Our exhilarating cup run in 1960/61 had seen us despatch Arsenal, Liverpool, Norwich and take eventual league and cup double winners to a replay at White Hart Lane after an unforgettable draw at Roker Park.
Our efforts whilst broadcasting a cracking team in the making, also saw us lose five and draw one of our last nine league games losing out on promotion to champions Ipswich and runners-up Sheffield United as we finished in sixth place.
Manager Alan Brown had successfully added the likes of George Herd and Harry Hooper and debuted the exciting Willie McPheat from the youth ranks for the 60/61 season.
He was not idle in the close season spending a whopping £48,000 on goal scorer Brian Clough from neighbours Middlesborough as the goal of promotion was pursued with absolute clarity.
As we arrived at the home fixture against Bury, we sat a very concerning seventeenth in the second division, and a Bob Stokoe-inspired Bury had beaten us at Gigg Lane a week before in an exciting but nonetheless unsuccessful game 3-2.
We rallied for the home game against Scunthorpe with a thumping 4-0 victory and now could we follow this up against outsiders for promotion Bury, who had ex-Sunderland centre half Bill Holden as well as Bob Stokoe, the experienced Gordon Atherton and a lively forward in Alan Jackson, all of whom had shown up well in the fixture a week previous.
Hope as they say springs eternal and certainly must have been galvanising the Roker fans as the crowd of 39,893 was our second highest crowd of the season to date and what a game they saw.
The game kicked off and Sunderland were at it from the get go, with inside forward Herd following up his two-goal salvo against Scunthorpe with a live-wire start. Hooper and Clough also steamed into the game, but the conductor of all of this was Stan Anderson. The Sunderland skipper was everywhere, receiving passes from pressed colleagues, intercepting Bury passes and opening space and attacks with his characteristic short and long ball game. In this form the “captain of the North” was irresistible!
Typical of the first half was a lovely passage of flowing football on twenty minutes. Anderson intercepted and slid a measured pass to Ambrose Fogarty, who cleverly redirected the pass to Clough. With his back to goal Clough shaped to turn, and as his two markers responded he played a short pass back to Herd who fired a first-time shot just wide of the far post as the crowd roared their approval of the play.
Eight minutes later they were roaring for a different reason. Anderson again intercepted and arrowed a pass to Herd lurking in the inside right position. Herd pinged an awkwardly bouncing pass to the flying Hooper on the right wing. It looked like the move was going to break down, but Hooper controlled the ball at pace and sent a pinpoint cross to Clough in the middle of the box. With veritable giants in Stokoe, Atherton and Holden in the Bury defence the easy money might have been on one of them to head clear. But five feet nine-and-a-half-inch Clough possessed a prodigious leap and timing and he flashed his header past Adams in the Bury goal for a deserved lead.
What a glorious goal, loudly lauded by the Roker Roar. But Bury were no soft touches and not about to cave, back they came with a rip-snorter of a drive from Stokoe from all of thirty-five yards that had Wakeham in the Sunderland goal scrambling as it flew just past his post.
Sunderland would not be denied in this form and the conductor-in-chief Anderson was the initiator as he arrowed a lovely pass to Hooper. The flying winger wasted no time in finding Clough in the box but with Bob Stokoe all over him! Clough was never shy of the “rough stuff” (and Stokoe was never shy to give it out), he turned brilliantly to leave our future “messiah” trailing in his wake and blasted a shot with barely any back-lift between Adams and his near post. The keeper hardly had a chance to move and the goal had the Black Cat fans literally purring.
Just before half-time Hooper beat the hard-pressed Conroy all ends up but saw his “raker” of a shot cannon back to safety off the bar.
Two - nil at half-time and Sunderland in good control of an albeit plucky Bury side.
Right after the break the Shakers almost clawed a goal back, as Atherton slalomed through our defence and shot. Wakeham managed to parry the strike and grab the ball on the second attempt.
