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Soccer - FA Cup - Semi Final - Sunderland v Arsenal - Hillsborough, Sheffield

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FA Cup Fairytale: ‘Here Comes the Bride’ as The Lads march on to Wembley!

“Lucky Arsenal” were in our way - could we dare to dream of victory in the sleet and rain of freezing Hillsborough?

Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

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

We had beaten Luton 2-0 at a jam-packed Roker Park in the quarter finals of the FA Cup, and now the mighty Arsenal awaited in the semi-finals at Hillsborough.

Having already beaten highly fancied Man City over two fantastic ties and seen our form in the league improve beyond recognition, an irresistible wave of optimism was carrying us forward, we believed in this team and its manager and were convinced beyond any sense of logic that we were Wembley bound!

With 21,800 tickets allocated to Sunderland (a further 1,200 would arrive later from Arsenal to take our total allocation to 23,000) a real scramble for tickets was anticipated. The club had received (rightly in my opinion) some criticism for the way it had handled the all ticket games at Roker Park against Man City and Luton. The club decided it would issue a ballot card to all attendees at the Carlisle and Bristol City games, these would be used for the semi-final draw and for the final draw for tickets if we won.

Bob Stokoe was continually reminding the team and us supporters that we were still in a relegation dogfight with a stiff five games scheduled between the Luton game and the semi-final. Preston North End were first up at Deepdale, followed by Fulham at Craven Cottage and then three home games against Carlisle, Bristol City and high flying QPR.

Part of the momentum that built up over this period was probably created by the dichotomy of the relegation battle versus the fairytale of the Cup run. The regularity of these games every three to four days gave it a massive adrenalin shot - I honestly felt that, as a totally hooked fourteen-year-old, my head was going to spin around three times and fly off!

I managed to get a lift to the game at Preston with my schoolmate Sean and his elder brother Patrick. My memory tells me there was no skulduggery or any dilemma with school, but I cannot remember how this was. It’s a funny thing memory, because I have a vivid recollection of the game!

Soccer - Preston North End - Photocall - Deepdale Photo by Peter Robinson - PA Images via Getty Images

Preston were a tidy team with a good calibre of players the like of Alex Bruce, Tony Morley, John Bird, Hugh McImoyle, and a lanky centre forward who would within a season be wearing our colours, Mel Holden, as well as a former favourite of mine Jim McNab.

I was a tad nervous about this game just prior to kickoff. I went home very happy as we won at a canter 3-1, with two goals from Billy Hughes and one from Halom. The team that played that night was our arguably our strongest team and would be the team selected for the Semi-final.

Next up were Fulham at Craven Cottage and once again we came away with the points after a hard-fought game 2-1 with goals from Tueart and Halom. However, Guthrie had to sit this game out with an injury and Joe Bolton stepped into the full back role. It was not that easy following your team away from home back then unless you were there in the flesh. I am sure it was this game that my parents christened my “hotching” behaviour, unable to settle and continually playing with my radio to try and get a report from the game. Despite a massive improvement and many different ways in which you can keep up to speed when you are not at a match, at the grand age of sixty-five, I still “hotch” when I am not there in the flesh.

Three home games in a row were now scheduled and the first up was Carlisle. With ballot cards being issued at this game, over 40,000 turned up on a cold, miserable night. This time there was enough cards for all who entered the stadium and I was “lucky enough” to come home with nine cards, “gifts” from a variety of folk who could not go to the semi-final, did not do away games or did not require the lottery of the ballot to get a ticket.

This game was quite difficult and although we won it 2-1 with goals from Hughes and Tueart, we had to battle and were tested. Joe Bolton again deputised for Guthrie. Quietly I was hoping he would remain in the side, even though I had warmed to Guthrie’s no-nonsense defending and occasional sortie’s forward, I admired the young full-back and had even dreamt of seeing him with the FA Cup raised aloft!

Soccer - Football League Division Two - Sunderland Photocall Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images

It was great watching us play then, we really did have a head of steam up and the crowd really bought into it. Not only was the team rejuvenated, but the crowd were also... I felt like we could and should win every game we played at this time.

Apart from the points I was pleased with my haul of ballot cards and checked and counted them repeatedly once home!

Next up was Bristol City, who were at the top end of the table and had hopes of promotion. Once again ballot cards were up for grabs and another 30,000 plus crowd rolled in. I was a tad disappointed to see Guthrie back from injury and alarmed to note the absence of Vic Halom, whose carousing barnstorming performances had quickly endeared him to the fans.

