Kelvin Beattie’s fantastic ‘On This Day’ article from last week gives a real idea of the raucous nature of Sunderland’s trip to North America in 1967, where some supposedly professional players were claimed to have behaved more like they were on a particularly crazy stag do.
Playing under the banner of the Vancouver Royal Canadians in the United Soccer Association (USA), the party continued on this day with a match-up against some fairly familiar opponents – although they, too were under a different guise temporarily, having also accepted the invitation to try and boost soccer across the Atlantic.
The Lads had come up against Shamrock Rovers on four separate occasions earlier in the decade and the games had normally produced plenty of goalmouth incidents – the last fixture ending in a 3-1 win for Sunderland in Dublin three years earlier. Given their migrant connections with Ireland, it made sense that the city of Boston was then represented by the Hoops in the newly-formed league – but hopes of another high-quality affair in this latest clash were to prove unfulfilled.
The response to a dismal 6-1 loss in the opening fixture had been pretty good. Ian McColl, who had missed the defeat to the Golden Gate Gales (ADO Den Haag) because he wanted to try and tie up some transfer deals back on Wearside, had arrived shortly afterwards and in the two games that followed he’d overseen a draw and a win. The schedule was proving punishing, however, and with Jim Baxter telling the press that the ‘travelling’ was taking its toll on the squad, the game with Rovers failed to get into a proper flow.
Vancouver’s multi-purpose Empire Stadium pitch was reputedly one of the better playing surfaces seen in the competition (some USA dates took place on a baseball field where the mounds were still visible) but both teams struggled to get their passing right. Boston keeper Pat Dunne also had a bad time of it, and unfortunately for him he failed to recover from an early slip that nearly let Neil Martin in.
A former Shamrock, Everton and Manchester United player, the Republic international was featuring as a guest courtesy of his current club Plymouth Argyle. Dunne was a respected performer but was not having one of his better games, and when John O’Hare’s tame flick went through his hands it proved to be the only goal. After that, it was end-to-end stuff and McColl later claimed his side could have won by ten – yet the action was only ever seen in bursts.
Cec Irwin was one of the few to play consistently well throughout, while behind him Derek Forster also looked good. In the side while Jimmy Montgomery received treatment in the UK for a back problem, the young keeper was named man of the match by the local press. O’Hare, who had needed an injection before kick-off to tackle a throat infection, was withdrawn at half time, and his replacement George Mulhall also made a positive impact, facilitating a reshuffle that helped bring Colin Suggett into things.
Suggett rounded Dunne and went close to extending the lead, while Mulhall crashed a shot against the bar in the final moments. Bathed in bright sunshine, those watching on seemed impressed by it all despite the bitty nature, but that is possibly because those in the stands were most likely hardcore fans of the sport – a lower-than-expected crowd being explained away by there having been a Scotland XI v British Columbia All-Stars match at the same venue earlier in the week, and three games shown on television the day before.
One of the fixtures, which was staged in Montreal as part of Expo ‘67, saw an England FA team managed by Sir Alf Ramsey beat Borussia Dortmund 3-2 – only the winning goal wasn’t broadcast because it happened during a commercial break. County Durham-born duo Colin Bell and Norman Hunter both starred, with Hunter and Frank Wignall (with a brace) being England’s scorers.
Saturation was said to be the reason some people chose to stay away, although the gate ended up being higher than the eventual average at the Empire Stadium, with numbers falling once the initial intrigue in the team died off and it became clear a place in the final was out of reach.
A trio of heavy beatings followed the Boston victory, but cynics might claim that the reason for this was a purported $400 win bonus that was shared out between the players – some of which may well have ended up being squandered on ‘travelling expenses’.
Sunday 11 June 1967
United Soccer Association Western Division
Vancouver Royal Canadians 1 (O’Hare 21’)
Boston Rovers 0
Vancouver: Forster; Irwin, Todd, Shoulder; Kinnell, Baxter, Herd, Hughes; Suggett, O’Hare (Mulhall 46’), Martin. Unused: Gauden, Heslop, Parke
Empire Stadium, attendance 7,616