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Bob Stokoe

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On This Day (13th September 1973): Iron Curtain & Yogi Hughes Comeback

The Cold War was on Bob Stokoe’s mind as he contemplated a trip behind the Iron Curtain to the Nepstadion in Budapest for Sunderland’s first ever European Cup Winners Cup tie. There was also some news about John Yogi Hughes’ comeback.

Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

The first leg of our first ever European campaign was still a week away, yet Sunderland boss Bob Stokoe had plenty to think about as he grappled with the challenges of having to travel to and play the game behind the Iron Curtain.

With the Cold War in full swing, it was a presser reminiscent of a Graeme Greene briefing as Stokoe expressed his frustration at not being able to get travel visas organised in time to go and see Vasas Budapest play before the first leg tie on the 19th of September.

Stokoe was aware that Vasas had sent a representative to Sunderland’s recent game at Portsmouth (a hard fought 1-1 draw) and was clearly feeling frustrated at the difficulties of organising travel to Hungary. When asked what the purpose of his visit was, hopefully the Messiah did not say “spying mission”!

The canny Northumbrian did not miss an opportunity to fire out a “diplomatic” warning to his opponents, with a pre-emptive subtle strike he assured the gathered hacks that it did not look like Sunderland were going to be the victim of the usual cold war tactics often employed against visiting British teams.

Tactics such as allocating visiting teams training grounds that did not exist, changing kick off times and venue at short notice, creating noise and distractions at the visiting team’s hotel, tampering with transport arrangements/vehicles, and disappearing the ball boys once the home team had gone ahead in games to waste time, were experiences other British teams had suffered, Stokoe had good grounds for being concerned!

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

Also on the agenda at this presser was the news that the upgraded floodlight system at Roker Park which had been a requirement of participation in European competition was almost complete and would be ready for the return home leg on October 3rd. The cost of this had been £24,000 a massive investment at the time, especially when you consider that behind the scenes simmering just under the surface two issues related to finance were brewing. Firstly, there was an ongoing row between players and club about a promised pay rise, which the club claimed they could not give to the players because of Government legislation bought into statute because of the pervasive and widespread industrial action.

As well as the row about the pay rise, the club had been instructed by the European football authorities with regards to the price of tickets for the leg at Roker Park. Despite a local councillor referring this issue to the government’s Price Commission, the increase for the European tie was sanctioned and the price of tickets more than doubled to £1 for a standing ticket and £2 for a seat, a big financial ask during difficult financial times for supporters. The gate of 22,762 for the home leg reflected the hardest of times for ordinary folk, rather than the supporters' lack of interest and appetite for European football.

There was also hopeful news on this day in 1973 regarding John Yogi’ Hughes, who had signed for Sunderland the previous season and sustained a potentially career ending injury in the first ten minutes of his much-anticipated debut playing alongside his younger brother Billy.

Yogi’ was going to attempt a comeback with Dundee and was scheduled to play for the reserves against Hearts reserves that evening. Many Sunderland fans of this generation (me included) would have wished Hughes well, whilst acknowledging that without his injury, the phenomenon that was Vic Halom would never have signed for the club.

Sadly, this comeback failed, Yogi, capped eight times by Scotland, never kicked a ball in all seriousness again, a great loss in terms of skill and style on the park, we also lost one of the more imaginative supporter chants of “feed the bear” popularised by the Celtic masses when he was in his pomp.

Yogi was not lost completely to the game as he coached at junior club Baillieston, had a spell as manager of Stranraer and became the first international team manager of the Scottish Junior Football Association. He continued until his death in August 2022 to attend games at Celtic Park.


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