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Soccer - FA Cup Final - Sunderland v Leeds United - Preview - Wembley Stadium

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FA Cup Fairytale: And now you’re gonna believe us...

The day had finally arrived - Sunderland were off to Wembley, with a bellyful of hope and optimism, knowing that they’d have to be at their absolute best to bring down the mighty Leeds United. Could they do the unthinkable?

Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

Catch up on previous editions of the excellent FA Cup Fairytale series below - read through them in order and re-live every moment!

Sunderland left Brisbane Road after their draw against Orient on April 30th and headed to the deluxe Selsdon Park Hotel in Croydon. The brutal schedule of eight league games in twenty days between the FA Cup semi-final and Final was now over, and it was time to focus on the FA Cup final against Leeds United.

For supporters without tickets, the search continued as the game drew nearer. I had several options for a ticket and had not given up hope.

Don Revie wasted no time in playing mind games, as he was known for, by publicly criticizing Sunderland’s decision to go into camp five days before the final, claiming the team would be bored. However, his criticism fell on deaf ears in Croydon, as Stokoe and his backroom team pulled off a masterpiece of Cup final preparation, outdoing the normally unbeatable Leeds PR machine at every turn in the week before the game.

While the Leeds team was virtually locked away at Elland Road, to the naked eye at Selsdon Park, it appeared at times like Sunderland was on holiday! Former players and journalists Len Shackleton and Jackie Milburn both expressed surprise at how relaxed and informal things were among the Sunderland squad, with the media given unprecedented access, and the players enjoying their leisure time after morning training sessions.

Stokoe had a more mature, less formal management style with the players, and this was never more evident than during the Selsdon Park week prior to the cup final. He treated the players as adults, gave them freedom and responsibility, and in return, he not only won their trust but also got high-level performances out of them.

Soccer - FA Cup Final - Sunderland v Leeds United Photo by Peter Robinson/EMPICS via Getty Images

Ian Porterfield remarked about this week, “Bob Stokoe did not lock us away like little kids or prisoners for seven days. Within limits, we were free to do as we chose.” Porterfield certainly made good use of the freedom. On the Wednesday night before the final, Dennis Tueart, Billy Hughes, and himself were at the TV studios for the recording of Top of the Pops, mingling with Errol Brown and Hot Chocolate, Suzy Quatro, and The Sweet.

The next night (Thursday), the entire squad attended the Football Writers dinner, enjoying the meal and a drink or two. Then on Friday, Tueart, Hughes, and Porterfield were on the rake again recording the Friday Roundtable radio show with the Radio 1 presenter Emperor Rosco.

Stokoe also held daily briefings with the press that week, presenting himself as genial, open, and comfortable. He timed a couple of volleys at Leeds perfectly, including one aimed at Billy Bremner, which sent a message to the whole Leeds team and Don Revie. Stokoe observed that the game already had a referee and did not need Bremner or any of his colleagues attempting to do the referee’s job.

Stokoe also played a tactical masterstroke by criticizing the FA for allocating the home dressing room to Leeds without so much as a “by your leave,” implying that the FA was favouring Leeds over Sunderland. It led to some interesting headlines in the press and a sense of neutrals siding with Sunderland because of the “billy big boots” attitude perceived of Leeds.

My dad, who had gently tormented me about Stokoe’s appointment and Sunderland needing a “Newcastle man” to sort them out, took immense pleasure in these media briefings. He would get me to read them from the paper (his sight had all but gone by this point) and would smile knowingly, adding superlatives like “you underestimate Uncle Bob at your peril” and “cunning as a fox and twice as shrewd”!

What was going on behind the scenes was a well-designed plan that saw the players training well without running themselves into the ground and having a low-pressure build-up to the big game. So much so that Ian Porterfield insisted that Leeds were not discussed by the team’s management with the players until the team meeting on Friday, May 4th.

