On May 5th, 1973, Sunderland AFC had its greatest day in modern history, and I was not yet three years old.
The events of that day have been recounted so many times since then. There is an unconscious connection, a knowledge, and a feeling of that day that lives in the corner of my mind. I wonder if it is real, imagined, or just placed there after years of listening to the stories and legends of that day.
I recall the arrival of a rented color TV just in time for kick-off, the green carpet, the green three-piece suite, and the green curtains - all representative of their time. I also remember the budgie in its cage chirping and flapping its wings as Richie Pitt smashed through Allan Clarke early on.
We have all seen the game, first on VHS, then on DVD, and now, with YouTube, it can be watched whenever and wherever. I bought the VHS for my dad in the 1980s. It is hard to imagine these days that he would not have seen the full game since the very day itself. We watched it one Christmas Day afternoon, a dozen or so years after the event.
Of course, the clips of David Coleman calmly stating “Porterfield!”, Monty’s saves, and Stokoe’s run across the turf, and Bobby lifting the cup above his head had been shown every cup final day, each and every year since. However, between 1973 and the mid-1980s, that was all you got; those clips and the rest were recalled by those who could remember.
My mind can still envision our living room in 1973: the sideboard, the flared trousers, and oversized collars. I can still smell the cigarettes and whiskey, and see the imperfect TV picture with pale colors and a lack of clarity. I remember Coleman’s expert commentary describing the red and white hordes at Wembley Stadium on that day in May 1973.
In the days after the victory, the team arrived in Durham to find the A690 lined with hordes of well-wishers who left their homes to wave at the returning heroes. Would that happen now? Not a chance. The community no longer has those ties that bind. But I was there in my buggy, waving at something I was too young to understand. In my mind’s eye, I can see it all now in glorious technicolor.
Three years later, I received my first Sunderland kit. It was red and white stripes with a red collar, and I chewed off the buttons. It had “1973 FA Cup Winners” embroidered on it, but there was no badge - just “SAFC” in black italic letters above the heart. The shorts were black with no manufacturer’s logo or club badge, just simple black nylon shorts. Matching socks were an unaffordable extravagance.
And then came my first match. I don’t remember who the opposing team was, but I do recall seeing a little bloke with black hair and a moustache wearing a shirt that was too big and shorts that were too long. “Who is that?” I asked my old man. A stranger’s face turned towards me and said, “Well, that’s Bobby Kerr, young’un. He won the cup. Have a black bullet.” I can still see that yellow, pockmarked face, scarred by a lifetime of work in a job that no longer exists. In 1977, the heroes of ‘73 were still very much just that.
And they have remained so ever since. We can name them all - Montgomery, Malone, Guthrie, Horswill, Watson, Pitt, Kerr, and Hughes; Halom, Porterfield, and Tuert, and then the sub David Young. We all grew up on the legend of the 1973 team, and as teenagers, we experienced the pain of Bob Stokoe’s ill-fated return. Now we see them out and about, celebrities in the city. Has any team ever been held in such high regard? Every club will have their favorites, but this lot is ours - ours to remember fifty years on from May 5th, 1973.