David Young came in to partner Pitt in defence and Dave Watson was moved up front. To the best of my knowledge, this was the last time Watson was selected to play up front for Sunderland. He signed off with a goal as we cruised into a 2-0 lead going into the last quarter of the game. In a wakeup call to the team (and supporters) we gave away a point as Bristol came back to force a 2-2 draw at the death. I remember seeing Stokoe rise from the dugout at the finish of the game, genial Uncle Bob looked furious - and if memory serves me well, he let rip in the press.

I managed to accumulate another twelve ballot cards at and around this game.

When I think back to where and who gave me cards, I had a veritable small army of folk, friends and acquaintances (a teacher from school gave me a card) “rooting” for me. Selfishly at the time, all I wanted was a ticket for the semi-final - I did not care where it came from or what it cost in time, effort, or money!

I was successful in the ballot draw and was delighted, I thought this augured well for the final too, though I did not realise this at the time (and I am glad I did not) I was only successful with one ballot card, it was all I needed to get a ticket, but given that I had twenty-one, what was that really saying about my chances?

We had one more game scheduled to play midweek against QPR before the semi-final. They were some team at this time, and went up in second place behind Burnley that season with the likes of Stan Bowles, Terry Venables, Don Givens, Dave Thomas, Gerry Francis, Dave Clement and Ian Gillard in their side.

I was nervous about this one and fearful of injuries before the big game the following Saturday. Stokoe had made it quite clear avoiding relegation was his priority and he would play his strongest team in these games regardless of the risks.

Bob Stokoe Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

The weather had been foul for what seemed like two weeks and intensified in the day or two before this game. A few hours before kick-off the game was postponed due to the state of the pitch. Ordinarily, I would have hated this, but these were not ordinary times - I was delighted at the postponement and relieved that we could go into the semi-final without any major injury worries.

Our worries about Vic Halom being fit were allayed the night before the game as reports were he would probably make it. Alarmingly though the word was Mickey Horswill was an injury doubt. I had been relishing the battle between him and Arsenals Alan Ball. Only three players had gone with the eleven who had started the quarter-final (Joe Bolton, Brian Chambers and David Young) to the pre-match base in Buxton. None of these three or any permeation I could think of seemed to fit the Alan Ball problem! Stokoe and his “boot room” of Cox and Elliott were going to have to really earn their salary to sort this conundrum.

Soccer - Football League Division Two - Fulham v Sunderland Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images

I jumped on the bus at Morpeth that Saturday morning in irritable fettle - the opposition that day were often referred to as “lucky Arsenal” back then and this was jangling my nerves somewhat! Arsenal had won the league and cup double in 1971 and still had the backbone of that team. This included the likes of Bob Wilson in goal, Simpson, Storey, Rice and McNab, Geordie Armstrong, Ray Kennedy, John Radford and the burgeoning talent of Charlie George and of course Alan Ball. Ball had played in the very first game I had seen at Roker in 1966, he had been sportingly applauded by the Roker crowd as he played his way into Alf Ramsey’s England team and World Cup glory. Cementing this all together was a player I had admired from afar for a few years, Frank McClintock, who was the general on the pitch for Arsenal and a defender who really knew his job.

Arsenal were formidable.

My irritability was not helped by the fact that I had believed a story that Ball would be suspended following a booking in a game the previous weekend that had taken him over the disciplinary point threshold. Arsenal only did what we would have done in that situation and “strategically appealed” the booking, meaning Ball could play. I was brooding on this and Horswill’s probable absence when one of my more mature fellow bus travellers told me that McClintock was out injured and the young centre half Jeff Blockley would play instead of him - he also told me Horswill was fit to play.

My mood started to lift, as the papers were being passed around the bus. I read in one of the broadsheets an Alan Ball headline quoting him as saying “there is no way we can lose”. I thought this was a tad arrogant and hoped our own Ginger Ninja would run him ragged.

Alan Ball Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

I also read and had not realised that Bob Wilson had been out injured for the best part of a year with a right leg injury and he was really just playing his way back into form. Also, John Radford was also just back from injury and Blockley had definitely been out with a right thigh injury but had been deemed fit enough to play by manager Bertie Mee.

Considering all this in the round, I was of the strong opinion that we were the much more settled team going into this crucial game and on a great run of results as well as performances and in very relaxed yet focused frame of mind. I was of course a football genius, whose talents would surely be spotted soon by my team - my future was bright!

I had forgotten that in our last game we had let slip a 2-0 lead and had looked fatigued long before the final whistle, also whilst we were battling relegation in Division Two, Arsenal were in the running for the championship of Division One and looking to seal their third Wembley appearance in a row in the FA Cup.

