Cup fever was rife amongst Sunderland fans at this point in 1992, but the wider population had other things on their mind and a man with his own Wembley pedigree was hoping to capitalise on this day.
The Lads had reached their first FA Cup final since 1973 during the weekend just gone, and one of the heroes from that stunning victory over Leeds United was now standing as a Liberal Democrat candidate in the general election. As a player Vic Halom had been fantastic at getting on the end of crosses in the box and been an integral part in the club filling its trophy cabinet for the first time since the second world war, but now he wanted to represent the people at Westminster, not Wembley.
The forward was still a popular figure in the area despite leaving SAFC nearly 16 years before. He had scored the opener in what was later voted the best game to have ever been played at Roker Park as Manchester City were dispatched in the famous cup run, and then opened the scoring again against Arsenal to swing the semi-final in Sunderland’s favour, but the former centre forward was now drifting towards the left.
Running in Sunderland North, his manifesto was based around boosting the economy and rebuilding British industry – noting that the loss of shipbuilding was still being keenly felt in the area. With a wife and three children, Halom also wanted to focus on education and health, and had some strong words for the incumbent Tory leadership that could just as easily be heard again in the current climate;
“This election is the opportunity to get rid of uncaring and incompetent government.” “The Tories who put tax cuts for a few above prosperity for all have to go.”
Those sentiments felt widespread and early indications in the build-up had suggested a return to power was on the cards for Labour, but exit polls notwithstanding, it wasn’t until the early hours of the following morning that the full outcome of the election would become apparent – and the result was seen as something of a surprise. Sunderland South did declare at 23:05 on the day of the election, the United Kingdom’s newest city becoming the focus of the nation as it would for the next five elections too having seen one of its constituencies being the first to announce, but red wall joy was to prove short lived.
Chris Mullin held with an increased majority but as data filtered through from elsewhere a different story emerged. Sunderland had followed victory at Hillsborough over Norwich City on Sunday with a loss at Leicester City on the Wednesday, and by Friday ‘blues’ were celebrating again; Labour had closed the gap and clawed back a number of seats, but the Tories had somehow managed to remain in charge.
There was disappointment too for Halom, who lost out to new Member of Parliament Bill Etherington. A former shipyard and coal mine fitter and one time vice president of the North East Region of the National Union of Mineworkers, Etherington had been educated just a few yards away from Roker Park at Redby before going on to attend Monkwearmouth Grammar School and would become a well-liked servant.
Even still, Halom’s share of a little over 10% of the votes (5,389 from a total of 50,188, which equalled a turnout of 68.9%) was perhaps lower than anticipated but was in part down to the fall out from the Lib Dems’ formation in 1988, which followed an alliance between the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party that had split the support base.
It did however remain the best performance seen by the new party in the constituency until the seat was abolished in 2010 as part of Boundary Commission reductions. By the 1997 election, which did deliver a Labour victory, Halom had stepped away from politics and the party instead nominated Geoffrey Pryke – a science teacher at what was now Monkwearmouth Comprehensive.
Not only had the school previously welcomed Etherington, but Hilary Armstrong, MP for North West Durham between 1987 and 2010, was also a former pupil. The pair were both voted in on this day in 1992, ensuring that the red flag continued to fly high in some quarters at least, but whilst there was a cup final to look forward to in the short term, many folk were thinking that other aspects of life could only get better.