Soccer - Football League Division Two - Fulham v Sunderland Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images

At this meeting, Stokoe laid out a plan for Sunderland’s midfield to man-mark the Leeds midfield. Mickey Horswill was to take Johnny Giles, Bobby Kerr would play wider to curb Eddie Gray, and Porterfield was to deal with Billy Bremner. This was not a defensive game plan, rather a strategy for when Leeds had the ball. Sunderland’s midfield was to harry and run, jolt them out of their rhythm, and not let them dictate play (and that was exactly what they did).

Stokoe also insisted on his team blasting out of the starting blocks and going at Leeds. He wanted his team to hit them with everything right from the whistle and try to grab a goal. Porterfield felt this was a bit of a gamble and had discussed with his roommate, Dennis Tueart, pacing the game as they did not want to run out of steam on the infamous Wembley turf! Both he and Tueart did exactly what the boss had requested, and it worked a treat.

Something else occurred that Friday before the final involving Billy Elliott and Joe Bolton, who was sharing a room with Mickey Horswill.

The Sunderland team had struck a deal with boot manufacturer Stylo to wear their boots for the final. The deal was worth £250 per man, which was good money in 1973 (Mickey Horswill was on a £25-a-week wage). The problem was not one player liked the Stylo boot. So, whilst Horswill lay on his bed chewing sweets that Friday evening, resting up for the final, Billy Elliott and Joe Bolton blackened out any distinctive markings on the players’ preferred boots and painted on the trademark two white Stylo stripes up the middle of the boot. This all looked good the next day, until the rain started belting down and the dye began running off the boots! I am not sure that £250 was ever paid!

Back in Morpeth, by Friday, May 4th, I was frantic. The “many irons in the fire” for a Wembley ticket I thought I had, like chocolate pokers, had all melted away. I had managed to accrue an unprecedented £17.50 in hard cash through a variety of “financial endeavors” and had formulated a plan to catch a sleeper bus from Newcastle to London and try to buy a ticket around Wembley. I remember carefully choosing my clothes, donning my ever-present scarf, and casually strolling downstairs to exit the house. I had been emboldened by my experience getting to the Elm Park replay and was driven to head South again, irrespective of the angst it might cause my parents.

I bumped into my Mam, who had been trying all week to engage me in the plans for the “big day” with talk of a party, etc! She told me our next-door neighbors had just bought a color TV, and I was invited in to watch the game on their television. She also asked me to keep an eye on my youngest brother (Paul) while she ran some errands. Shortly afterward, my dad appeared and asked me to read the latest press briefings. We had a bit of a laugh teaching Paul to sing “Haway the Lads” and “Eeayeeadio We’re gonna win the Cup.” By the time my Mam had returned, I had lost my window of escape (as well as my callous disregard of the worry I would have caused). With a heavy heart, I trudged back upstairs, threw my scarf, Harrington jacket, Doc Martins in a heap, and then threw myself onto the bed and wept quietly but unashamedly. It felt like my journey was over!

As the Cup final drew closer, the national media had become a Leeds frenzy machine. By lunchtime on May 5th, Leeds were not only the best team in England but also the best in Europe, if not the world. Sunderland were considered cannon fodder, and a slaughter was expected to ensue. An extensive list of “experts,” including Jackie Charlton, Brian Clough, Malcolm Allison, and Bob Wilson, gave Sunderland no chance.

Two notable exceptions to this were Bobby Charlton and Bill Shankly. Shankly, with his usual pithy candour and insight, said, “Sunderland has been like a petrol dump for years; it just needed a light to be thrown for a big explosion, and Bob Stokoe seems to be that lighted match. They have some fine players Sunderland, like Montgomery, Watson, Tueart, and Porterfield. What a fine player this Porterfield is, I like him a lot, very good.” He knew a thing or two, Shankly!

It must be said that by 1973, Revie had turned Leeds into one of the best teams in the country. They not only possessed a team full of internationals (of the Leeds twelve named for the final, only Trevor Cherry had not been capped, and he was Leeds’ best player on the day)! Leeds also possessed a ruthless, dirty streak, and a manager who would stop at almost nothing to win.

