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

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On This Day (9th May 1973): The FA Cup fairytale of 1973 ends with a bang!

Following our epic win at Wembley in 1973 we still had two league games remaining to complete the season, and the final fixture at Roker wasn’t quite the carnival we expected.

Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

Sunderland had won the FA Cup at Wembley on May 5th, 1973, but they were scheduled to play two more league games within four days after the final.

First up was Cardiff at Ninian Park on Monday 7th May which meant the FA Cup trophy headed back north on the bus carrying the players families, while the team bus headed for Wales.

Despite the physical and emotional effort of the final and the after-match celebrations, Sunderland put in a credible performance against a Cardiff team needing a point to stay in the division. In front of 26,000 fans Cardiff got their point in a 1-1 draw, Sunderland’s second half equaliser came from Vic Halom, who got on the end of a Joe Bolton cross.

The players and staff were invited to the Cardiff boardroom for more champagne and celebration as the party continued. The itinerary would see Sunderland return home the next day, as an estimated three quarters of a million people would welcome them back to Sunderland.

And what a welcome home it was. The televised recordings and photographs of the homecoming only tell half the story. This was a massive outpouring of affection and celebration, of pride and joy at a time when the country and its people, the North East in particular were struggling terribly with financial, industrial, and political upheaval. I was there and chose to go to Roker Park where 50,000 folks had crammed in to welcome home Stokoe’s Stars.

Soccer - FA Cup Final - Leeds United v Sunderland - Wembley Stadium
After winning the cup, Sunderland celebrated at the Park Lane Hotel in London, before heading off to take on Cardiff City
Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

Bobby Kerr and Stokoe spoke passionately and straight to our hearts that night. The crowd for their part were fantastic. It was a night that will stay long in the memory as the cup was paraded round and round Roker Park, with the players at one point threatening to throw it into the crowd creating much amusement and mayhem as 10,000 fans tried to catch the trophy!

By all accounts and certainly visibly it was another long night of celebration and partying for the players, who still had one more game to play against promoted QPR the next night.

I had been given permission by my parents to take my younger brother Mark to this game as a 10th birthday treat. I was looking forward to seeing QPR play, they had entertained everywhere they had played that season and had assembled a great squad of players such as Dave Thomas, Stan Bowles, Don Givens, Mick Leach, Dave Clement, Ian Gillard, Gerry Francis, Phil Parkes, Bob Hazell, and Terry Venables.

I had visions of a highly entertaining game, with not too much at stake and a celebratory/ good feel abroad that would allow both teams to royally entertain us. 43,251 fans returned to Roker Park that night, but things did not go as planned.

In the warm-up Stan Bowles, allegedly for a bet knocked the trophy (was it the FA Cup?) off the table it had been placed on by the players tunnel with the ball. Which irritated some fans that were already in the ground.

On the pitch before the game Sunderland made a presentation to QPR to acknowledge their achievement, Bob Stokoe was presented with the Manager of the Month award and Bobby Kerr accepted a Giantkillers trophy awarded by the Sunday Mirror. It seemed like the perfect pre-match to the main event.

Stokoe Hero’s Welcome Roker Park
Bob Stokoe nearly loses his jacket during the return to Roker following winning the cup at Wembley
Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

I am still, fifty years later mystified by the way QPR played this game and their part in the debacle that followed. There was an early warning sign that this was not going to be an exhibition game when Dave Clement absolutely “hoofed” Bobby Kerr “up a height” in the first minute or two. It was a brutal calculated assault that would have seen a red card in today’s game. It bought nothing more than a free kick from referee Peter Reaves, who would have to take his share of responsibility for a poorly controlled match.

Both teams did show their skills and talents for a while, with Hughes, Tueart and Porterfield in attack to the fore as well as Watson in defence. One amusing moment saw Bob Hazell slice a clearance off the side of his boot to hit the trophy once again on display. The toppling trophy was caught by the policeman standing guard and Hazell bowed apologetically to the crowd.

An incident between Richie Pitt and Stan Bowles who had a penchant for “shithousery” and had been at it for most of the half, saw two of the big centre-half’s toes broken and Pitt booked later in the game for clogging the “worky-ticket.”

The referee spoke to both Kerr and Venables as captains after half an hour asking them to try and cool their colleagues down, but nothing changed and Bowles continued on his merry way. Looking back, I am sure the celebrations and partying caught up with the Lads and this might partly explain their performance. Other than a hitherto hidden aggressive streak, (that was Leeds-like to witness that night) I have no idea why QPR were trying to kick lumps out of Sunderland out with possession, with the ball they could not half pass it about!

In the second half the referee lost control of the game. Dave Thomas scored a goal just after the hour mark to make it 1-0 to Rangers and then all hell kicked off!

Mickey Horswill, chased and punched Bowles after being badly fouled from behind and was immediately sent off, only for the ref to issue no sanction to Bowles, who had jumped up seeming to laugh. A lone supporter ran on heading for the referee, he was re-directed back to the stand by Billy Hughes.

Soccer - Football League Division One - Queens Park Rangers v Leeds United
Queens Park Rangers’ Stan Bowles gets away from Leeds United’s Trevor Cherry
Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images

Richie Pitt was then booked for a retaliatory hack on Bowles, which triggered a group of fans to run on heading for the referee, who was surrounded by Sunderland players for his own protection. This group were cleared from the pitch, only for the referee to almost immediately book Ron Guthrie for a foul on Venables, which triggered a mass invasion. The referee took the players from the pitch and allegedly into one room and told them they would have to behave to get the game going again.

In the meantime, the Police cleared the pitch and appealed to the crowd to calm down to no effect, if anything it just inflamed the already volatile Fulwell End. Bob Stokoe then appealed to the fans using a mega-phone. This was a bit more successful and after ten minutes or so the players re-emerged.

In all, Pitt, Guthrie and Kerr were booked for Sunderland, Francis, and Thomas for QPR. How the villain of the piece Stan Bowles escaped without sanction was beyond me. Bowles annoyingly went on to score two more goals in quick succession as the Lads along with the crowd lost all their discipline.

Police made a number of arrests, which stood in sharp contrast to the night before, where three quarter of a million people welcomed the Lads home and only one arrest was made! It should have been a glorious occasion of attacking football and celebration for both teams. In all honesty it was a night of shame, for fans, players of both teams and match officials.

Soccer - Sunderland AFC Photocall - Roker Park Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

Stan Bowles devoid of any sense of responsibility for his part in proceedings was quoted in his biography (Stan Bowles the Autobiography):

… we did not go out on the town after the game that’s for sure… the next day we had to get a police escort to the station… It got out of hand, I did not know they were all mad up there. Put it this way I will not be working up there. I know a lot of people at Newcastle and they tell me – do not go to Sunderland Stan they have long memories and do not like you.

This game stood in such marked contrast to what had gone before in the previous five days. I think it was too much for the crowd to bear, the Fulwell End had to be cleared by Police dogs as they refused to go home.

A never to be forgotten season was closed out by a best soon forgotten game!

It is still a source of family amusement that my brother Mark really enjoyed this game and for a while thought all games were full of this kind of shenanigans. I on the other hand steadfastly refused to take him to another game ever, labelling him a Jonah and addressing birthday and Christmas cards to him in this manner!

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


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