Jackson who had a good game in the second half for the Lancashire outfit, muscled his way through on goal and was just about to let rip when Jim McNab slid in with a last-ditch tackle to see the ball away from the danger area. Bury were in the ascendency at this point and two long throws into the Sunderland box almost bore fruit. First up, Ashurst managed to clear far and long when it looked like danger-man Jackson was going to get on the end of a ball careering about the box. Then a second throw resulted in a close-up shot by Hubbard that was parried by Wakeham and then cleared by Anderson as it dropped invitingly for a gaggle of Bury attackers.
The relief of Mafeking/Roker was just around the corner, and once again it was Anderson who led the way. The captain found Clough with yet another accurate pass, Clough fed left winger Overfield whose centre landed invitingly for Herd. He wasted no time in blitzing a shot across Adams, it looked like a goal all the way, but once again the woodwork saved Bury as the ball hammered off the far post.
The game was now see-sawing one way then the other, as ex-Roker player Holden met an accurate corner and headed just over the bar. Clough then lost his marker and pulled his shot wide of the goalie, as well as the far post.
Stokoe, up from his defensive duties, slid a lovely ball to Beaumont who looked all on his own as he shaped to shoot. From nowhere “King Charlie Hurley” slid in and cleanly dispossessed him before he could pull the trigger.
On seventy-five minutes, another fine Sunderland move saw Hooper break away from his marker and find Herd just inside the box. Two times Herd and Hooper exchanged passes as the Scot vied for a good shooting position, finally he crossed and found Clough who volleyed in from just about the penalty spot. The shot cannoned off a startled Adams in the Bury goal who knew little about it. Hooper then picked out Jim McNab at the far post, the left-half met the ball with a flying header which once again hammered off the woodwork to safety.
Finally, Sunderland got more reward minutes after McNab’s dynamic attempt. Hooper once again found Clough charging into the box, he controlled the ball at pace and cleverly illuded not one but two ferocious challenges and hit the hardest shot of the game, almost ripping the net from its pegs!
Roker Park roared their approval, not just for the deserved goal, but the hat-trick and the overall performance of the team that augured well for the rest of the season.
Sadly, our poor start and a final day draw at Swansea saw us finish third, a point behind Orient and nine points behind deserved champions Liverpool led by the inspirational Bill Shankly.
Nonetheless, it was clear to see the team was not far away. Seventeen-year-old Jimmy Montgomery debuted and took over in goal. Ashurst and Irwin (the flowerpot men) looked a shoo-in at full back, the half-back line of Anderson, Hurley and McNab was the envy of many a first division team. George Herd had made a very good start to his Sunderland career and the love affair with “Cloughie” had definitely begun.
Two key signings in September and October 1962 would prove pivotal, as Johnny Crossan and George “bullet” Mulhall joined the team that would eventually become ingrained legends to supporters of that generation.
It is one of our saddest chapters to note that the hat-trick hero of this game would see his career curtailed (and arguably our promotion chances that season) with a cruciate ligament injury on a treacherous Roker Park on Boxing Day 1962 against the opponents that he had just put to the sword. Clough’s goal-scoring record for Sunderland is remarkable scoring at a rate of 0.85 per game, he scored sixty-three goals in seventy-four appearances in all competitions and it remains a post-war club record. As a Roker Report colleague once wrote, “we all know how he turned out as a manager but we will never know what levels Clough might have reached as a player”.
He certainly served up some indication of his potential on this day 27th September 1961!
27th September 1961
League Division Two
Roker Park – Attendance 39,893
Sunderland 3 - 0 Bury
(Clough hat-trick 28’, 34’, 87’)
Sunderland: Wakeham, Irwin, Ashurst, Anderson, Hurley, McNab, Hooper, Herd, Clough, Fogarty, Overfield
Bury: Adams, Gallacher, Conroy, Holden, Stokoe, Atherton, Riggs, Beaumont, Watson, Jackson, Hubbard