People who were born too late to enjoy 1973 firsthand can only imagine how amazing it would’ve been to experience the fairy tale of Sunderland winning the FA Cup, which is still one of the greatest stories ever told in sport.
Those present at Wembley will cherish the memories forever more, but what about supporters who were unable to get tickets? How did they follow the action?
Back then, cup final day was a major date in the calendar for all supporters, whether their team was involved or not, and the schedule was packed with football content. Sunderland AFC was receiving a level of attention like never before, and with the eyes of the whole country seemingly focusing in, our fans had plenty to see.
Nowadays, it can be easy to take football coverage for granted, but with live games a rarity in the 1970s, the television executives looked to make the most of them when they came round.
Hours of programming was lined up ahead of the match, with BBC One starting their previews the night before, when Nationwide included a feature on the ball due to be seen in the game (although an orange one was then famously used instead due to the weather) and they showed an interview with Bob Stokoe during coverage of the Amateur Boxing Association Championship finals.
Earlier on in the evening, they broadcast ‘The Good Old Days’, which coincidentally came from Leeds, whilst before that the week’s episode of ‘Top of the Pops’ was shown.
Sunderland’s players were flavour of the month at this point and they were certainly making the most of it. Members of the squad had been invited to the studio earlier in the week and Billy Hughes, Ian Porterfield and Dennis Tueart were present at Television Centre to see the episode being filmed.
Come the big day, anybody needing a distraction could entertain themselves for a bit with Laurel and Hardy.
Their movie ‘Fraternally Yours’ (also known in some countries as ‘Sons of the Desert’) was screened just after 10:00am and of course, Stan Laurel had spent time in the North East as a child, attending school in Bishop Auckland for a period, so perhaps his family members were hoping for a Sunderland win.
Indeed, Laurel himself had reportedly always enjoyed appearing in the town whenever he returned to the region to perform.
After that, the serious business began…kind of.
Cup Final Grandstand started at 11:15am and included ‘Cup Final Knockout’, a themed version of ‘It’s a Knockout’ that had taken place at Leeds Greyhound Stadium between the rival sets of supporters and former players, including Raich Carter.
The 1937 FA Cup winner sensed a win for his hometown club in the main event and the omens looked good, with the Sunderland representatives winning the show.
Frank Bough, said to be a Sunderland fan, anchored the coverage, and the Lads seemingly needed all the support they could get, with most of the pundits Leeds to win.
Carter was back again too, but some of the BBC’s other panelists were backing the favourites, despite Bob Wilson already seeing firsthand what Sunderland were capable of and Brian Clough perhaps wanting it to happen in his heart but not thinking it in his head.
His fellow north easterner Bobby Charlton was admittedly leaning the other way, and the injured Leeds United defender Terry Cooper went for his colleagues.
As well as the standards, such as player profiles, interviews and the route to Wembley, Bough introduced several features including more boxing, highlights of previous finals and ‘cup final athletics’ with record breaking runner David Bedford taking part alongside Olympic medallists Ian Stewart, Emil Puttemans and Bronislaw Malinowski.
Another intriguing booking was Olga Korbut, who was also a highly decorated athlete.
Having won three golds and a silver in the 1972 Munich Olympics, the diminutive gymnast was in England ahead of an event at Earls Court the following week and endeared herself to those on Wearside by saying she was rooting for the underdogs.
Before her segment, the ‘Goal of the Season’ was announced, with the winner of the accompanying competition picking up £300 worth of Premium Bonds. A tidy prize indeed, although the real goal of the season wasn’t scored until later in the afternoon!
Nowadays, anyone who complains about being unable to avoid football on the box needs to remember what cup final day used to be like.
The current general levels may be at saturation point but back then, this was the one time of the year when it was almost impossible to get away from it.
Two of the three channels went in hard, with ITV starting even earlier than their rivals with ‘World of Sport’ commencing at 10:30am. They’d flown in European Footballer of the Year Johan Cruyff and enlisted the soon to be retired Leeds player Jack Charlton alongside Jimmy Hill – who hadn’t yet upset the Roker faithful with his duplicitous ways.
The network also pulled off a first when they were allowed by Stokoe to have cameras on the team coach as it made its way to the ground, but on the other hand, one of the secrets to his eventual success had already been laid out.
Two would-be members of commentating royalty were on duty, with Gerald Sinstadt working as a reporter for ITV and fellow legend Barry Davies coming live from Sunderland’s Selsdon Park Hotel base, and it was here where the mood was set.
In stark contrast to Leeds’ stuffy and regimented preparations, the Lads were allowed to enjoy the experience and came across as utterly relaxed.
This was highlighted in an interview with the squad that’s gone down in folklore, where live on air, Davies’ questions were being interrupted by a surprise noise in the background. Unbeknown to most of those present, and certainly Davies himself, Billy Hughes was surreptitiously setting off a small laughing box that had been given to his roommate Vic Halom by a friend.
Bought whilst on holiday in Spain, it had been gifted in the hope it would lighten the mood – which it certainly did. It was all highly irregular but the message was clear: Sunderland were doing things differently and making the day their own.
Leeds, meanwhile, took part in a stifled chat with John Motson at Hendon Hall and after this was shown (it was pre-recorded on Don Revie’s insistence) confidence in the red and white camp started to grow.
Players and fans alike have since spoken about how they could suddenly sense a fear in their opponents. After all, they weren’t machines, they were players who’d suffered defeat on the big stage before and now had everything to lose.
The team spirit and confidence of Sunderland came across on screen, but they weren’t just there for a party. Although the majority chose to wear their own suits instead of club issue blazers, they appeared focused upon inspecting the pitch prior to getting changed.
