John McCormick writes: Pete Sixsmith‘s whimsical journey through a long memory of Sunderland games over Christmas takes him to the promotion season of 1963-64 and a crucial game. After just missing out the previous season nothing could be taken for granted and although it was to early to tell how the season would unfold, Leeds were early contenders and we couldn’t let them get too far ahead. I wasn’t there that day, probably not allowed to go on my own, but I do remember listening to commentary on the radio with my dad, who said that Don Revie was the dirtiest footballer he had ever seen playing for Sunderland…
SAFC 2 Leeds United 0 Dec 28 1963
One here from a successful season, the season that was to put us back in our rightful place in the top tier after an exile of six years and to start a new era for Sunderland under Alan Brown and his mixture of home grown talent and carefully purchased imports.
Promotion was achieved at the end of the season but there was a dispute between the high-minded Brown and the curmudgeonly board of directors which ended with Brown walking out to take over at Sheffield Wednesday in the summer while the board (who reflected Len Shackleton’s view on directors perfectly) waited until October to appoint a manager.
Our great rivals at this time were Leeds United. They too had a tight-lipped and ashen-faced manager, Don Revie. Revie had spent two years at Roker Park before leaving for Elland Road as a player and then taking over the reins from Jack Taylor.
This dour son of Middlesbrough (capital of Dourness) put together a team that was respected, feared but never, ever loved and which pipped us to the Second Division Championship in 1963-64. A combined Leeds/Sunderland XI from that period would have been very interesting. How about this; Montgomery; Irwin, Bell; Bremner, Hurley, Hunter; Weston, Herd, Crossan, Giles, Mulhall? One or two slightly out of position but not a bad team at all.
As it was, the man with the pencil and paper at Lytham St Annes had arranged the games for the then traditional Christmas Double. We had drawn 1-1 at Elland Road on Boxing Day in front of a crowd of 41,167 which included me, M Salut and my Uncle Doug who had met us at the station and gone with us, paying a rare visit to the ground.
George Mulhall scored first for us, Iain Lawson (of whom more later) equalising and setting up a tasty return clash two days later on Wearside.
Roker was packed when United came to town with 55,046 shoe-horned into the place. It was the third biggest league crowd of a season where crowds rarely dipped under 38,000 and I seem to remember a good following from West Yorkshire being there. I had gone on the train from Shildon with my dad’s dad who was staying with us over Christmas although I don’t recollect M Salut being there that day (he was – ed).
My Granddad Sixsmith was not a great football fan, much preferring Rugby League. He probably went because my father was not keen to see me go on my own and being an unselfish man, he gave up his afternoon with my grandmother so that his oldest grandson could pursue an interest which he probably hoped I would grow out of.
The game was very similar to the mewling, mauling rugby league games he preferred. Goals from Herd and Nicky Sharkey (a back header) put us two up in 20 minutes, whereupon Leeds decided that if they were going to lose, they would take a few Sunderland players with them.
The picture that sticks in my mind half a century on is of Lawson going in with both feet at Monty when he had gathered the ball on the ground. It was a vicious attack on the keeper and a deliberate attempt to maim him, pre-empting Jermain Defoe’s assault on Craig Gordon by a good few years.
Monty was well protected by Charlie Hurley and Jimmy McNab (now there was a hard man) and Hurley grabbed Lawson and was just about to dispatch him into Hampden Terrace, when George Herd stepped in and dragged The King off him.
The rest of the game was distinctly unpleasant and it was this match more than any other that led to Leeds being so vilified on Wearside. My grandfather announced after the game that football was a nasty game and that Leeds United made him ashamed to be a Leeds man. He would stick to rugby league from now on.
The train home meandered through Pallion, Cox Green, Penshaw, Fencehouses, Durham, Brandon, Willington, Hunwick and Bishop Auckland before arriving in Shildon. It took ages but for those of us not used to cars, like my Granddad, it was an opportunity for him to see a part of England of which he knew little, seeing as Wallace Arnold Tours rarely came to Wearside.
Fifty-one years on, the two sides could well be meeting next season – and I don’t mean because United will be winning promotion.
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