The weather prior to this game was not good. We travelled South in sleet and snow and there was a biting wind to greet us when we got off the bus.

Some of the older Lads on the bus were going for beers and shouted on me to come along.

I politely declined and made for the ground. I had paid 70p for my ticket and wanted to get in and onto the Kop to get my berth and sample as much of the pre-match atmosphere as I could. I parked myself high up on the Kop just left of centre as you look at the terrace.

Despite the sleet and wind, it was fantastic watching the ground fill up. Our support seemed to be in all parts of the ground but Arsenal played in red and white too, so maybe I was making that up!

It's funny the things I remember from that day. Just a few yards in front of me, the “faces” from the Fulwell End who had nodded at me in the Reading away terrace came in and nodded at me again. The pre-match entertainment included the Dagenham Girl Pipers, the only girl pipe band in the world at that time - they were great.

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

Despite the huge number of travelling Sunderland fans, I kept bumping into people who I had seen on my cup travels this campaign. It seemed to me like the journey was coming to a climax and what a journey it had been, just one more game after this one to go thought I.

It struck me then that I had not heard or met one Sunderland supporter who thought we might get beat, it seemed all of us thought this game was simply the next step on our destined road to Wembley.

A group of lads and lasses from Sunderland came in and settled right next to me. I thought I recognised one of them, a lad a year or two older than me, but could not remember where from. He spotted me and came straight across, he remembered me from the train station at Manchester after the Man City game, he and his mate had become separated from the bigger group in Maine Road and had found themselves a bit lost and a tad vulnerable given the roving gangs of hooligans abroad that day. Just on cue, we had appeared and they had simply joined on the end of our group and walked down to the station and onto the waiting train with us. He made me feel a little guilty asking for Patrick who had led us from Maine Road onto the train that day, I had not given him or Sean a thought in my excitement.

The Kop stand at Hillsborough back then had no roof but was probably one of the biggest terraces in the country. It mattered not one jot that day that it was open to some pretty horrendous elements , the noise that was being generated in support of our team was tremendous. After the game, Alan Ball, Bob Wilson and Bertie Mee would all allude to the wall of sound that emanated from the Roker horde.

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

I would not have been the only one who sang themselves hoarse that day, I bet too that I was not the only one hearing the noise, chanting and songs in their head for 24 to 48 hours afterwards. In all the games I have been to since this game, only the 1985 Milk Cup final crowd has come anywhere close to the raw, emotional volume that was generated that day on the Hillsborough Kop.

As the teams lined up for the kick-off, I wondered why both teams had chosen their away kits for this game. Arsenal were in their yellow top and blue shorts, Sunderland in their all white/collared Umbro kit. Just before kick-off, something else caught my eye, I had looked to the flag poles to get an idea of the wind direction and intensity. Arsenal’s flag was snared around its pole (and to the best of my knowledge remained so for the whole of the game) whilst our flag flew loud and proud blowing strongly toward the Kop.

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

Arsenal stand-in captain McNab chose to kick toward the Lepping Lane end where most of their support seemed to be quietly awaiting the match to start. I thought Blockley looked nervous before kick-off and that Bob Wilson had aged somewhat since I had last seen him play. Bally looked like all folk nick named Bally do, an uncoiled spring ready to go. “Haway Mickey Horswill - get stuck into that bugger and we will win this” I thought to myself... and the ref blew his whistle to start the game.

In a carbon copy of all the cup games I had been to that season, the game seemed to fly by, punctuated by specific moments of almost painful slow motion.

The first ten to fifteen minutes belonged to us, as the Lads came out of their blocks quickly and looked buoyant all over the pitch. Mickey Horswill won his first duel with Alan Ball, a fairly straightforward tackle that raised a cheer from the Kop.

Soccer - FA Cup - Semi-Final - Sunderland v Arsenal - Hillsborough, Sheffield

Just after the fifteen-minute mark a raid into the Arsenal box resulted in a throw-in. Bobby Kerr took one of his long throws which was partially headed clear. The ball dropped at the left foot of Horswill lurking on the edge of the box, he blasted the ball first time, from my angle behind the goal I thought this one was going in, however, Wilson snaked a hand up to the ball and the chance went. Unfortunately, Wilson collided with the post and required some minor treatment, which held the game up for a couple of minutes.

On nineteen minutes Horswill (who was engaged in a very tasty midfield battle with Alan Ball), intercepted a Storey header and placed a long lob over Blockley and Simpson’s head.

