5573 and all that

So let’s forget Saturday’s awful display at Bolton and think back 35 years – 35 years today* to be precise – to a day no one associated with Sunderland Association Football Club can ever forget or, if too young to have been around, pretend to be unaware of……

If the reality of being a Sunderland supporter did not bring so much end-of-season suspense and excitement, some of it for the right reasons, we would probably be less happy to celebrate the 35th anniversary of our last major trophy.

Even the London and Southern England branch of the SAFC Supporters’ Association voted to change the name of its newsletter from 5573 after younger members began complaining that 1973 was an awful long time ago, and drew attention to our subsequent under-achievement.

Yet a title recalling such a glorious day in our club’s history as May 5 1973 seemed a perfectly good one to me, and I was among the minority voting to keep it (though I quickly acknowledged that the new name, Wear Down South, was even better). We didn’t just win the FA Cup that day; we earned a place in history for the manner in which we did it, raising our game as an above-average Division two team to overcome mighty, arrogant opponents for whom winning would have seemed like just another day at the office.

Some excellent memories of the day have cropped up in the Celebrity Supporters series of Salut! Sunderland.

Melanie Hill (actress, whose triumphs include Bread, Brassed Off, When Saturday Comes)

Melanie’s best SAFC moment came after the family moved briefly to Kent. Now 5573 is a collection of numbers that might strike a chord with a few supporters. Melanie’s May 5 1973 was spent at home in Gillingham watching Sunderland 1 Leeds Utd 0 on the box as her mother went off to meet Uncle David, who had got her a ticket.
“I can still see her that evening, staggering down the street half-cut in the red PVC coat she’d bought specially for the cup final, and carrying a fake cup and a flag. Goodness knows what the neighbours thought. They wouldn’t have understood, but even now I love to think of it…it’s so brilliant to have a memory like that of your mother.”

Denise Roberston (agony aunt, author)

She remembers sitting up all night knitting scarves for the boys to wear when the FA Cup was brought home in 1973. All that red and white wool? Not quite. The shops had been bled dry of red, and she had to make do with orange. “Terrible stuff,” she admits.

Steve Cram (superb distance runner who set world records for the mile, 1,500 metres and 2,000 metres; also president of SAFCSA London branch)

Steve’s own childhood memories include the 1973 Cup Final and afterwards, when the players took it in turns to visit clubs to show off the trophy.
Wherever they went, they were plied with as much drink as they wanted. Let us just say that when the roadshow reached Hebburn Labour Club, the two players in charge of the cup had such an enjoyable time that the police took it into safe custody over night.
Steve1Pc Cram was on night shift. When he got home, he roused young Steve and his younger brother Kevin – who sadly died in a fall, aged just 39, while out running very soon after our conversation – whisked them off to the station to be photographed holding the trophy.
“I was about 12,” Steve, pictured on the left, recalled. “It made me realise I’d love to be a top sportsman, even if I wasn’t good enough to do it at football.”

Alan Price (pop, blues and jazz musician who topped the charts with the Animals)

Since leaving the North East, Alan has seen only occasional Sunderland games. He flew back from working in Los Angeles for the 1973 FA Cup Final. To most people, it was a fairytale, but Alan had predicted the outcome. On TV with Jack Charlton, he’d said we would win 1-0 while Jackie insisted that we had no chance.

That night, at the West End victory banquet, Shack and Jackie Milburn danced (with their wives, not each other; Shack would surely not have invited a Mag on to the floor) as Alan sang his heart out for the Lads.
Later, he rang his brother. John, sadly no longer with us, who had watched the game nervously at home. “You know,” he told Alan, “my behind was nipping the buttons off the sofa.” Hands up those WDS readers who practicised their own button-nipping technique as they read that.

