Sunderland, Leeds and Wembley 1973. Part 1: Meadow Lane to Hillsborough

Jake remembers ...
Jake remembers …

The mauling at Villa Park has cast a black cloud over what should be a great week of remembrance. But we need to forget it if we can, at least until Monday night. For now that we have reached May 2013, it is time for Salut! Sunderland to join the extended SAFC family and diaspora in commemorating a remarkable event in the club’s mighty history. Mighty as it is, 1973 did not begin as a year of glory. On May 5, exactly 40 years ago this coming Sunday, it became one when Bob Stokoe led his second-tier team to Wembley and came away with the FA Cup after humbling top-drawer Leeds United.

There will be plenty of articles to read, memories to relive, glories (for younger readers) to imagine. But let us start with this …

Back in 1973, Jeanette Coyle was a Sunderland-mad teenager with a part-time job at Roker Park. Her father Bill was a well known and respected local footballer either side of the Second World War, having played for Darlington and West Auckland as well as a host of other Northern League clubs as a guest during the years of conflict.

Jeanette became friends with many of the Sunderland squad and has her own special memories of May 5th 1973. Here in conversation with deputy editor Malcolm Dawson, she talks about the build up to the great day. Her experience of Cup Final day itself will follow shortly, in the second of this two part reminiscence …


Malcolm Dawson: Tell us how you got involved in supporting SAFC and how you came to get so close to the players back in 73.

Jeanette  – I was born into a Sunderland supporting household. A love of the red and whites was instilled in me by my parents and grandparents who were regulars at Roker Park. As a very young child I grew up immersed in football, watching my dad at Feethams and Darlington Road whilst still in my pushchair.

I attended my first Sunderland match aged six years old, watching Charlie Hurley, Brian Clough, Cec Irwin, George Mulhall etc. from the children’s enclosure in Block 13 of the Roker End with my sisters.

Watching football in those days was a far different experience to how it is today. I remember children being passed overhead to get a better view from the front of the terracing, old men dressed like grocers or woodwork teachers in long coats, accurately throwing bags of peanuts to anyone who had just as accurately lobbed a tanner in their direction. No big screens in those days either. We were kept up to date with half time scores in other matches with numbered wooden boards placed alongside letters, which were referenced via the match day programme.

My Dad helped one of the youth team, Bernie Fagan who’d come round to our house after training, with many of the home grown Sunderland squad after training, en route  to Bernie’s house. Naturally I got to know them well – they were like part of the family.

At 14 I got a job in the stands selling pies, sandwiches, Bovril etc. and at 16 was promoted to the players tea room. It was there where I got to know the wives and girlfriends of many of the players including Angie Pitt, Jenny Chambers and Linda Hughes.

Jeanette (2nd left) in the players tea room.
Jeanette (2nd left) in the players tea room.

By the start of the 1972/3 season my Dad had become a season ticket holder so he was eligible for cup tickets, but the lads were always very generous with complimentaries  and I was able to accompany my Dad on away trips. Mam would provide breakfast and any spare seats were taken by youth or reserve team players.

MD – So what are your memories of the early part of the Cup run, which few, if any of us, expected to end in such a fairy tale way.

Jeanette – Dad and I had tickets for Notts County at Meadow Lane. I remember the journey seemed to take forever. Although we had signed Ron Guthrie and David Young they weren’t eligible for the game so we had 2 two youth team players that match in Joe Bolton and Jackie Ashurst. Sunderland had a dreadful first half but Dave Watson pulled the cat out of the bag with a late equaliser and Dad and I left feeling that we had been lucky to get away with a draw but were confident we would do better in the replay.

They used to let me stand at the back of the press box at Roker Park. Although I had to get back to make the tea just before half time and again prior to the final whistle, I managed to see most of the replay. Guthrie and Young had replaced the youthful Bolton and Ashurst but County once again had the better of the first half. The second half was no less nerve wracking but a goal from Dave Watson, then a late winner from Dennis Tueart saw us through to the next round where we were  to meet a Reading club, managed by my all time favourite Sunderland hero – Charlie Hurley.

On matchday itself, he got a great welcome from the crowd with chants of “Charlie, Charlie”. He was all smiles and seemed to enjoy the moment. To date he is still “The King” in Sunderland. My other memory is that the Reading keeper was called Death and I thought he would have to put up with a lot of mickey taking with a name like that. The game itself was disappointing with both teams scoring in the first half and the game ended all square. Dad and I were unable to go to the replay but with a trip to either Manchester City or Liverpool the prize for victory once again, we wondered if winning might be mixed blessing. Nevertheless the result was inspiring with Watson, Tueart and Kerr scoring the goals in a 3-1 victory. Shortly after this we signed Vic Halom to fill the vacant No. 9 shirt as Dave Watson was moved back to centre half.

MD – So the team had made the 5th Round but it had been 36 years since Raich Carter had climbed the famous Wembley steps to the Royal Box and lifted the trophy. How were things in the Coyle household at this stage?