With the gusting wind at his back, Vic Halom set off in pursuit of the ball which triggered an almighty din from the Kop. Blockley was first to the ball facing his own goal but appeared to dally as he worked the ball to his right foot, Halom was right at his back when the defender under-hit the back pass. Halom arrived to the ball a split second in front of Wilson and just got a touch that flicked off and past the Arsenal goalie.

Halom got an awkward touch to almost bobble the ball into the back of the goal. This was one of the slow-motion moments, it seemed to take an eternity to cross the line as Simpson closed in. The Kop erupted and it became very apparent that Sunderland fans were in every part of the ground as hands went up and joy abounded.

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

The goal was no more than our play had deserved.

Arsenal did respond to this and forced a clearance by Horswill which fell to Armstrong, who struck a sweet shot that Monty parried to Porterfield in the box. With a good bit of work to do to get the ball to safety Porterfield calmly ran the ball out of the box and delivered a dangerous pass up the left wing for Hughes to chase. It was the first of some calm classy bits of play from our playmaker that day, who played this game in his own time.

George and Ball then fashioned a great chance for the hard-working Hebburn-born Armstrong who seemed to be everywhere. From my position on the Kop this looked like a goal all the way, but from nowhere it seemed Dave Watson timed a perfect shoulder charge and stretched a leg to clear the danger.

Horswill repeated his pass that led to the goal, launching a Gary Owen that once again saw Blockley steamrolled by Halom, who advanced on goal with real menace. Wilson this time made a super save and beat away Vic’s effort. The dye seemed cast as the Sunderland fans roared their approval. Arsenal were rattled and we were rampant.

This was Halom’s best game in a Sunderland shirt to date. He deftly redirected a Kerr cross toward goal and with Billy Hughes running in, the ball was just cleared. Billy Hughes continued his run of good performances in this game, he looked well up for it, so much so that Arsenal’s enforcer Peter Storey was booked for bringing him crashing down as he raced forward once again with a very nasty challenge.

Halom could have had a hattrick in the first half, Hughes and Tueart both had credible efforts and Horswill bought a great save out of Wilson. We had definitely had the best of the first half as it drew to a close.

Right on half time came a big scare for us. An Armstrong corner was pushed back out to the diminutive winger, he was on it in a flash and powered a shot that looked like it was going across Monty toward the far post. With Monty moving to cover the shot it took a vicious deflection off Dick Malone and once again from my position it looked like it was going to go in at the near post.

In all but the Luton tie Montgomery had been called upon to produce world-class saves. He did not disappoint on this occasion, twisting in mid-air to throw himself in the opposite direction to his initial point of travel he got a touch that kept the ball out. What a save and what a moment to pull it off. The whistle went for half time, imagine if it had gone in - Captain Cliché reckons it is the worst time to concede a goal!

Soccer - FA Cup - Semi-Final - Sunderland v Arsenal - Hillsborough, Sheffield

The break allowed a sharp intake of breath. Despite the rain and wind, I was sweating. I looked around me and everyone else seemed to be in the same condition. To a man our Lads had performed magnificently, out-fighting and out-skilling our more illustrious opponents. Could they maintain this effort in the second half? I did feel one goal would not be enough and tried to mind-meld with Sir Bob to encourage him to get the troops to go for another goal straight away upon resumption of play!

The second half resume, and as our Lads took the field, I was caught by the roar that met them and hoped my throat would carry me for another forty-five minutes, I cannot expect my team to run till they drop if I will not do the same.

After another tussle with Halom that he finished second best in, Blockley was subbed. He clearly had not been fit and he had been run ragged by Halom. He had not played well and trooped off dejectedly. John Radford came on and went straight into attack, with Charlie George dropping into midfield. Storey moved back to partner Simpson in the centre of the Arsenal defence. Within minutes and reading the script the lack of height in the Arsenal defence was exposed by Tueart and Hughes as they played head tennis to each other.

Two back headers following a Kerr long throw saw the ball loop over Wilson. All he could do was help the ball on its way into the back of the net. This was the 64th minute, what I would not have given for it to have been the 84th!

Another of those moments I will never forget was Jimmy Monty when we scored our second, he just turned and stood watching the massed ranks on the Kop display their ecstatic joy, almost transfixed in the moment. It was joyous carnage on the Kop, I must have travelled a quarter of a mile at least involuntarily as Hughes’ header hit the net.

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

Minutes after this I thought Arsenal should have had a penalty and we were lucky to still have eleven men on the pitch. John Radford deceived Dick Malone and got goal-side of him and in on goal, and right on the edge of the box Dickie was all over Radford, almost yanking his shorts off. The ref gave a free-kick and had a word with Malone - lucky escape for us!

