Sunderland, otherwise known as the ‘Vancouver Royal Canadians’, wrapped up what was viewed as an underwhelming United Soccer Association campaign on this day, but a victory over the Cleveland Stokers ensured things ended on a high.
The challenge had fizzled out long before the clash with representative Stoke City, against whom the Lads had won one and lost one in the league during 1966/1967, as after the initial fanfare, things had failed to take off.
Interest in the Rokermen had been high at first, but tales of unprofessional behaviour from some members of the party soon started doing the rounds and these seemed to be backed up by our early performances. There was a late rally in the final fixtures, but the damage had already been done.
Jim Baxter led the way in the finale by signing off with a brace, the first of which was a beauty from long range.
His second strike took a deflection on its way past Gordon Banks and he also created our final goal when he put Colin Suggett through for a low shot. In between the second and third, the Stokers replied through Alan Bloor, and they also saw a John Mahoney effort ruled out when the referee blew up for an earlier foul.
However, victory wasn’t enough to fully restore the reputation of some, including Baxter himself.
The locals had been unimpressed by our supposed star player, plus some of the other established names, with the trip reportedly resembling an out-of-control stag do.
News of heavy drinking, petty vandalism and brushes with the law weren’t well received in England either, with season ticket sales for the upcoming Football League campaign said to be well down on the previous year, partly as a result of performances here.
Perhaps the miscreants felt able to let their hair down due to this not being an official club tour.
Vice chairman Jack Cooke did tag along but strictly speaking, the players and staff were being hired out to Vancouver, who were headed up by Chairman Frank McMahon and President Brigadier General E.G. Eakins.
This was presumably the same McMahon who was an eminent gas and oil businessman from British Columbia and was heavily involved in horse racing and other sports at the time. Eakins, meanwhile, was a decorated veteran of the Second World War who later became a respected police commissioner and was on the board of the famed Burnaby Art Gallery.
They were a prominent pair and funding wasn’t an issue.
The club had to pay a significant fee to take part in the competition and the players were put up in Vancouver’s plush Georgian Towers Hotel, which some of the keener members of the squad appreciated if nothing else.
Whilst one or two certainly overindulged, there were others who wanted to make the most of the experience on and off the pitch, testing themselves against different styles at times and enjoying the welcome, the culture and the surroundings.
The chance to blood some of Sunderland’s prospects was one of the main benefits of going to Canada and the lads coming through, when not being distracted, tried to make their mark.
However, fatigue did eventually set in. The games came at the end of a bruising English season and whilst the arrangements were apparently top class, the travelling involved was still quite gruelling.
All told, it was a bit of a mixed bag, and even if a surprise invitation to return was somehow forthcoming, it’s doubtful whether it would’ve been accepted.
Saturday 8 July 1967
United Soccer Association Western Division
Vancouver Royal Canadians 3 (Baxter 25’, 37’, Suggett 65’)
Cleveland Stokers 1 (Bloor 44’)
Vancouver: Montgomery, Todd, Shoulder; Heslop, Kinnell, Baxter; Suggett, O’Hare, Martin; Gauden, Mulhall
Subs Not Used: Forster, Hughes, Irwin, Parke