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FA Cup Fairytale: Morecambe & Wise Men Say

“We had no right to feel as we did, given the previous five years, but given the previous ten games, I felt we had every right” — Kelvin Beattie’s epic story of the run towards the 1973 FA Cup final continues...

Catch up on previous edition’s of the excellent FA Cup Fairytale series below - read through them in order and re-live every moment!

Sunderland had seen off first division heavyweights Manchester City in a fantastic FA Cup replay under the lights at Roker Park in a game many Lads fans of that generation consider to be one of the best seen at our old ground. Our reward was a quarter final tie at home to fellow second division team Luton.

The Hatters had a fantastic away record that season and had dumped Newcastle out in a previous round at “Sid James Park” with a two-goal salvo from the enigmatic John Aston.

Along with 13,393 fellow fans I had seen us thumped by Luton at Roker two-nil earlier that season, (eight of our cup final team played that day) not long before Alan Brown took the “mutual consent route” to some gardening leave.

Despite this result and their away form, I was now totally convinced we were going all the way to Wembley, no way were Eric Morecambe’s boys going to stop us now!

Eric Morecambe And Friends
English comedian and director of Luton Town FC, Eric Morecambe (1926-1984) pictured on left shaking hands with heavyweight boxer Joe Bugner as Luton Town manager Harry Haslam and musician Acker Bilk (1929-2014) look on from the pitch at Kenilworth Road stadium in Luton on 19th July 1973.
Photo by Fairley Simmons/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As the first shots were fired in the Cod war and economic and political strife was rampant in the country, the momentum that had been created by the cup run in 1973 appeared to be lifting spirits in the local population irrespective of the national and international difficulties.

Sunderland where still in a relegation dogfight at this point in the season and Bob Stokoe was not taking his eye off this. The board offered him a five-year contract in an attempt to tie him to the club. He had refused this offer for the moment, telling the local press that he wanted to steer Sunderland to promotion first, “and then we can talk about a contract”. He certainly had a way with plain-speaking words that resonated with the Roker faithful!

The Sunderland hierarchy had decided to make the quarter-final all ticket and that a voucher would be issued to fans at the Oxford game on the 3rd of March, two weeks before the Luton tie. What they were trying to do was reward loyal supporters who attended home league games (and maybe get a few more paying customers through the turnstiles), so for that they were to be applauded. Unfortunately, what happened on the day of that game was a bit of a farce and left a bad taste in the mouth for some loyal fans.

I remember being on the bus to the Oxford game, crossing the Tyne Bridge and seeing loads of Sunderland bound traffic. I had a moment of panic when we parked up in the harbour and I saw all the traffic and people heading to the ground.

Suddenly I was gripped by ticket frenzy - what if I did not get a voucher, never mind an actual ticket for the quarter-final?

I sprinted to the ground from the harbour car park and round to the Fulwell End. I could not believe the queues! I headed back around to the Roker End where the queues had looked marginally shorter and joined a line on the main stand corner of the Roker End. As I came through the turnstile and into the darkness underneath the Roker End clutching my voucher, the old chap in front of me turned and asked me if I wanted his, as he was “going to his sisters in Weston-Super-Mare that weekend”. Although I have never been to Weston-Super-Mare, I still to this day love the town dearly (my mate Sean got the extra ticket).

Bad organisation on the day of the Oxford game saw the vouchers run out at some turnstiles, some fans passed into the ground unable to collect their voucher.

Some of these voucher-less supporters exited the ground to try and find a turnstile that was giving out the vouchers. Others had refused to enter, careering around the outside of the stadium trying to identify the voucher-friendly turnstiles. Tempers flared and it was quite ugly prior to kick-off, as the numbers attending far outweighed the expectation.

The official crowd for this game was given as 39,222 but I can categorically tell you, what I saw from the top of the Roker End that day was what seemed like hundreds of fans milling around outside the ground, long after the game had started!

Bob Stokoe issued a heartfelt apology to supporters in the local press for the voucher debacle, promising to have the team ready to do all it could to win the tie for the fans.

He missed nothing, did the messiah.

Soccer - FA Cup - Semi Final - Sunderland v Arsenal Photo by Peter Robinson/EMPICS via Getty Images

We beat Oxford 1-0 that day in a very poor performance, which Stokoe put down to tiredness given the number of replays his team had played so far in the FA cup campaign. Dave Watson did score a canny goal and Ray Ellison made his debut as we gained a vital win.

