For those of you who remember the heady days of Sunderland’s remarkable cup journey, have you ever wondered what it would’ve been like to be one of those players, particularly one of the lads on the fringes before Bob Stokoe arrived?
Well, here’s a player who lived that dream.
This isn’t an opinion piece or a true story. If anything, it’s simply a short series written in tribute to the feats of Sunderland’s heroes of 1973, as witnessed from the pitch itself.
Tweaks have been made in order to reimagine and incorporate our own young ‘Roy of the Rovers’ player, Jim Sharp (Jimmy Sharp).
He’s loosely based on someone I knew of the right age, and who had the right doors opened - the powerful young forward could also have joined that magical journey towards lifting the FA Cup under Bob Stokoe.
Sunderland has cup fever; they haven’t been given the most glamorous fixture of the tie - granted. But even though they have fellow Division Two side Luton Town, there is a feeling of magic in the air. It feels as though it wouldn’t matter who this Sunderland team faced, as confidence in their abilities since the two matches with Man City have lifted them up a few levels.
Sharp is certainly no exception to that rule. He’s recently been dubbed the ‘Sunderland Supernova’ by some of the press. His wonder strike early in the reply has caught the attention of some illustrious names in football. Having seemingly come from nowhere a couple of months ago, to this much attention has swelled Jim Sharp’s rather large ego.
Stokoe even asked his captain to keep his new rising star in check. Kerr did it, the best way he knew; first, the dressing down...
‘Aye, Jimmy, big Dave and I were wondering if we play the ball in your direction from now on, will it start to orbit you… well, what dae ye think?’
‘Is this another Supernova joke, Bobby?’ Sharp sighed.
The jovial tone changed, and out came that ‘Little General’.
‘Ye know what happens to Supernova’s, I take it?’
‘Of course, but they’re (the press) just suggesting how bright I’ve been of late.’
‘Aye, bright, only to burnout before it’s time!’
An unimpressed Sharp scowled at him.
‘Heed my warning son, you and your little fan-club may think yourself the next George Best round here. But remember, for years he’s made less headlines in the football section than inside the paper for what it’s worth. And all for the wrong reasons. If that’s what you want – sobeit. But I’ll not have the dressing room upset by you.’
Sharp stared at the ground; he hadn’t had such a talking to in a long time.
‘Nah, I’d much prefer your feet to do the talking for you against Luton – smart-arse! Think you can manage that?’
There was a twinkle in Sharp’s eye, he knew what he was being asked; he was certain he would deliver again and wouldn’t disappoint.
March 17th 1973, Sunderland v Luton Town
FA Cup Sixth Round – Roker Park
Sunderland lost the last league match away, at who else but Luton at Kenilworth Road completing the league double. They’ve already despatched Newcastle United in the 4th Round this season. But the huge crowd packing into Roker Park, sense another moment of magic in the offing.
Stokoe rested six-players last time out including Bobby Kerr, Dennis Tueart and Jim Sharp. He’s decided to play the same side that blew Manchester City away at Roker Park.
Sunderland played well throughout the first half. While Luton are said to be dangerous when playing away from home, they have set out on the cautious and defensive side so far. Sharp has moved freely and stretched the fullback he is up against.
He’s caused some alarm when on a couple of occasions when drifting inside and been found by Halom knock downs. Only some last-ditch defending and some smart goalkeeping his kept them out.
‘Okay, lads. The gameplan, let’s get at ‘em! If we to play with intensity, they may have a reasonable defence, but they’ll not be able to keep us at bay. City couldn’t in the last round, and we’ve got that crowd behind us again!’ Stokoe tells them.
‘Aye, Jimmy and Vic have frightened them a couple of times now,’ Porterfield adds.
‘If you’re struggling for someone to play it to, get it up to me,’ Sharp confidently said.
‘Keep the pressure up, don’t let them settle, take corners and free-kicks quickly!’ Stokoe asks.
‘Ha’ way lads! Let’s finish the job,’ Kerr concludes, clapping his hands loudly.
‘HA’ WAY!’ they all shout together, as though going into battle.
Sharp continues to be Sunderland’s most dangerous player, proving difficult to pick up. Tueart is finding space on the other flank as the Luton defence try to contain Sunderland’s growing threat.
Horswill picks up the ball deep and slides it out to Tueart, allowing him to run at the Luton defence looking for Halom. The threaded pass is blocked off, only to fall at the intercepting Sharp steaming in from the right. On the half-volley he curls in a shot towards the top corner, only for the centre-half to glance it just over the bar.
The Roker End roar as Kerr prepares to take the corner. With the inswinger towards Sharp, the Luton defence are attracted to him and have missed the onrushing Dave Watson. A free header at the back post, the Roker End erupts with excitement, Watson’s pin-point header puts Sunderland into a well-deserved lead!
‘Keep going lads!’ Stokoe is calling.
Sharp and Tueart are swapping sides to make it even more difficult for to mark either of them. Kerr picks up the ball, slots it through for Porterfield who in-turn finds Halom. Using his strength, he holds-off the centre-half to get a strike away, only to be parried by, Barber, the keeper into the path of Sharp. He has the goal at his mercy, but a crunching tackle by the centre back puts the ball out for a corner.
‘Shit, that hurt!’ Sharp moaned, picking himself up and rushing to get the ball.
He places the ball in the corner, and signals to Pitt jogging into the box.
‘Get your head on this, lad!’ Sharp says under his breath as he sails the corner in.
Pitt wins the header down with Guthrie striking the ball on the turn to make it two, with just 10 minutes left. The Roker End is rocking, Sunderland’s heading into the semi-finals. Luton have no option now but to throw everything forward.
They’re leaving gaps for Sunderland to play some long balls into. Sharp is enjoying exploiting those spaces. When the ball is pumped forward, Kerr helps it on Sharp sees his chance, he nips in, runs some 20 yards before chipping the ball over the keeper from edge of the box.
The crowd go wild, but it isn’t to be, the flag has gone up for offside… the players shake their heads at each other, with a checky smile.
‘How was that offside?’
Just another two minutes to go, and there’s the final whistle. Sunderland have booked their place in the FA Cup semi-finals. Sharp looks to the crowd and waves towards his proud father.
‘Well done, son! Well done!’ he mouths towards young Jimmy, his eyes pricked with tears.
Sunderland 2-0 Luton Town