As an army of Sunderland fans descended on the capital for the 1973 FA Cup final, there were thousands more setting up camp back home in front of screens and preparing to will the Lads on with every breath.
Tyne Tees Television came to town trying to capture some of that excitement, and the result was a stunning collection of footage guaranteed to give Sunderland fans goosebumps, even half a century on.
Original showings of ‘Meanwhile, Back In Sunderland’ started with a rare red and white version of the TTTV inlay and an eerily quiet town centre on the morning of the game. The peace soon disappears as Wearside wakes up to its biggest day in generations, with supporters getting ready for an occasion they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.
Some parts are still familiar – the train station concourses from which thousands headed down to ‘The Smoke’ was only pulled down in 2022 - whilst other clips are a real throwback; ‘smoke’ being the operative word amidst the tabs and bonhomie. It’s a wonderful reminder of Canny Old Sunlun.
There’s an innocence to the people in front of the cameras and a range of Wearside lilts come through loud and clear, as does the sheer happiness and pride at seeing a community reawakening.
Once the trains and buses have departed, those left behind on Wearside quickly go about their business before kickoff. Red and white is everywhere, from the bus drivers to the shop staff, and the punters are buzzing.
Plastic boaters seem to be de rigueur, and windows are full of posters and messages of support. Incidentally, I’m wondering if the Edward Thompson shop that I recall on Fawcett Street in the 1990s was open at this point. Selling stationery, party accessories and other supplies as it did, it would’ve done a roaring trade if so.
As the players of the future warm up in the cobbled back lane of Roker Baths Road at dinnertime, things are starting to ramp up.
A wedding is rushed through at the Civic Centre and queues form round the corner at the Top Rank on Park Lane, with smiles abound everywhere. On Beatrice Street, a few paces away from the Clock Stand, people pile into a front room complete with a colour television. The internal décor will have changed since, but the exterior is easily recognisable even today.
There’s a bit of a slip when some BBC commentary is heard despite this being an ITV programme, but there’s only one rivalry that supporters really care about up here.
Bob Stokoe Senior makes a brief appearance, complete with Sunderland tie, and whilst the Wear and Tyne got on a little bit better back then, Newcastle United fans these days seem to forget the man that had played for them in an FA Cup win before overseeing ours had come from a Sunderland-supporting background.
Earlier on, we’d heard from another relative of the men who were going to be making history, with Jimmy Montgomery’s mother-in-law making a rather prescient prediction.
The sense of family comes through when we return to Beatrice Street and you’ll see similar behaviours and nerves if you take in a match in 2023. Young and old are together, and some of their interactions the same now as they were then.
Admittedly, the fashions and appearances are a little different, and when we get glimpses of the man himself, I still can’t get over the fact that Stokoe himself was only forty-odd when all of this was happening, but it’s these moments that help to make the piece so evocative.
Other than outside the TV hire shops, the town centre is as still and silent on a Saturday afternoon as it’s ever been but indoors, it’s a different story.
Ian Porterfield scores, Jimmy Montgomery saves, and pandemonium ensues. As one onlooker cries tears of joy, I get the same feeling all these years later.
To know the score already and still get wrapped up in it all as I watch it is a peculiar feeling. It probably links into my own idea of self and how much Sunderland means to me as a place and a club, and whilst I doubt that everybody watching in 1973 necessarily cared about football, they certainly cared about their home.
As the minutes tick by, tensions rise until the final whistle is greeted with unbounded delight, other than one old boy calmly taking a sip from his pint in the club whilst surrounded by utter bedlam.
Celebrations spill out onto the streets, including where the Bridges Shopping Centre stands today and believe it or not, the Leeds Permanent Building Society in Market Square.
The weather seems a lot brighter than it was at Wembley and as traffic hits a deafening standstill in Holmeside and you get a true view of how much Sunderland means to the area – whether you follow them directly or not, your partner might, or your kids might, and it seeps into every aspect of life.
As night falls and more people pour into the pubs, the emotion and characters of Sunderland are all on here.
1973 was a shared experience that we can all cherish, whether we were there in person, spirit or just retrospectively. As one fellow puts it, ‘the people of this town willed it’ and as the show comes to an end with the live strains of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, I think I might just have something in my eye…
MEANWHILE BACK IN SUNDERLAND | Yorkshire Film Archive (yfanefa.com)
This film was made by the people of Sunderland