As we near the 50th anniversary of Sunderland’s magnificent FA Cup success in 1973, it is nice to remember that the club had enjoyed some glorious days in the competition the decade before too, when they were also Division Two underdogs.
In 1961 the Lads knocked out Arsenal before pushing would-be double winners Tottenham Hotspur all the way in the 6th round, with many observers claiming it was the closest Spurs came to missing out on their achievements. In 1964, Alan Brown’s men were at it again – dumping reigning league champions Everton out after an excellent display.
That victory set up a glamour tie with the cup holders Manchester United, which saw the lads surrender a 3-1 lead to draw the game 3-3 – George Best and Bobby Charlton scoring in the last four minutes to level the tie – setting up a Roker Park replay four days later.
And it’s a game that is still talked about almost 60 years later.
A 3-3 draw in the first game at Old Trafford over the weekend had seen Sunderland come bitterly close to booking a spot in the semi-finals, and with star-studded United coming to take on the promotion-chasing Rokermen.
Cup fever quickly spread across the town. What followed was a night of drama on the pitch, but the scenes outside proved to be just as notable. A quick turnaround is thought to have been a factor in the match not being made all ticket, and with huge queues forming at the turnstiles from early afternoon onwards, the roads soon began to grind to a halt.
Reports claimed that traffic jams stretched back miles, and with some estimates suggesting there were up to 120,000 people in the vicinity of the stadium, panic started to set in.
With the club having already been forced to close certain entrances, some of the supporters still outside began to get fearful of missing out, so when an exit gate at the Roker End collapsed under the weight of the crowds, people quickly began piling in unchecked. Others meanwhile were seen scaling walls and climbing over barbed wire, and in the end, an official attendance of 46,727 was thought to have been much nearer 70,000 in all truth.
Tragically, two people lost their lives in the general pandemonium, with one man collapsing in the stands and a teenage fan dying on her way to the match. Although neither of these were as a direct result of the Roker End incident, several hundred others were left in need of hospital treatment having been caught in the crush.
How much of this was immediately apparent to those already in other sections is unclear, but the piles of shoes that were stacked up afterwards gave an indication, with scores of folk losing their footwear through the sheer pressure of the surges.
The game itself proved to be a classic, with Sunderland taking the lead through an excellent Nick Sharkey scissor kick. The Lads then had a strong penalty appeal turned away before Denis Law forced extra-time, during which Maurice Setters put a Sharkey cross into his own net. That looked to have been enough, but United’s pressure told late on when a Bobby Charlton header ensured a second replay, this time on neutral territory.
The marathon tie eventually ended with defeat in Huddersfield, but the scenes that had gone before left their mark. Promotion followed at the end of the season too, but real cup success would have to wait a few more years…
Wednesday 4 Match 1964
FA Cup 6th round replay
Sunderland 2 (Sharkey 41, Setters O.G. 91), Manchester United 2 (Law 62, Charlton 120)
Sunderland: Montgomery; Irwin, Ashurst; Harvey, Hurley, Elliott; Usher, Herd, Sharkey, Crossan, Mulhall.
Manchester United: Gaskell, Brennan, Dunne, Crerand, Foulkes, Setters, Herd, Chisnall, Charlton, Law, Best.
Roker Park, attendance 46,727