Around eighty minutes Guthrie and George had a set-too, that would probably have seen both sent off today. George appeared to kick Guthrie and hold him back, our burly full-back responded by grabbing the lanky George by the throat and moving him upward at a rate of knots. Once again the referee took a lenient view, calmed it all down booked both and got play underway again.

George then had the satisfaction of scoring as a Simpson cross slipped under Radford’s foot alluding Pitt and fell to George who hit it first time but not cleanly. Monty managed to get a touch but the ball trickled agonisingly over the line in slow motion.

2-1 and for just about the first time in the match Arsenal looked like they were in the ascendency. Cue Dave Watson, who was simply immense throughout this game. His focus was ninety minutes plus and this super athlete threw everything at keeping Arsenal away from our goal. His efforts seemed to rally the rest of the team and whilst Arsenal huffed and puffed in reality they did not come close to equalising. I could not stem the tears as the final whistle blew, I was not alone grown men , boys, girls & women were in tears all around me. As the police cleared the pitch of friendly invaders, all around me there was a pause, people were shaking hands, clapping backs and hugging.

It had been a supreme effort on and off the pitch.

Soccer - FA Cup - Semi-Final - Sunderland v Arsenal - Hillsborough, Sheffield

The crowd were not moving and at first just chanted Stokoe’s name over and over. Then as he emerged from the tunnel apparently at the behest of the Police, he had his arms aloft and clasped in what I interpreted as both victory and a thank-you salute. To the tune of Amazing Grace we sang his name and his tears flowed as he took our salute, a very moving moment that I will take with me when I depart this mortal coil.

The salty taste of tears was still in my raspy throat as I exited the stadium. Traffic was at a standstill as the Sunderland fans flooded into the road in good-natured high spirits. I spotted a newlywed couple in a wedding car, who at first looked aghast as the mass of fans descended.

Then in one of those classic moments that occur fairly regularly when you get a mass of excited fans all looking for the next good moment, somebody started singing the wedding march and dancing in front of the stationary car, soon the street appeared to be full of dancing wedding revellers dressed in red and white.

The couple were waving and laughing as fans applauded and sang. I hope they had a good life together, they certainly triggered a very funny touching moment for many of us.

I realised for the first time as I boarded the bus, I was very wet and cold. I love the quiet moments after all the madness and mayhem, I sat watching the reflection of my fellow fans in the window as the found their seats, each telling their story all similar in some way yet unique as they gave their view on the game and their man of the match.

There were plenty of candidates for that mantle - Watson had quite simply been immense, a man to go to war with. Hughes and Halom had created havoc and never stopped working. Horswill, our Ginger Ninja had won his battle with Alan Ball and some. Richie Pitt, Guthrie and Malone had followed Dave Watson’s lead and not given an inch. Monty had produced his now expected world-class save and Tueart had dummied, jinked and threatened the line all game. Bobby Kerr had quite simply never stopped, the Little General as Stokoe called him was tireless.

For me though Ian Porterfield was my man of the match. He controlled caressed and eased the ball all over the park that day and never looked like anybody was going to rush him or knock him out of his stride. It was a real return to form for our playmaker, whose toe injury had now healed. I remember reading his own words many years later.

Not happy with his form following the toe injury he had gone to see Len Heppell, who was Pop Robson’s father-in-law and an ex-champion ballroom dancer. Heppell had offered help to other athletes and was able to advise Porterfield, who responded with a great performance at Hillsborough. Arthur Cox too had noticed Porterfield’s contribution and remarked that it was the best game he had seen him play.

Soccer - Football League Division Two - Fulham v Sunderland Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images

As our journey home progressed my thoughts turned to Wembley, I wondered how to travel and who to go with. I resolved to double my efforts to make some cash to fund the final journey of this almighty escapade, starting with my Sunday paper round the following morning.

I really enjoyed the journey home, Mam’s big bait box fed half the bus. Croaky voices all over the bus made me smile as an impromptu chant of tell me ma me ma rolled around the back and then the front of the bus. We passed a big Leeds banner, we knew they were our opposition at Wembley now and that was there hard luck as far as I was concerned.

I tried to sleep but my head was full of noise, chanting, songs. My mind kept re-running various moments of the game, Guthrie with his hands around Charlie George’s throat, Vic Halom’s face as he followed the first goal into the back of the net, Monty’s face as he looked on to the Kop in absolute bedlam at the second goal, and of course Bob Stokoe’s face, tears streaming down his cheeks as he saluted us long after the final whistle had blown.

These memories and many more are indelibly printed on my mind as I recall that day. It was hard for me to imagine that the final could be any better than this - I was up for giving it a blast though, and so where my team.


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