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…
As the final approaches, most of the nation is writing off Sunderland as a lowly Division Two side, compared to the so-called all-conquering Division One, Leeds United. Friday 4th May, most pundits are not giving Sunderland any chance. However, when asked his opinion, the Liverpool manager, Bill Shankly, is complimentary towards Sunderland and their chances against Leeds. Former Sunderland favourite, Brian Clough also suggests the final could see a ‘great upset’.
With eyebrows raised, the other pundits shake their heads, is this just typical Clough? He was never afraid of a controversial opinion, some viewing him as the upstart from the Northeast. But clearly, Sunderland’s route to the final hadn’t been an easy one, sweeping aside two of the best sides in the country already.
What the pundits think has little bearing on Bob Stokoe’s preparations for the next day. He has taken his young side away to a hotel in Surrey to allow them to relax, play a few games and have a few drinks. Stokoe and his team are meticulous in analysing the opposition. Don Revie’s, Leeds United, team are known for their tough tackling. Few teams can live with the physical approach of Leeds which has made them so successful over the past decade.
‘Right lads, it seems to me we need to let that team know what we’re about early on. So, I think, if one of you delivers a good, hard challenge and really clobbers one of them,’ Stokoe said thumping his fist on the table, ‘there isn’t a referee in the land that would send anyone off in the first minute of the season’s showpiece.’
The players look at one another and nod. They knew what they needed to do.
‘Don Revie makes his Leeds players think they’re cock of the walk. But if we can make them think they’ve never faced a team like us, we can rock them,’ Stokoe confidently told his players.
‘Aye, we can definitely rock ‘em, boss!’ Kerr added.
‘Revie always has a dossier on every team they face. So, he’ll have done his homework too. We need to show them we can dish out as much as them, and take anything they throw at us,’ he nodded towards Sharp.
The team to start would be the same eleven that finished the semi-final against Arsenal with Sharp up front. This time, he will be sporting the number 9 shirt. There was a lump in Sharp’s throat, just over six months ago he couldn’t get a start under Alan Brown. Now he is going to take to the hallowed turf of Wembley for the team he supported as a boy. Stokoe puts his hand on Sharp’s back, he gave him a little wink.
‘Everything all right, son?’
‘Good, well then everyone. Hear the noise…’
‘Yes boss, we know, we’re to enjoy the occasion and soak in every moment,’ said Montgomery.
Stokoe ushered them out for the pre-match walk-around.
‘We’re on our way…’ they called back.
May 5th, 1973, Leeds United v Sunderland
FA Cup Final – at Wembley
The Sunderland players enter the pitch into a caldron of noise. They inhale the atmosphere and take in the Wembley air. The jubilant red and white followers create a joyous spectacle, there is no lack of belief in their team. As they form an orderly line to greet the officials, Sharp looks up and down the line. He has dreamt of this moment all his life, now it is here, and it is even more glorious than he had imagined. The team’s families are amongst the crowd, he’s intoxicated by the pomp and circumstance of the final. Then, as is the tradition, they join in singing Abide with Me, all of them feel chills, the wind of history was blowing on them.
They lined up; Kerr is clapping his hands.
‘Come on lads, we can do this! Remember what the gaffer said about a tackle in the first minute,’ Kerr barks.
The referee blows the whistle to start the game. Leeds begins the match at breakneck speed, they certainly aren’t taking Sunderland lightly. But equally, Sunderland is not just here to make up the numbers. Sunderland’s closing down and a strong tackle from Richie Pitt, the one Stokoe had asked for, has left Allan Clarke crumpled in a heap.
Sunderland’s fighting for every ball and quickly proving they do belong on the pitch with Leeds United – flying in the face of the so-called expert’s predictions. The crowd is deafening, they are cheering following every challenge, every 50-50 and every clearance. But Sunderland is gaining a foothold in the match and holding their own.
When Sharp is getting the ball, he is dragging the team forward, bringing Hughes and Tueart into play. After Sharp takes the ball into the Leeds half he finds Porterfield, his cross in towards the edge of the area misses Sharp but finds Hughes with a snapshot just over the bar. Next, Guthrie plays in a cross from the left, which finds Horswill that fires just wide of the left-hand post.
Just over the half-hour as Kerr puts in a high ball, aimed towards the centre of the Leeds box, Sharp is closing in. The Leeds keeper Harvey is wary with Sharp charging him down and tips the ball over the top for a corner. Sharp is signalling to Hughes as he passes to take the corner.
‘Aim it towards me…’
Hughes takes an in-swinging corner towards Sharp and Watson. Sharp manages to chest it down but is crowded out by his marker. Though the loose ball it finds Ian Porterfield reasonably unmarked, who controls it before taking a glorious swing on the turn and he sweeps the ball home. No more than they deserve, and Sunderland is 1 – 0 ahead of Leeds United!
