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No, it isn’t Newcastle at home on January 6th 2024, this was sixty years ago on 4th January 1964. The draw we didn’t want was Northampton Town at home. It sounds rather tame now with Northampton being a League One club but in 1963-64 season they were very much our nemesis, being the only team to beat us that season both home and away.
In the two previous seasons we’d finished 3rd in the table, failing on both occasions to get the required points for promotion in the final game. Would it be third time lucky for Sunderland?
We started the season off well winning our first two games. An opening day 2-0 victory at Huddersfield Town (goals from Andy Kerr and George Mulhall) was followed by a comfortable Wednesday evening 3-0 victory over Portsmouth at Roker Park with goals from Mulhall and Johnny Crossan.
Our next game was another at home the following Saturday. On paper a home game against a newly promoted team looked to be two points in the bag for Sunderland but Northampton were on a journey up from the depths of the then fourth division and were no pushovers.
They had a shrewd manager in ex-Arsenal and Wales player Dave Bowen and relied on a virtually unchanged solid defence of Chic Brodie, Theo Foley, Mike Everitt, Derek Leck, Terry Branston and Joe Kiernan. Kiernan was a classy cultured left half who’d had the unfortunate task at Sunderland to be understudy to the consistent Jimmy McNab.
The Sunderland first team half back line of Stan Anderson, Charlie Hurley and Jimmy McNab was one of the best in the division but our reserve team half back line of Martin Harvey, Dickie Rooks and Joe Kiernan would have been a first choice line-up in many Division Two sides at that time.
But Kiernan made only two appearances for Sunderland scoring one goal in the process, before opting for a move to Northampton for a fee of just £2,000, where he would eventually become a club legend.
In attack the Cobblers had the tricky winger Barry Lines, Co Durham lad Billy Hails and up top was the big blonde and aptly named Frank Large. An old school brick sh*thouse of a centre forward who feared no centre-half and was known for “putting himself about”. Large had started his career at Halifax Town and joined Northampton from QPR.
On 31st August 1963 a crowd of 39,201 filled Roker Park as Northampton stunned Sunderland with two quick goals from Ray Smith and Hails. The rest of the game saw the Lads camped in the Northampton half and bombarding their goal. There was to be no comeback as attack after attack failed to breach the resolute Cobbler’s defence.
With five minutes left on the clock, and with Sunderland having one of their many corners in the game, they left just one man back - Len Ashurst - to mark Northampton’s lone attacker Frank Large.
Both players were standing just inside the Sunderland half, the corner fell to a Northampton player who quickly sent a long ball over the top for Large to chase. Fortunately Len had read the situation and took a step forward into the Northampton half leaving Large offside.
Large, however, ignored the whistle and kept running with the ball towards the Fulwell End before veering towards the corner flag and booting the ball into the crowd. Ashurst went to retrieve the ball as the referee called Large over to have a word with him.
On his way back with the ball Ashurst kicked Large up the backside raising him off the ground (much to the amusement of the Sunderland supporters) while the referee was still giving him his “telling off”. This was the only time I’ve ever seen a referee laughing as he booked a player. For Sunderland it was one of those days though, we seemed to have many of them that season, where scoring was just not going to happen whatever you try.
As an aside Sunderland only lost one other home game that season a 2-1 defeat to Southampton on an evening an injured Charlie Hurley was replaced by ageing forward Andy Kerr instead of his usual and reliable deputy Dickie Rooks, who made just 34 appearances in eight years as Hurley’s understudy.
Luckily the Northampton result was just a blip as next few games Sunderland put the game behind them and only lost one more league game in their next twelve.
By the time of the return fixture on the 21st December 1963 Sunderland had only lost on four occasions in 23 league games and were sitting 2nd in the table. Northampton in their first season in the Second Division were comfortably in mid-table.
In those days Northampton played at the County Ground which they shared with the County Cricket team. Just seven days earlier Sunderland had beaten Huddersfield Town away 3-2 and were quietly confident of gaining points in the game.
As we all know with Sunderland things never seem to quite got to plan. Arriving at the County ground they found a frozen bone hard pitch and for some unknown reason their rubber-soled training boots hadn’t been packed. Northampton of course being at home had no such worries. Sunderland took the field wearing the normal leather studded football boots and immediately had problems keeping balance on the frozen but slippery surface.
12,130 watched as Don Martin netted for the home side after just two minutes, Sunderland held out until the 40th minute when Frank Large put them two up. Just three minutes later Billy Hails added a third and Sunderland went in at half time three down. There was no respite in the second half as within two minutes of the restart Don Martin scored his second.
George Herd gave Sunderland some hope with a goal after 52 minutes but the Cobblers added a fifth from Mike Everitt in the 77th minute to give the Rokermen their biggest defeat of the season.
At that time the FA Cup was a big deal and folks would all have their radios tuned in to hear the third round draw. My mates and I huddled around a transistor radio at school wondering if it would be Manchester United or Arsenal or one of the other big names coming out of the hat to possibly visit us at Roker Park. Then we heard “Sunderland will play... Northampton Town” it was the one club we didn’t really want to face.
After our 5-1 drubbing we had very tough away and home games against league leaders Leeds United over the Christmas period before our re-match with Northampton. We couldn’t beat them in two league games and then had to play them again after a couple of battles with Leeds United!
We were all convinced we’d be making an early exit from the FA Cup! 49.683 turned out to see Sunderland line up with their now usual team of Montgomery, Irwin, Ashurst, Harvey, Hurley, McNab, Usher, Herd, Sharkey, Crossan and Mulhall.
Northampton had changed their keeper, Chic Brodie moving on to Brentford for £10.000 and Bryan Harvey was now between the sticks, but the rest of the defence of Foley, Everitt, Leck, Branston and Kiernan was still in place. Up front they still had Hails, Lines and Large.
As it turned out the game was a dud, Northampton offered little and Sunderland although not at their best came out easy winners with goals from Usher and Crossan. That 2-0 win brought a home tie in the next round against Everton the Division One champions who we dispatched 3-1 . Followed by the three famous ties against the Manchester United of Law, Charlton and Best in the Fifth Round.
Sunderland were finally promoted that season and Northampton followed them in to the First Division the following season (1964-65). We met them twice that season winning at home 3-0 on 30th October 1965 with goals from George Mulhall, Neil Martin and Alan Gauden, but losing 2-1 at the County Ground on 25th April 1966 in their final home game in Division One.
Neil Martin had put us ahead just before the half hour, but two goals in a minute from Everitt and George Hudson gave The Cobblers the points late on. It would be the last time we played Northampton for twenty one years.
Northampton Town under manager Dave Bowen had moved from the Fourth Division to the First Division in just five years. After just one season in the top flight they dropped down the leagues with the same rapidity as they had arisen.
By 1969 they were back in the fourth tier. Their record of of moving from the fourth tier to the first tier and back to the fourth again in only nine years is still an English football record. Barry Lines made history by becoming first player to play and score in all four divisions for the same club.
Joe Kiernan stayed with the Cobblers as they dropped back down the leagues. In total he played 352 games for Northampton scoring 14 goals . He died in August 2006 aged 64.
After leaving Northampton Frank Large became a bit of a lower league journeyman turning out for Swindon, Carlisle, Oldham, Leicester, Fulham and Chesterfield.
Along the way he had three different spells at Northampton Town where he scored 89 goals in 220 appearances. His final league tally being 569 Appearances and 209 goals. On retirement Frank moved to Ireland were he assisted his son managing Westport United and Ballina Town. He died in 2003 aged just 63.