FA Cup Final 1973 Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

Don Revie, a former Sunderland player, had ten years of bad blood with Sunderland coming into the final. This included broken legs for young players Willie McPeat and Bobby Kerr, as well as an epic FA Cup tie in 1967 that took three games and an extremely dubious penalty award by a referee who had “caved” to the on-field pressure that Leeds systematically applied to the officials.

As if this was not enough, Bob Stokoe had issues with Revie, whom he alleged had tried to bribe him and his players to throw a game against Leeds when he was manager of Bury. Later, when Stokoe was manager of Blackpool, Revie allegedly offered “under the table cash” to Stokoe to sweeten a deal to buy Tony Green. Stokoe had none of it, and if you watch the teams walking out at Wembley led by their respective managers, you will notice hardly a word shared between the two!

Another not-so-well-known connection between the two teams was Ian Porterfield’s history with Don Revie.

Revie’s wife (Elsie) was related to the owners of the local grocer’s shop in Lochgelly (Porterfield’s hometown), and they used to visit in the summer months. Word reached the Leeds man about this local thirteen-year-old and his footballing ability. On one of his visits to Lochgelly, Revie took Porterfield for a kick-around on a local patch of grass and subsequently arranged a month’s trial at Elland Road. Porterfield remembered playing a couple of trial matches and training every morning, as well as getting to go on the first-team bus to an away game at Bramall Lane. Despite being well looked after, the youngster was terribly homesick and even though Leeds invited him back, he never went.

Not long after the 1973 final, Porterfield said of this connection:

Surprisingly I never spoke to Don Revie again (after his trial period) until I scored the winning goal at Wembley, even though I played against Leeds a few times before we were relegated (1969/70). I bumped into him in the Wembley corridor after the game, and he thrust his hand out with a rueful grin and said be good enough to come back next year and lose the cup, and then you will be able to call yourselves a team!

Soccer - Football League Division Two - Fulham v Sunderland Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images

I woke up early on the morning of May 5th and attended the early morning church service to ask for the Almighty’s intervention and victory for my team. Afterward, I went for a long walk because I didn’t want to be around my parents and siblings, who, with the greatest of respect, were not the people I had envisaged sharing cup final day with. When I returned, my dad asked me to read the press clippings and the team out to him. It helped calm and focus me, as he listened intently and asked a couple of questions about the details.

The concerns about Porterfield’s hamstring had abated, and he would take his place in what we recognized as our full-strength team. My only quibble was that David Young had been named on the bench when I would have preferred my fellow skinhead Joe Bolton (though I freely admit I was basing this on an emotional attachment rather than a strategic view)!

The TV pre-cup final programmes were in full swing on both channels, and I can remember getting excited about Cup Final It’s a Knockout, as a team from Sunderland beat Leeds. I was also intrigued by an interview with the world-famous Russian gymnast Olga Korbut, who I thought was gorgeous and looked about my age. She was clearly a football fan, and the thought crossed my mind that if I could not be at Wembley, I could have managed to snuggle up to Olga on the settee and watch the Lads win the cup! Haway the Lads.

As the morning progressed on TV, interviews with both teams were aired. The Sunderland interview was famously dominated by Billy Hughes’ laughter, and I cannot remember one thing that was said, just the players and the reporter laughing. It encapsulated Sunderland’s approach to the game and made me laugh for the first time that day (despite my dour ticketless fettle). The Leeds team, on the other hand, presented as serious and nervous, barely cracking a smile. Their demeanor cheered me, and I took it as a sign of victory alongside the “It’s a Knockout” result! I was more confident than ever that we were going to win.

Soccer - Football League Division One - West Ham United v Sunderland Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

I was grabbing every portent of victory I could identify, and a 3,000-meter race around the Wembley pitch involving three of the best distance runners in Europe provided me with another two. Dave Bedford, something of a cavalier of British athletics (and subsequent organizer of the London marathon for many years), arrived with Sunderland colors on and was clearly playing up to the Sunderland crowd. Better still, one of my favorite runners, Emiel Puttemans from Belgium, was running. He had smashed world records that year and beaten every European runner that had come up against him. I really liked his gutsy, brave running style and drew parallels with my football team’s style as the race commenced. Ian Stewart, an exceptionally good Scottish runner and 1972 Olympic 5,000-meter bronze medal winner, was also racing, but Puttemans won the race easily and in my head sent another message to Leeds: “you are not going to win today!”

