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FA Cup Fairytale: What the 1973 win meant to me

“Those times were imprinted on my young mind and created a bond with Sunderland AFC which is still strong. I am a lifelong fan. ‘Sunderland til I die’ was not chanted in 1973, but it might as well have been.”

Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

I cannot name any Roker Report writers who were around during the FA Cup winning season of 1973, aside from Kelvin Beattie, so this is an attempt to communicate and share how it felt at the time. Kelvin’s writings have really brought the campaign to life for many, as he writes from a strong memory of games. I was 18 years old when Sunderland won the FA Cup, so for me coming out of adolescence and bonding with the team in a special way are inextricably interlinked, so 1973 was a truly incredible year.

I chose my football team, or it chose me, celebrated those times with close friends I am still in touch with, and even made the first steps in choosing a career.

On Wednesday January 16th 1973, a few days before my 18th birthday, my friends and I had our usual matchday routine on a cold winter evening.

Cycle after school from Boldon to Roker Avenue, leaving the bikes at my aunt’s house, then walking on to the Fulwell End at Roker Park. Those were days of no TV at games, pay at the turnstile, one substitute, few advance tickets, zero transfer window, smoking, a lot of swearing, fans drinking Bovril, Leeds kicking everybody, no-nonsense era of football, just emerging from the flat cap era.

Roker Park was a mainly male, but extremely special place.

Match of the Day typically showed two games; we relied on newspapers and the odd sports bulletin on BBC Radio Two to keep up with what was happening at the club.

Dennis Tueart Sunderland 1975 Photo by Don Morley/Allsport/Getty Images

We were part of a surprisingly large FA Cup Third Round crowd of 30,033 to see the Black Cats beat Notts County 2-0 with goals from those Sunderland greats Dave Watson and Denis Tueart.

This was a 3rd round replay as we had drawn 1-1 at Meadow Lane four days earlier. Remember that we were in 19th position in the old Second Division at the time, which does help to explain a few things: first, why Bob Stokoe had been brought in seven weeks previously to end the Alan Brown era. Secondly, our previous home game attracted a crowd of just 12,573, and thirdly, why we did not gain promotion that season; we were just too far behind.

But the FA Cup became the main focus. Looking back, the playing styles of Stokoe and his predecessor Alan Brown could not have been any more different.

Brown had built a promising side, with an emphasis on youth, but the team performed in a straitjacket mode that forbade much creative play. Stokoe wanted Sunderland to play with the flair and freedom that matched their talent; we had a solid defence but gifted players like Bobby Kerr, Ian Porterfield, Denis Tueart, Vic Halom – who joined in February 1973 - and Billy Hughes were allowed to express themselves.

So, there was a lot of excellent, entertaining, free-flowing football.

This was the 1970s when football could be quite physically brutal, so everyone needed to know how to look after themselves and their teammates, and there was little protection from referees. Bringing this back to today, we have a highly talented Sunderland team at present, with some amazing ball players such as Patrick Roberts, Jack Clarke, Amad Diallo and Abdoullah Ba. As many contributors to Roker Report have noted, we can be devastating going forward, so there has been much talk of our style of free-flowing football this season, for example in the home games against Rotherham and Middlesbrough. Away games with three goals at Reading and QPR, and the four at Wigan stand out as well.

Soccer - Football League Division One - West Ham United v Sunderland Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

When imagining 1970s league football, think Millwall and that attritional 1-1 draw featuring constant aerial bombardment, rough tackles plus general shithousing when we played there early last month. Dennis Cirkin ended up seriously injured after scoring and has not featured since. That was the context in which many games were played in 1973, even in the top division, where Leeds United in particular embraced an abrasive style which makes the achievement of winning the FA Cup even more notable.

We did play some stunning, flowing football. I went to every round, aside from the final – but more of that in another piece. One of my most euphoric moments at Roker was being in the Fulwell End in my usual spot with friends and being directly in the line of the flight of the ball for Vic Halom’s goal in our 3-1 fifth round replay victory over Manchester City just over fifty years ago.

According to the Evening Chronicle, “when Sunderland’s 99-year stay at Roker Park came to an end in 1997, this was the game fans voted their ‘Match of the Century’.

The official attendance for the all-ticket fixture was recorded as 51,782 but those there that night - fans and players alike - believe there were more, many more, with some estimates as high as 70,000”.

Halom’s goal that night was truly stunning and the “H-bombers” of Hughes and Halom were an absolutely amazing strike force together as the Scotsman also scored twice that night. They were also great friends, as duly noted by Rob Mason in the latter’s obituary, see:

Those times were imprinted on my young mind and created a bond with Sunderland AFC which is still strong. I am a lifelong fan.

“Sunderland ‘til I die” was not chanted in 1973, but it might as well have been.


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