injuries, Sunderland boss Ken Knighton had also opted to give opportunities to a couple of fringe players, including second half substitutes David Hamilton, Rob Vincent, John Cooke and Ian Hughes.
All four were products of the club’s youth system, with Cooke and Hughes doing enough to earn competitive debuts later in the month.
Hughes, along with Gordon Chisholm’s header from a Tim Gilbert pass, came closest to scoring for Sunderland, bringing a good save from John Burridge, who at that point played for Crystal Palace but would later become a recognisable presence in the area as a regular guest on Tyne Tees Television’s football coverage.
Although some of the faces on show were a little unfamiliar, it had been a different story before kick off.
Poor weather had an impact on the attendance, but a planned parade of former stars still went ahead, and it included a host of popular names from over the years.
Dennis Tueart was the most recent, whilst at the other end of the scale were Albert McInroy, Joe Kasher, Billy Death and Ernie England, who were thought to be four of Sunderland’s oldest surviving players.
Death and England had both travelled up from the Nottinghamshire area to take part, Trevor Ford had made the trip from Swansea, and afterwards they and the rest of the players all assembled in the Roker Park Suite to be handed souvenir ties.
They were also presented with a large Sunderland-themed cake courtesy of Savacentre in Washington, that was later donated to Sunderland General (now Royal) Hospital.
After all, you can’t have a birthday party without a cake, can you?
Wednesday 7 November 1979
Grand Centenary Football Match
England XI 2 (Latchford 18’, 71’)
Sunderland: Turner, Coady, Clarke; Hindmarch (Vincent 46’), Gilbert, Buckley (Hamilton 46’); Arnott (Hughes 46’), Chisholm, Dunn; Brown, (Cooke 46’), Rowell.