We decamped to our neighbors, and in no time at all, Frankie Vaughan was leading the singing of Abide with Me, the cup final hymn (and one of my funeral choices)! The teams had been led out by a suited Revie and a resplendently red track-suited Stokoe. Even at this late juncture, he was trumping Revie. Dennis Tueart followed his superstition of always running out in front of Porterfield, and there was our own Mexican bandit Billy Hughes, unshaven for a week as per his pre-match tradition!

As they marched into the baying cauldron that was Wembley, all I could hear was the Roker Horde, this was my team, my people and it caught me, in full view of siblings, parents and neighbours the tears rolled unchecked down my cheeks (again).

The two smallest captains ever to contest an FA Cup final met in the centre circle to conduct the toss and suddenly we were off.

Soccer - FA Cup Final - Sunderland v Leeds United Photo by Peter Robinson/EMPICS via Getty Images

Like every other cup tie we had played in this fantastic Fairy-tale, the game seemed to fly by punctuated by agonising moments of slow motion.

A powerful half-volley over the bar from the edge of the box by Hughes, from one of the many accurate passes Porterfield delivered on the Wembley carpet, set the tone for the half right at the start of the game. A brutal tackle in the first minutes by Pitt on Clarke should have resulted in a booking but only served to send Clarke into his shell for a good spell.

On a quarter of an hour, Horswill sent another shot from the edge of the box skimming across the turf that had me off the settee with my arms aloft. The much-vaunted Leeds midfield was struggling to get a foothold in the game as Horswill, Kerr, and Porterfield implemented Stokoe’s plan to the letter. Then, at 3.31 and 31 seconds precisely, time stood still.

Another good passage of play involving Porterfield led to Kerr lobbing a dangerous ball into the box that Leeds keeper Harvey put over the bar. Hughes took the corner kick and sent a peach of a cross toward Dave Watson, who towered into the kick, taking two defenders as he did so. The ball dropped over all three and cannoned off Vic Halom, steaming up behind them. As time slowed down, the ball bounced in front of Porterfield, who controlled it with his left thigh, pivoted, and rocketed a right-foot shot past the helpless Harvey.


Ah, man, I can tell you it was bedlam in that three-bed council house in Morpeth, never mind Wembley. My four-year-old brother was running around with a rosette I had bought, shouting “goalllllll,” Dad had leapt up and back down again, and with the biggest smile on his face, exclaimed, “Get in ya Bugger” (he never swore around us kids ordinarily). As for me, I was off the couch and behind it, trying not to break any of our neighbor’s mantle ornaments as I jumped and hollered. What A Goal!

Leeds then came right back at us, but the man-mountain that was Dave Watson, along with Pitt, Malone, and Guthrie, stood firm. We still had time for another attack as Guthrie sent a shot well past the post, at least easing the pressure on our goal for a while, as well as my already frayed nerves. I noticed as we were retreating from this attack, Billy Bremner tripped Mickey Horswill. As he fell, the Ginger Ninja managed to bring down Bremner with him, landing a foot on the back of his head as they rolled along the ground. Bremner jumped up claiming all sorts of injustice, only to be reprimanded by the referee, who said nothing to Horswill. As he was moving away from the ref, I thought the Leeds captain looked in shock; this game was clearly not going the way he wanted it to!

Soccer - FA Cup Final - Leeds United v Sunderland Photo by Peter Robinson/EMPICS via Getty Images

Half-time came and went and despite anticipating a Leeds fightback it never materialised in the first quarter of an hour of the second half. We continued to look dangerous on the break, as Watson and Pitt dominated Clarke and Jones.

On sixty-six minutes, time stood still again.