Next up believe it or not was Luton at Kenilworth Road. I had never been to this “tight little stadium”, which Dad told me was no bigger than Morpeth Town’s ground! My financial wheeling and dealing was exhausted for this one. I would have to try and follow the game on the radio, which was very frustrating back in the early 70s - oddly, I have still not visited Kenilworth Road after all these years and many away trips.

It was hard not to think of this as a rehearsal for the cup tie, but the team that took the field that day a week before the quarterfinal showed several changes, with Ellison, Ashurst, Young, Chambers, Lathan and the promising youngster Jimmy “Chico” Hamilton all given starts, with one of my all-time favourites Joe Bolton on the bench. Malone, Pitt, Horswill, Tueart, Kerr and Hughes were stood down for a variety of niggles/rest.

Whilst the record shows a one-nil defeat, what ensued by all reports was a fantastic game of football, with both teams going at it and neither deserving to lose on the day.

In an interview after this game, Stokoe promised to wipe the smile off Luton manager Harry Haslam’s face the following week - a rare moment of public grit from the usually considered and genial Northumbrian, who had not appreciated Haslam’s exuberance as he was being interviewed close by.

Soccer - Football League Division One - Luton Town Photocall
Harry Haslam, Luton Town manager
Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images

It was a long week before the quarter final, and to say I was somewhat distracted at school would be an understatement. What I did notice that week was some increased interest from some of my Newcastle-supporting classmates, some of whom were right in the mix of the hooligan fraternity. I started to regard the flack as backhanded interest and almost supportive in a bizarre sort of way. The size of our crowds as well as results and performances were making our noisy neighbours sit up and pay attention, and I was loving it. My Sunderland scarf regularly attracted the wrong kind of attention at my Newcastle school, but I wore that blessed thing loud and proud in 1973!

Finally it was the day of the game, and we took a great bus journey through Newcastle from Morpeth, over the Tyne bridge, with car horns beeping support and Toonies giving us the V - I guessed this was not for victory!

The noise and commotion around Roker Park was thrilling, I felt a whole mixture of emotions clutching my 40p ticket as I walked up to the ground, the place seemed unrecognisable to how it was before Christmas.

I went through the same Roker End turnstile I had used two weeks before, with Sean right behind me. It was a strange phenomenon looking back, so many Sunderland fans were utterly convinced we were going all the way to Wembley. We had no right to feel as we did, given the previous five years, but given the previous ten games, I felt we had every right.

53,151 fans crammed into Roker Park that day, and the expectation was rampant.

Before the game, Jimmy Montgomery was presented with a gold watch for clocking up a record 453 appearances, and then Bob Stokoe came out and collected a Manager of the Month award. I was really struck by the reception he got from the crowd - he had only been in the job for eleven games, and prior to his appointment many fans (me included) were hoping for Brian Clough or Don Revie to be given the job.

Less than three months later, 53,000 of us were cheering him to the rafters - what an impact he had made!

I also have a recollection of members of the 1937 cup-winning team being presented to the crowd, including Bobby Gurney and Johnny Mapson, but have been unable to confirm this in the passing of time, perhaps somebody can clarify? Those of a superstitious disposition had made much of the 1937/1973 connection, as well as the fact we had beaten Luton on the way to the 1937 final.

Luton took the field in very snazzy new strips, a gift from their director Eric Morecambe. I thought they looked great, but nonetheless they were cannon fodder for my Wembley-bound team.

Stokoe resisted the temptation to bring David Young back into the starting eleven for Richie Pitt. Despite apparently not rating the youngster and trying to sell him to Lincoln and loan him to Arsenal, the manager had some positive things to say to the press before the game about Pitt’s recent performances and appeared to have had a re-think. I was pleased about this - nothing against David Young, who had done little wrong in the games he had played, but Pitt’s left foot for me seemed to compliment Watson’s right in the centre of defence. I had also seen Pitt make his debut and watched him play in the youth team, and felt a great affinity with the young home-grown players.

Sunderland v Leeds United - FA Cup 2015
Richie Pitt, pictured in 2015
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The team that took the field was the same as the starting eleven for the Manchester City ties. From my Roker End perch, the Fulwell End looked rampant just prior to kick-off as the chants echoed around the packed stadium. We could see children being passed overhead down to the relative safety of the front and a better view. The atmosphere was crackling as the Roker Roar split the heavens from every corner of the ground at the referee’s whistle.