Jeanette – We were all getting excited and some of us were already closing our eyes and seeing the twin towers of Wembley. The draw for the 5th round had pitched us up against the favourites, Manchester City who with players like Summerbee, Lee, Bell and Marsh were formidable opponents. Horswill and Billy Hughes scored for Sunderland but a two all draw brought a sense of disappointment to the 10,000 travelling fans. After all, the great Man City surely couldn’t slip up in the replay – or could they?

With over 50,000 at Roker Park, the atmosphere was electric and the crowd got behind the Lads. Nothing could beat the old “Roker Roar” for lifting the players who responded magnificently. Vic Hallom scored a scorcher and a Billy Hughes’ brace ensured we ran out 3-1 winners and the whole town rocked that evening.

As the Quarter Final drew nearer, excitement was mounting and after a poor start to the season our success in the Cup appeared to carry over into the league. We seemed to be winning every match.

Another 50,000 plus crowd turned up for the match against Luton Town, like us a Second Division club. If I remember correctly, Jimmy Montgomery was presented with a gold watch for his club record number of appearances, more than 450 at this stage. Again the crowd was amazing and raised the roof and for the first time in the campaign we progressed without the need for a replay, Watson and Guthrie scoring in a 2-0 victory.

MD – With the Semi Final beckoning and Wembley only one game away, what do you recall about that period of mounting excitement?

Jeanette and her late father Bill with the FA Cup at the Bob Stokoe memorial evening.
Jeanette and her late father Bill with the FA Cup at the Bob Stokoe memorial evening.

Jeanette – Not only were Arsenal one of the biggest clubs at that time, they were being tipped to take the league and cup double. Also they had made the Final in the previous 2 years. But as always, people were looking for omens and it was seen as talsimanic that we had beaten them 2-1 the last time we had played them in the Cup – some 12 years earlier!

Dad had got us tickets for the semi at a cost of 70p each and we set off for Sheffield in a downpour. The camaraderie was great as all the travelling Sunderland fans waved and sounded their car horns as they passed each other on the A1. We were met by the South Yorkshire Constabulary who made sure we parked up quite a way from the ground which meant that by the time we arrived at Hillsborough we were absolutely soaking. To add to the discomfort there was no cover at our part of the ground but our spirits weren’t dampened even though our clothes were sodden. By now we were sure the day would end well. It was perhaps just as well that there was no roof above the Sunderland fans as they would surely have raised it from its supports with the noise they were making. What a great feeling it was being part of that crowd who made us laugh as some of them tried to join in with the Girl Pipers which passed for pre match entertainment back in the seventies.

The team once again responded to the occasion and never looked like disappointing us. This game saw the emergence of the “H-Force” as Halom and Hughes ran rings around the Arsenal defence, and bagged a goal apiece. Our defence remained solid keeping the big names at bay and although there was an agonising moment as a Charlie George effort trickled over the line defying the efforts of our defence to get back in time. But all ended well and at the final whistle, Bob Stokoe ran onto the pitch, hugging his players and waving to the fans behind the goal as he would do again in the National Stadium. There were tears in his eyes (and ours) as he left the pitch and for us the walk back to the car seemed an awful lot shorter than the long walk we’d made to the ground.

We journeyed home on cloud nine, hoping against hope that we would get tickets for the final. After all this was our year – a Second Division side in the F.A. Cup Final!

The second part of Jeanette’s memories recalling the build up to the 5th May, Rod Stewart and the saga of her scarf will follow tomorrow.

Jeanette on Jeanette.

I have lived in a leafy suburb in Birmingham for more than 30 years with my husband Michael (a Tottenham fan) and our 2 daughters Amy and Gemma. The girls were brought up to follow Sunderland and we have had some wonderful moments together following our team. Sadly my dad passed on a couple of years ago and my mam isn’t able to go to the ground any more but she still listens to the match on the radio every week. I still get to the matches with my sisters and their children who are all part of the red and white army. I am Secretary of the Heart of England branch of the supporters association.

5 thoughts on “Sunderland, Leeds and Wembley 1973. Part 1: Meadow Lane to Hillsborough”

  1. Many thanks, I thoroughly enjoyed reading that.

    A couple of minor points though

    1) My memory of the peanut sellers is that they dressed in coats that were a shade of brown which was not dissimilar to khaki, rather than white.

    2) The Notts County away game was an afternoon (not evening) kick off.

    • You are right about the monkey nut men – but that was my editorial gaff not Jeanette’s memory. Apologies for that and now corrected. The term night was used in general terms but I have altered it to match.


  2. Like all fans I am desperate for success, but any future FA Cup win, whilst very welcome, would be tinged with a certain amount of regret. 1973 is OUR year, it’s what our famous club is best remembered for, it’s WHAT WE DO. I’d hate to see 1973 pushed into the background. No matter what success comes our way in the future (please!), 5 May ’73 must always take precedence in our minds and in our hearts.

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