It was now Motson’s turn to interview some of the side and one by one, the likes of Jim Montgomery, Dave Watson, Richie Pitt, Hughes, Bobby Kerr, Ron Guthrie and Dennis Tueart all came across as wholly unfazed. Clough expressed his concern that they looked too comfortable if anything, but viewers could see little confidence on display when the opposition fronted up.
With the players back in the changing rooms, the traditional hymn ‘Abide with Me’ was sung with accompaniment from singer Frankie Vaughan and the Coldstream Guards.
Vaughan, who was a regular turn at La Strada in the town and was rumoured to be married to a woman from Sunderland, also sang ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.
When the teams were ready to come back down the tunnel, those lucky enough to have access to colour television couldn’t fail to be impressed by Sunderland’s vivid red tracksuits and red and white tops.
From that point on, the commentary of either David Coleman on the BBC or Brian Moore on ITV will probably still be etched on the mind of every Wearsider that heard it.
Coleman’s classic delivery of ‘Porterfield’ when the goal went in was simple and effective, yet both he and Moore were rendered speechless almost as they struggled to understand and describe ‘that’ double save by Monty.
Sadly, one never prone to being lost for words, it took Moore’s co-commentator Hill two replays to realise that the follow up had been blocked and wasn’t a spectacular miss.
In Stokoe’s mind, it was the moment the cup was won, and at full time he raced over to congratulate his goalkeeper. ITV director Bob Gardam spotted this and beamed the pictures live.
It was an iconic moment that captured the sheer joy of Sunderland’s sensational victory, but come the trophy presentation, a gaffe from Moore threw the tiniest of negatives onto the celebrations.
Winning the FA Cup is something to savour no matter what, but the run had also put a part of the world that was constantly having to fight back from economic blows and disadvantages back on the map.
With that in mind, the commentators’ laughable ‘Ha’war the Lads’ as captain Kerr turned to the fans with his prize only emphasised how marginalised the folk back home were.
Thankfully, Clough knew all about the people of Sunderland and the supporters of its team, and on the BBC, he was fulsome in his praise at full time despite his personal relationship with Stokoe.
However, in comparison to the pre-match build up, analysis afterwards was rather thin on the ground.
Once some more pitchside interviews were conducted and an update from the Scottish Cup Final squeezed in, it was time for ‘The Pink Panther Show’ at 5:15pm and then the news, although of course the Lads were the big story not just in football, but around the country.
‘World of Sport’ had already finished five minutes earlier, possibly to allow for more adverts, and commercials were often cited as a reason for the channel struggling in the ratings battle. ITV only totalled eight million viewers out of a whopping British audience of twenty nine million.
If watching a Second Division side beat one of the most feared teams in the land wasn’t enough, those that liked watching fantasy on the telly had an instalment of ‘Doctor Who’ to look forward to later in the evening.
Even in its early days, when Sunderland born actor William Russell was one of the main cast members, the programme was so fraught it had a reputation for making people jump behind the sofa. Rokerites certainly knew the feeling, having just gone through the agony and the ecstasy of a thrilling encounter with a sometimes robotic foe, and in the period afterwards, plenty admitted that they couldn’t bear to watch it.
Instead, many fans turned to the radio keeping up via the wireless whilst simultaneously trying to distract themselves with jobs around the home and in the garden.
‘Sport On 2: Cup Final Special’ started at 2:02pm and was introduced by Des Lynam, with Maurice Edelston and Peter Jones describing the action alongside summariser Bryon Butler. It was a rich mix of smooth and assured voices, with most of the BBC’s local station frequencies also plugged into their output.
Next up at 6:03pm was ‘Star Sound’, which by what looks like a quirk of fate, included the score from ‘O Lucky Man!’, a new film starring Malcolm McDowell for which the music was written by Washington’s Alan Price.
A massive Lads fan, Price may have even been listening in while on his way to the club’s official dance and banquet in Piccadilly that he was due to attend.
The venue for the do was the aptly named Park Lane Hotel, and while some fans were already on the bus home to Sunderland’s namesake station, some of the players were ushered into a private area to take part in that night’s edition of ‘Match of the Day’.
Unsurprisingly, it was a good-humoured show with plenty of quips from Stokoe and his men, but a breathless week still wasn’t over. Retiring eventually now to the Grosvenor Hotel, the following morning, Stokoe and Porterfield were back up to go to the London Weekend Television studios to take part in ‘How the Cup Was Won’.
This time, however, the Messiah was a little more abrasive.
His BBC One appearance late on Friday had been recorded earlier, meaning he could settle down and watch ITV’s ‘Who Will Win The Cup?’ as it went out.
Annoyed by the dismissive nature of those taking part, he now found himself sitting alongside some of the very same panel members and allowed himself to take a deliciously executed sideswipe at supposed ‘expert’ Malcolm Allison in particular.
For the first time in the age of television, Sunderland AFC had been in full glare and their abilities were put under intense scrutiny ahead of kick off, albeit Stokoe had suggested quite fairly that many of those commenting were doing so from a position of little knowledge, having not bothered to watch the team.
These irksome remarks set the tone for a raft of punditry in which Sunderland weren’t just made second favourites, but were actively written off by some and yet they proved the doubters spectacularly wrong. It was all played out across the airwaves amid the frenzy of Cup final broadcasting eagerly consumed by their fans and now, at last, it was over.
With the cameras off and the microphones down, the Lads could sit back and bask in the glory of their achievements. They’d been the centre of national attention, but now it was time to settle down with the Sunday papers and to see what they had to say about it all…
Going down a YouTube rabbit hole is thoroughly recommended, with scores of fantastic clips from the 5th of May 1973 available. A good starting point though might be this from BBC Sounds which features excerpts from Radio 2’s coverage of the day: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p074mlsr