And what was May 5 1973 like for me? It was, of course, brilliant, but tinged with the bitter disappointment of not being at the game. This is how I described it earlier in Salut! Sunderland‘s life:

Each year, my dad’s role (as secretary of Shildon AFC) brought him a ticket for the FA Cup Final. Fantastic news, in 1973, for his Sunderland-supporting son? Not likely. He’d promised his ticket elsewhere long before our cup run gathered steam and, being a thoroughy decent man, kept to his word.
It shouldn’t have mattered. A drink-sodden colleague – I was by then working for a local newspaper in London and he was its sports editor – promised me a ticket every day we spoke, from the Monday after the semi-final victory against Arsenal to the eve of the final itself.
The ticket never materialised and, though he was my neighbour in a company-owned flat, he was nowhere to be found on May 5 1973. Then, or soon afterwards, he disappeared from the flat and from the paper, to live in a caravan in East Anglia according to some.
And I watched the heroics of Monty and Porterfield at home in Uxbridge, later joining a whole gang of luckier, ticket-bearing fans from Shildon to celebrate at a workingmen’s club in Harrow.

Everyone who was alive in 1973 has memories of our win. Even those who weren’t have knowledge of it, because it has been drummed into them, if they come from Sunderland-supporting households.

Will it happen again? One part of me hopes not, or at least not in that fashion. Don’t ever forget that the occasion is remembered by neutrals and historians because we were the victorious underdogs.

And much as I enjoy being a victorious underdog, it would be nice to think that Sunderland can now build on the first fruits of the Drumaville/Quinn/Keane revolution. And go on to be something that no one alive today has known unless they were old enough in 1937 to care about such things: an established footballing force that approaches each season with the expectation that every major trophy is winnable.

That, at any rate, is the dream. And if it comes true, I’ll let you know if I like it. For now, let’s just raise a glass to the memories of Bob Stokoe and Ian Porterfield and to the rest of our heroes of 35 years ago today, and remember that another anniversary – a centenary this time – occurs later this year.

Put Dec 5 2008 in your diaries now: it will be 100 years to the day that the biggest away win in top flight English history occurred. As every SAFC fan should know, we beat Newcastle – that season’s champions, would you believe? – 9-1, the last eight of our goals coming in the second half.

* This posting first appeared on Sunday May 4, but was updated on May 5, the actual date of the anniversary. Thanks to Stephen Worthy at the Blackcats forum for pointing me in the direction of the second of the clips, showing our fans singing You’ll Never Walk Alone.

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9 thoughts on “5573 and all that”

  1. The 73 FA cup run and final bring back memories of me as a fifteen year old paper boy who was delivering papers to the Barley Mow club and got the chance to travel to Man City away when a supporters coach stopped to fuel up with beer for the journey……my first match…..such excitement………..and culminated with the final when the “papers” were delivered early so we could get home in time to see the match on the box. My main memories of the day was how it was sunny in the NE, how deserted the streets were before the match and how people spilled outside afterwards to celebrate…….and what followed when the cup came home are unforgettable….
    and which forever remind me of the warmth and spirit of the people of the NE

  2. Here’s another memory, from Kenn:
    “We were behind the ‘Porterfield’ goal.
    There can’t have been crowd segregation then because there were mainly Leeds
    fans around us – and they were absolutely certain that we were in for a
    drubbing. Before the kick off, one, who was particularly mouthy, offered me
    a bet on the result (I think it was £20?) – he even offered me odds (3 to
    1?). Now 20 quid was a lot of money in those days, especially to a young lad
    of 19. I backed down and shut up! ‘Guess I didn’t have enough faith. On a
    positive note, the mouthy Leeds fan went very quiet after the goal and had
    disappeared into the void by the end of the game.”
    — Kenn in Newcastle, ruing a
    missed opportunity.

  3. And let’s not forget, on this glorious anniversary (as I relive memories on youtube), that it wasn’t exactly an easy run. We, as a second division club, beat the three favourites to win the FA Cup that year in Man. City (still the best game I ever saw, yes better than Wembley), Arsenal and Leeds. I don’t know if that has ever been done before.

