Our fantastic 2-2 draw at Maine Road in the 5th round of the FA Cup on 24th February 1973 triggered an epic replay at Roker Park three days later.
In the two days before the replay, almost 52,000 tickets had remarkably been snapped up by Roker fans who sensed not only an upset on the cards, but something bigger and longer lasting than a one-off shot at one of the top division’s big guns!
I had been lucky enough to be at Maine Road for the first tie and would place that match in my top five away games ever. I could not imagine the replay being any more exciting, how wrong I was.
I was lucky enough to get a ticket for the replay on the Monday before the game, having totally missed the information about tickets going on sale the day before (Sunday), when all 49,000 tickets had sold in three hours.
With season ticket holders entitled to one ticket and likewise the fans who cued getting one only, this was an unbelievable response from the Sunderland fans. My luck in acquiring a ticket was down to an allocation set aside for local bus companies, which were handed back as they could not process/sell these in such a short turnover. Once again, I took my luck as a sign that we were going all the way to Wembley despite the fact that we sat in the bottom six of division two at the time of that game.
I learnt much later that Man City had taken very few of their allocation, partly because of a train strike on match day, as well as the logistics of getting the tickets out on sale in such a short period of time. The match attendance could have been closer to 55,000 but unfortunately these tickets were not returned in time for Sunderland to put them on sale.
I had not only missed the ticket sale information, but also lulled myself into a false sense of pleasure at the suspension of Tony Towers for the replay.
He was City’s best player at Maine Road and when he was sent off toward the end of the first tie, I was chuffed we would not see him at Roker Park for the replay.
I was wrong about this he played, but his teammate Mick Summerbee did not, having triggered a suspension through the “totting up” disciplinary process. Ian Mellor would take the wingers place in City's first eleven.
For Sunderland, David Young was fit again to resume his partnership with Dave Watson at the heart of our defence. Young had done little wrong in the games he had played with Watson, and was unlucky to get injured when he did.
However, Richie Pitt - who had been recalled from a loan spell at Arsenal - had taken his opportunity with two very good performances in the Middlesborough derby and at Maine Road. Stokoe, despite not being enamoured with Pitt and ready to sell him on, decided to keep him at centre half - and the rest as they say “is history”.
Stokoe named an unchanged team.
Jimmy Montgomery played his 450th match for Sunderland that night. His form in this cup run had been tremendous. Despite palming the city equaliser into his goal (under what I still believe was illegal pressure from Marsh), he had produced top class saves in every round to keep the momentum moving forward.
The draw for the quarter final had paired the winners of this replay with a home tie against Luton. For City, Malcolm Allison repeated his boast that City would win, and would beat Luton in the next round also he was convinced this was City's year.
Rodney Marsh waded in with a similar boast and Franny Lee had volunteered to give the Sunderland team his wages if they beat City!
Another cold wet and windy night greeted the thousands of supporters as they made their way to Roker that night. The floodlights seemed to call out to us like a “reverse lighthouse” not warning us away, but enticing us in. My necromancer was on the main stand roof again manipulating the floodlights, weather, and crowd to bring the magic that floodlit cup games used to bring to Roker. The atmosphere prior to kick-off was electric, it would seem it was not only the Sunderland players who had been lifted by the Maine Road performance, but the Roker fans as well. The anticipation was cuttable with a knife and the noise was ramped up to top decibel level as the teams took the field.
Ian Porterfield described these moments in his book The Impossible Dream. He said, “it was pandemonium, we could not hear each other”.
The surge in the Fulwell End coupled with the noise of the Roker Roar as the referee went to blow his whistle, would I knew be a lifelong memory. I had stood in three or four 50,000-plus raucous derby crowds up to that point, but had never experienced anything like this, the hairs were standing up on my wrists, arms and neck, as my undeniable sense of belonging to this gregarious horde threatened to engulf me and reduce me to tears!
HAWAY HAWAY HAWAY THE LADS WE CAN DO THIS!
We were straight on the attack with Hughes in particular continuing from where he left off at Maine Road. The wind was clearly evident and blowing with City in the first half, but we seemed to manage the conditions really well.
On fifteen minutes after a sustained period of attacks we scored and I seriously thought the Fulwell End roof was going to come down on us! Porterfield found Guthrie, who played Hughes into space on our flank. The ball was then worked through Porterfield again, to Horswill and on to Kerr. In a neat little movement on the edge of the box, Kerr dinked a weighted pass around Willie Donnachie and right into the path of Vic Halom lurking at the corner of the eighteen yard box. BOOM…… Halom launched a shot that was across Corrigan before he had a chance to blink, the ball clattered the stanchion in the goal as the crowd went up in wild celebration. One nil and the type of goal City usually scored against their opposition, not the kind of goal they usually conceded.
Unfortunately and accidentally, Colin Bell stood on Ian Porterfield’s foot in the build-up to this goal. Unbeknown to us in the stands, the schemer’s toe was fractured and sliced in the challenge and he would play the next eight games with it bandaged and his boot cut open to allow it to heal.
Halom might have scored again moments later, as this time from left hand side attacking the Fulwell End goal he fired another raker of a shot, that Corrigan did well to save.