The Sunderland crowd are going wild, Sharp joins Porterfield to celebrate.
‘Porterfield, Porterfield you’ve scored, son!’ cried Hughes as he joins them.
Porterfield appears a little dazed and emotional.
The goal scorer within Sharp believes that should have been his chance. But this is a team game, plus he’s happy for Porterfield someone he’s known since his first day at the club, and there is still a long way to go. He is going to have to work harder than in any match he has ever worked.
‘Focus, Jimmy…’ he tells himself.
Leeds United begin zipping the ball about more, but the Sunderland rear-guard is equal to everything Leeds has thrown at them so far. Sharp is continuing to hold up the ball well and causing problems for the Leeds backline. Though reduced to long-range efforts, Sharp has managed to trouble Harvey a couple of times before half-time.
‘Leeds will come back strong in the second half, make no mistake about that. But they’ll be b****y shell-shocked in that dressing room right now. They weren’t expecting that. No one outside the Northeast was expecting that. I’m proud of each one of you. This coming up will be the toughest 45 minutes of your career but just keep going. Run yourselves into the ground and cover every blade of grass for me! Listen to them out there. Ha’ Way Lads!’ Stokoe proclaims during half-time.
Early in the second half, Sharp sets off on one of his mazy runs. He turns his marker one way, then the other before playing a beautiful reverse pass. Receiving the ball back, he juggles the ball a couple of times making inroads into the box before firing a low shot towards the goal. Somehow, Bremner gets something on it to deflect the chance against the post.
‘Ah, s**t!’ Sharp exclaims.
Sunderland again goes close to making it two with Guthrie firing into the side netting. But finally, the predicted Leeds onslaught has arrived. Leeds begins to take control of the game and Sunderland has an incoming tide to keep at bay. First, a deep across ball finds the fullback Trevor Cherry closing in with a diving header, only the keeper, Montgomery, to beat – a certain equaliser… no, Montgomery saves the headed effort, pushing it to his left. But that parry has only fed Peter Lorimer with the goal at his mercy, six yards out. In a split second, Montgomery’s up again to tip Lorimer’s goal-bound attempt onto the underside of the bar – an astonishing double save.
Leeds United can’t believe it and finally starting to doubt now, some heads are going down, as the Sunderland crowd continue to chant. They are louder than the Leeds end and have been throughout.
‘Ha’ Way Lads! Ha’ Way Lads! Ha’ Way Lads! Ha’ Way Lads!’
There are heavy legs for both teams heading into the final 15 minutes. Sharp continues to put his all into the match, his hold-up play relieves some pressure for a while and allows his teammates to regroup. As the moments tick by Leeds are showing their desperation. Piling men forward leaving gaps at the back to be exploited.
Watson clears another long ball, Tueart controls it and ventures forward. He finds Horswill who plays it forward to Sharp, he’s struggling for energy so hits an instant looping shot. It’s over Cherry, over Harvey too before it hits the underside of the bar and drops over the goal line and bounces out.
‘Goal!’ Sharp shouts at the top of his voice.
The Sunderland crowd are cheering again but the referee shakes his head.
‘I swear that was in...’
‘Get lost, never in a million years,’ Norman Hunter scoffs.
‘Didn’t stop you lot shouting that Monty’s save was over the line though,’ Sharp responds, shaking his head.
It would have been a goal to win any football match and cap off his brilliant display. The mighty Leeds is themselves out of ideas, and out of legs. Stokoe is a nervous wreck in the dugout as 2 minutes of injury time are played out. At last, there is the final whistle, the unbelievable has happened at Wembley!
Sharp drops to his knees, exhausted but beaming with delight. Stokoe runs from the touchline, but where is he going? He races straight towards his goalkeeper and joyously embraces Jimmy Montgomery for his match-winning double save. However, the big story is that there are eleven giants of men who had slain the Goliath, which is Don Revie’s, Leeds United.
The players climb the Wembley steps to the Royal Box, the cup handles laden with ribbons, only one of them red. But Sunderland captain, Bobby Kerr, the ‘Little General’, beams gallantly and proceeds to lift the famous trophy, only the second Sunderland captain to do so. Each player collects their medal and at just twenty-one Jim Sharp can’t quite believe he has just ended up on the winning side. He had dreamt of this moment since he was a boy. The emotion hits every one of the players as they pass their families in the crowd.
‘Well done my son, be proud of yourself!’ Jim’s dad calls as he waves down.
Sharp smiles and takes another look at that Wembley scoreboard.
‘It was definitely real then,’ he laughs to himself.
Leeds United 0 v 1 Sunderland