Blackpool were the opposition for the third home game of the 1975/76 season at Roker Park. Victories in our previous two home games against the much-fancied Chelsea and a Fulham squad that included Alan Mullery and Bobby Moore (as well as a young lively forward, Viv Busby), had heightened expectation that this season would lead to promotion and the first division.
Mel Holden had arrived from Preston and Jeff Clarke from Man City as part of the deal that saw Dave Watson go to Maine Road. Despite the loss of Watson, we had a squad that looked well-balanced, with good experience, potential and skill.
Tommy Gibb had also been acquired from our near neighbours Newcastle. He joined Bobby Moncur and Bryan Pop Robson as Fairs Cup winners in our squad looking to add to their medal haul. I was intrigued by the signing of Gibb, whom I had thought we were signing in 1967 as we were rumoured to be after a ball playing Scottish midfielder.
We signed Ian Porterfield from Raith Rovers instead, and whilst “Porter” went on to etch his name into our hearts and the annals of our club history, it’s probably fair to say he struggled initially with the expectation of a crowd who had hoped for great things from Jim Baxter and who had been teased in the media with the prospect of Gibb, who was fashioning a great reputation for himself over the border with Partick Thistle.
Porterfield in 1967 described Gibb as someone he knew well and was friends with, I was hoping this connection as well as the Fairs Cup experience/connections would auger well for Sunderland as we launched ourselves into the promotion campaign of 1975/76.
Blackpool were the opposition in the very first game I attended at Roker Park in March 1966 and I had a bit of a soft spot for them. Just like that first match, this one would be won by a brace from a Sunderland player, John O’Hare in 1966 and Tony Towers on this day.
I joined a boisterous crowd of just under 24,000 fans and the game did not disappoint. Reminiscent of my first game, a Blackpool player caught the eye in the early stages.
In 1966 Alan Ball had drawn warm applause for his display, this day it was an ex-Newcastle player Alan Suddick. A former teammate of Moncur, Robson and Gibb, the Chester-Le-Street born inside forward was very easy on the eye.
Smooth in possession and a panache for “banana bender” free-kicks, he also held the unofficial world keepie-uppie record of just under twenty minutes (or three and a half times around the Bloomfield Road pitch without the ball hitting the ground)!
Thankfully the keepie-uppie banana benders influence waned as our midfield of Porterfield, Gibb, Kerr, and the dynamic Towers asserted control.
Sunderland played with skill, power, and pace on a surprisingly greasy surface, that led to some particularly crude challenges, with Bobby Kerr getting more than his fair share of these tackles and Joe Bolton dishing one or two out in retribution.
The Tangerines had soaked up a lot of Sunderland pressure in the first twenty-five minutes and must have been thinking they had weathered the storm to a certain extent, when step forward Ian Porterfield.
From his position out on the left wing, with his radar of full throttle, the midfielder arrowed a pinpoint cross onto Pop Robsons head, who twisted in mid air to deflect his header goalbound. A Blackpool player somehow got to the attempt and cleared the ball to the edge of the box.
Lurking with intent was Tony Towers, he stepped into the box and stroked the ball first time with his left foot past Burridge for a goal his performance to this point in the game deserved.
The goal seemed to spur Sunderland, and John Burridge in the Blackpool goal had to be at his very best to keep a Mel Holden header out, as the Black Cats swept forward. All that was missing was a final touch, as first Malone, Kerr then Porterfield all had good attempts.
The second half started in a similar fashion, with Sunderland doing all the attacking - was it going to be one of those games, with loads of Sunderland pressure but no coconut?
Then on forty-nine minutes, John Burridge (who fifteen years later would distinguish himself with a penalty save in the 1990 play-off semi-final for Newcastle) made a basic error.
The four-step rule was in force for keepers back then and for some reason, the Seasiders stopper went walkabout with the ball right in front of his goal. The resultant free-kick ten yards out approximately saw the Blackpool defence re-enact the Charge of the Light Brigade from behind their goal line. Pop Robson though had taken a clever angle and slid the ball to Tony Towers as the charge arrived at him. Towers needed no second invitation and lashed a trademark shot from the edge of the box into the roof of the net.
It was no more than our play deserved and the Roker Horde acknowledged the goal with a lusty crescendo…. TONY… TONY TOWERS… ENGLAND!
After this it was only Sunderland who looked like scoring again, with Malone, Kerr and Robson all going close. Vic Halom came on for Kerr who had continued to be something of a target for the cruder challenges. Suddick and Suddaby were booked for Blackpool, though how it was not more was a mystery to my extremely fair and un-partisan thinking!
The game finished with no further scoring and Sunderland in second position in the table behind Southampton.
Towers’ brace and all-action performance should have given him his first cap for England in the Switzerland friendly later that week. However, Don Revie made him wait almost eight months before awarding him the first of his three caps against Wales at Cardiff in May 1976.
Towers was a force to be reckoned with and one of the best all-round midfielders I have seen in my time as a Sunderland fan. He made 120 appearances in all competitions for us, scoring 22 trademark goals (usually shots from distance).
He collected his three England caps as a Sunderland player in 1976. One of my biggest disappointments looking back was that he and Kevin Arnott only played eight games together in the top flight, what a midfield hinge that could have been, had we managed to stay up in 1976/77.
Towers left for Birmingham City in the close season of 1977 and never quite fulfilled his clear promise at the top of league football and the international stage as he went on to play in the North American league, finishing his playing career at Rochdale who were managed by Vic Halom in 1985.
30th August 1975
Roker Park – Attendance 23,576
Football League Division Two - Sunderland 2 – 0 Blackpool
Sunderland – Montgomery, Malone, Bolton, Moncur, Clarke, Towers (25 & 49mins), Porterfield, Gibb, Kerr (Halom), Robson, Holden.
Blackpool – Burridge, Curtis, Harrison, Alcock, Suddaby, Bentley, Walsh, Suddick, Hart, Tong (Moore), Ainscow.