City came back with a clever Lee/Marsh one-two but Pitt tackled well and Lee placed his shot just past the post. Marsh then tried an overhead scissors kick that beat Monty but came back off the inside of his far post. Monty then saved well from Colin Bell tipping his shot for a corner, with both Pitt and Watson putting in telling challenges as City tried to get into the game.
With noise cascading down from all four corners of Roker Park, Sunderland went on the attack again. Bobby Kerr took a throw in to Hughes in the right hand corner at the Fulwell End of the ground. Hughes gave him it back and Kerr attempted to cross but Donnachie blocked , the rebound fell to Hughes whose instant left foot shot was charged down by Donnachie again. The awkward rebound was controlled well by Hughes in the box as he slipped the ball between Donnachie and Bell and thrashed it past Corrigan into the same far corner Halom had buried his shot.
Hughes had been probably our best player at Maine Road, and was doing his best to repeat the display at Roker. At his best, he was unplayable, fast, direct, two footed and hell-bent on mayhem. When he got the ball, the Roker Roar seemed to switch up with him as he careered away on another run. His apparent carefree approach characterised our play that night, standing in contrast to City’s inhibited play, as Roker Park under the lights worked its magic.
Horswill might have had a third with a cracking shot shortly after the Hughes goal, which triggered a bit of City pressure. Doyle had a shot blocked by Pitt, the rebound fell to Marsh on the six yard box unmarked who placed a quick shot just wide of Monty. The speed of the attempt might have fooled many other keepers, but his reflexes were second to none and he saved with his legs, pushing the attempt wide.
Another Monty save to add to the catalogue.
Half-time saw the Sunderland team walk off to rapturous applause from the crowd and what a first half we had witnessed, could we hang on for the victory?
The second half resumed and for the first time in the match Bell and Towers seemed to wrest control of the midfield. On fifty-three minutes Doyle played a free kick to Colin Bell at the far post. Bell’s clever header dropped to Lee arriving at pace and from two yards out he fired it past Monty into the goal giving him no chance. City came again as Roker Park roared its defiance and Lee again found himself in an almost identical position as his first goal. Once again Jimmy Monty’s reflexes came to the rescue with another cracking save with his legs, what a roar this got at the Fulwell End, keeping us in the game and relieving the pressure at just the right moment.
With City pushing on for the equaliser, my thoughts strayed to the game at Maine Road. We had looked very dangerous on the counter attack and I did not think City's defence had the speed to cope with Hughes and Tueart on the break.
After a couple of good breaks, on seventy-seven minutes Porterfield fed Malone on the counter. He galloped thirty yards and laid the ball to Tueart on the right corner of the box. The winger took the ball at a gallop and cracked a low shot across Corrigan, who did well to get a hand to the shot. Unfortunately for him it deflected to the far post where both Kerr and Hughes were homing in. Hughes buried it and sent the stadium into absolute raptures, as the noise seemed to reverberate around Roker cascading down to our Lads on the pitch.
City were beaten and we all knew it as we sang ourselves hoarse to the final whistle. What a performance, everywhere on the pitch we had heroes in red and white. Hardly a soul had left the ground as we saluted our team in victory, the bright lights of Roker had given the blues to the aristocrats from Moss Side.
In the mists of time it's easy to get carried away and question whether the crowd was really as loud as I remember it... was this game really as good as I keep telling people it was?
Consider the feedback from a variety of sources.
Rodney Marsh said after the game that Vic Halom’s goal was the best he had seen.
Willie Donnachie said: “The crowd was fantastic... all the Sunderland players were on fire... Sunderland battered us that night and deserved to win by a mile”.
Malcolm Allison visited the home team dressing room after the game to congratulate Stokoe and his team and wish them well all the way to Wembley.
Jimmy Montgomery would reflect years later that the Manchester City replay was the defining game of the FA Cup run, and that this was when the team started to believe they could win the cup.
Dennis Tueart described the atmosphere as “rocking” and the supporters as “building up a real head of steam”.
Billy Hughes told the local media that the crowd had pulled them through when the pressure had been on.
This game was voted best ever match at Roker, and when you speak to supporters of this generation, they will usually list it as I do, their favourite game at Roker Park.
For all the delirium, the canny Bob Stokoe was not getting carried away. He let the press know that Sunderland were in a relegation fight and that he had agreed with Newcastle a fee for right back Ray Ellison, maybe a little reminder to Dick Malone to think twice before going on one of his gallops up the wing that allegedly so irritated his manager.
This game saw record receipts of £26,048 from a 51,782 crowd. Momentum was really building, not just with the team but the support too.
Luton awaited in the quarter final at Roker Park, and I was ready for more!
Tuesday 27th February 1973, FA Cup 5th round.
Roker Park: Attendance 51,782
Sunderland 3 ( Halom 15, Hughes 26 & 77)
Man City 1 (Lee 55)
Sunderland: Montgomery, Malone, Guthrie, Pitt, Watson, Kerr, Horswill, Porterfield, Tueart, Halom, Hughes. (sub Chambers).
Man City: Corrigan, Book, Donnachie, Jeffries, Doyle, Boothe, Bell, Towers, Mellor, Lee, Marsh. (sub Oakes).