  4. …and another, from Terje in Norway:
    I sat on an old brown sofa watching the game on the telly with my gran on one side and my mum on the other. I was 7 at the time, and I don’t remember that much of the game as such. My memories are the screaming and shouting
    when Leeds missed their sitters.
    Those were the days

  5. …and this from Dave Hillam:
    Umm, as a mere lad of eighteen at the time, I was intrigued by allthose owd gadgies talking about 1937 as if it were yesterday (andeven met one who had been to Crystal Palace in 1913, but still grumbled sixty years afterwards because he couldn’t see anything).
    We’re due another aren’t we soon?!
    1937 to 1973 was, for the arithmetically challenged, 36 years.
    In other words, if (ha!) we don’t win something next season, we will
    enter the longest period in our history without a trophy.

  6. Let’s have some more gems from Sunderland fans’ memories of May 5 1973 (courtesy of the Blackcats forum). This one’s from Mike in Canterbury:
    ….At that time I was just starting my teaching career in a Primary School in Lancashire. The Headmaster, who was getting close to retirement, was an ex league referee. For some reason he was able to get me 2 tickets for every round we played in. I took my dad to the semi in Sheffield but he wouldn’t come with me to Wembley. I still can’t understand that as he had been a season ticket holder for donkey’s years. Took my girlfriend who didn’t know what all the fuss was about. I dumped her shortly after. Luckily my present girlfriend has a greater understanding of the priorities in life. When I got back to school the kids had been in over the weekend and decorated the Hall with scenes of the victory. Life was much simpler then.

  7. I was 14 when I went down to Wembley to watch us win the cup. Like others, I remember things that day so very, very clearly compared to present day recollections. Anyway, I have a photo of me with the FA Cup that I must get digitised (for my edification, only – the 70’s wasn’t kind!). My cousin was (briefly) married to Roger Shackleton at the time so Len (great man, by the way) brought the FA Cup to our house in a nondescript part of Shields and I have a picture of me and the FA Cup on the front step of our house. I guess they were a little more carefree with silverware in those days. Wouldn’t happen in America where the Stanley Cup, for example, has a permanent minder. Sunderland just let a long-time servant wander off with it in the back seat of his car. He said he had it for two days and was taking it to all the people who he knew cared about Sunderland winning the cup. Incredible time and wonderful man.

  8. This was when the whole love affair with SAFC began for me. I was only 9 but even at that young age I was smart enough to realise that Leeds United were at that time the nastiest footbal team on the planet.
    The fact that a total underdog was playing them in a cup final would make it even sweeter to see them lose.The case for the underdog was also helped by the fact that by now I was a frequent visitor at Ayr United and an ex-player Dick Malone was in the Sunderland side.
    The main problem I had was that in Scotland we did not receive the FA cup final live on TV.However in Northern Ireland they did and by a stroke of luck we lived on the Ayrshire coast , only a matter of 70 miles from Ulster TV. Cue my father being sent up to the roof to turn the ariel round to receive the UTV signal and I was to witness the greatest ever shock in an FA cup final.My Dad had also returned 10 minutes before kick off with a red and white scarf.I still have no idea where he got that in Ayrshire.
    And that as they say is that-the beginning of the whole adventure and you know I cried at the final whistle which was quite something as only Lassie films made me cry in those days.The ups and downs for the last 35 years are part of the package…..Aye that Porterfield has a lot to answer for !!!!

  9. Too many memories; I can recollect things that happened on that day more effectively than I can if you asked me what I did last week. One strong memory is of my mate Dick Smith going into the Sherlock Holmes pub just off Trafalgar Square at about 6.30 p.m.and asking for “4 pints of Elementary”. The barman looked at him, raised an eyebrow and said, in a very sardonic manner, “Very f******* funny. Trophy or Tankard?” Ever the Tribunes of the working class, we chose Trophy.

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