Reaney on the right wing crossed diagonally and Trevor Cherry ghosted in at the back post to send in a goal-bound powerful header. Monty somehow got a hand to the ball but knocked it straight into the path of Peter “hot-shot” Lorimer, the man with the hardest shot in football who came onto the ball from about six yards out. The Scot blasted the ball goalward as Monty lay prostrate on the deck. Gateshead born Norman Hunter described what happened next, “I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Montgomery was out of position and beaten, a spectator with no right to save it, but suddenly he was possessed by some sort of madness that made him fly across the goalmouth to push the ball up onto the bar. I have never seen anything like it”.

It was a surreal moment on the setee; I watched it in slow-motion, traversing the whole gambit of emotions, surrendering their spirit to an equalizing goal, then flying to the other end of the emotional continuum as they roared their defiance and the defiance of their team at the TV and the so-called best team in the universe. “WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED!”

Porterfield was equally impressed and told all at the victory banquet after the game as he was presented with the Golden Boot. “I should cut this in half and share it with Monty. If I officially won the match, he certainly saved it.”

The team still had chances in the second half. Horswill sent one close, and Guthrie put one in the side netting, which had them up off the couch again after two goal-bound shots by Halom and Porterfield were blocked. The last ten minutes did not fly by; in fact, it felt as if time was marching backward as the Lads began to tire visibly, and Leeds, for the first time in the match, began to tick in midfield. Big clearances from Guthrie and Pitt were roared by the Roker Horde, and Watson made one, two, three towering headers and clearances as backs-to-the-wall defending was required and delivered.

In injury time, the atmosphere was unbearable on the settee. I could only guess at how it was in Wembley. Then, one of our unsung heroes made a marvellous cameo. Dick Malone stepped up, galloping up the wing and past Trevor Cherry, dragging half the Leeds team away from our goal. He then played a deft little ball back to Kerr, who moments later dinked a lovely pass over two Leeds defenders to find Hughes in the box with his back to the goal. Nonetheless, Hughes relieved the pressure by dragging the ball and defenders with him to the by-line and killing a little more time with his effort.

Soccer - FA Cup Final - Leeds United v Sunderland - Wembley Stadium Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

In one more breakaway, Halom had two shots, with the first being blocked before rebounding back to him. He hit the ball perfectly from the edge of the box, and it was heading for the top corner, only for Harvey to push it away with a great save. Halom’s reaction conveyed how close it was.

When the final whistle blew, tears flowed, and not just from me. It was an unbelievable feeling. Amid all the on-field celebrations, I noticed Mickey Horswill on his knees near the tunnel. He looked as if he had run himself to a standstill and could run no more.

Stokoe’s run across the Wembley turf to embrace Monty and Kerr, stealing the boss’s trilby and dancing a jig, are iconic memories that I will take with me when I depart this earth. I will also remember my dad sitting on the settee with a grin as wide as the mouth of the Wear, the pain of his ailing sight gone from his face, as my youngest brother Paul ran around shouting “EEAYEEEADIO.”

Memory is a strange bedfellow as one ages. I remember nothing of what I did after the game until I was back in my living room watching an Elvis film, Flaming Star, on TV. I also watched a Man Called Ironside and, of course, Match of the Day, which reduced me to tears again!

Elvis and the FA Cup, all in one day. Life indeed was good!

I had managed to put my crushing disappointment at not getting a ticket for the final behind me and was delighted when my parents agreed that I could go to the “coming home” celebration on the 8th of May. I could also take my brother Mark to the QPR game at Roker Park the next night for his birthday.

Not long before his passing in 2006, my dad told me that it had been one of his major disappointments as my father that he could not get me a ticket for the final. I am clear in my mind that had this happened, I would not have such golden memories of May 5th, of him and my brother Paul sharing the settee with me and every emotion that came with those ninety minutes.

As for Paul, you will find us seated next to each other in the southwest corner on match days. We have shared this magnificent obsession together through eight Wembley appearances and numerous peaks and troughs, and we are better people for it!

On This Day (9 June 2007): Midfielder turns down Sunderland return – and heads to Bolton instead


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