Luton’s danger men were wingers Aston and Ryan, as well as the handful that was Viv Busby. They arrived with an impressive away record and whether it was a plan to “park the bus” or they froze in front of the massive Roker crowd, on this day they hardly struck a blow in the contest.

Ryan and Aston were very well marked by Malone and Guthrie, Watson and Pitt looked in complete control throughout and Monty hardly had a shot to stop, with no need for any of his great reflex saves, to go with his brand-new watch.

Where we did struggle in the first half was the final ball. We played some very nice football and looked to all intents and purposes like we were going to blow the Hatters away, but the final pass kept going astray. First of all, Porterfield shot wide and the surge in the Roker End sent me in one direction and Sean in another, twenty-five yards apart now it was half-time before we were able to speak to each other again.

Horswill then careered into the box and shot past the post when it was easier to score, then Halom blasted a shot just over the bar, after being well set up by Tueart. After a great passage of play Dennis Tueart dipped a shot onto the top of the net, which I and many others in the Roker End thought was a goal - cue further mayhem!

Luton’s apparent cautious approach and our inability to find the final touch, saw half-time arrive without any scoring. It crossed my mind that a replay was the last thing we needed at this stage of the season, we really needed to put this one to bed.

The second half resumed to a similar pattern, with Luton hardly crossed the halfway line, and we kept getting into good goal-scoring positions - but no coconut!

On fifty-two minutes another attack led to a corner at the Roker End. Bobby Kerr took the kick at the main stand corner and pinged a cross right into the middle almost on the six yard line. As the cross came in there was movement toward the front post and from the edge of the box that seemed to distract the defence - Dave Watson got a run on his marker. The cross was so accurate Watson hardly needed to jump, he met the ball on the run and bulleted a header into the back of the goal, which nearly burst the net. The roar that met that goal was ear-splitting and the cacophony of song and chanting that followed it was absolutely joyous.

Once again Sean and I were twenty-five yards away from each other as the Roker End struggled to regain their feet. The goal triggered an all-out assault on the Luton goal. Ian Porterfield started stroking the ball all over the park and might have scored a hat-trick. Tueart (who was my man of the match) had another good chance and set Halom up with an absolute pile-driver that just went over the bar. Horswill fired a good attempt from the edge of the box and Hughes had a great run that just lacked the finish.

Luton seemed to be creaking at every seam as we won another corner with nine minutes to go. Hughes picked the ball up and took the corner from the same spot that Kerr had fired his in for the first goal.

The cross dropped to Richie Pitt’s just inside the box, he headed powerfully toward of all people Ron Guthrie, lurking on the six yard box with his back to goal.

The burly defender swivelled and struck a sweet volley into the goal as if he was a proven goal-scorer (I read much later, that he loved to get forward and scored his fair share of goals on the training paddock).

Roker Park erupted as we knew Luton were not going to come back from this and we were going to our first semi-final since 1956. We might have scored another two goals at least before full-time, which triggered a mini pitch invasion of the celebratory kind.

With the Match of the Day camera’s there for the first time since 1968, Barry Davies did a post-match interview with Ian Porterfield and commented that he might have scored a hat-trick, Porterfield’s response was to tell him “I am saving my goals for the final”. Barry Davies also commented that after Sunderland’s first goal, Sunderland had “torn Luton to shreds”.

I remember reading in one of the local papers after the game that Dave Watson had dreamt he would score, and also that Stokoe had offered Ron Guthrie odds of 60 to 1 if he scored, but the defender had not taken the bet.

Viv Busby was quoted as saying “Sunderland battered us on the day”.

Sunderland made a record £26,000 plus in gate receipts from this tie and the crowd was the biggest of the day by some margin.

We were drawn against Arsenal in the semi-final, after they beat Chelsea in a replay. In the other quarterfinals, Leeds beat Derby 1-0, Wolves beat Coventry 2-0.

Our relative success was drawing unwanted attention to some of our players. West Ham had allegedly offered £180,000 for Dennis Tueart and an unnamed club had offered £200,000 for Dave Watson. Bill Nicholson the wily Spurs manager had also been at the tie, to run the rule over Watson.

The semi-final seemed a million miles away as we returned to league action against Preston North End at Deepdale on the 19th of March and pulled off a fine victory with Hughes scoring two and Halom the other, as Sunderland continued to move up the league table away from relegation danger.


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