Sunderland’s Twelve Days of Christmas (6): Newcastle United

Pete Sixsmith. Time's a great healer
Pete Sixsmith. Time’s a great healer

John McCormick writes. I must have been at this game but I can’t remember anything about it. Maybe the disappointment at the result has caused me to blot it from my mind, or maybe it’s true that if you can remember the sixties you weren’t there. No, that can’t be right. Pete Sixsmith was there, and he remembers it well:

6. 30/12/67 Newcastle United (h) Drew 3-3

In the 60s the fixture computer (the man with the pencil at Lytham St Annes) would give you relatively local games – as opposed to Cardiff City away. In 1967-68 he gave us a double derby fixture, St James’ on Boxing Day (lost 2-1) and Roker four days later.

Ian McColl was our manager and he had had a decent season the previous year when we had been diddled out of the FA Cup by Leeds United. 1967-68 was approached with enthusiasm but there was little money to spend on new players. Brian Heslop arrived from Carlisle United for £5,000 and Ralph Brand cost about the same from Manchester City.

Brand was a former Rangers player who had formed a strong partnership with Jimmy Millar at Ibrox, so much so that they were known as the M and B Magic by fans who had never had to drink the slop produced by the eponymous Birmingham brewery. He had been a team mate of Jim Baxter and it was hoped that he and the wayward Fifer could work with his fellow Scot to create and finish goals.

By the time the Derby came around, Not So Slim Jim had been packed off to Nottingham Forest to the chagrin of various licensees and club owners on Wearside and a new Scottish playmaker had been brought in by an increasingly desperate McColl. Ian Porterfield had followed in Baxter’s footsteps in that he had also appeared for Raith Rovers. He was an elegant player who moved around the pitch a tad quicker than Baxter, whose movement was reminiscent of an elderly actor who knew what he was supposed to do but couldn’t figure out the way he was going to get from A to B. He was signed the previous day and was plunged into a team that read Montgomery; Irwin, Ashurst; Todd, Hurley, Harvey; Stuckey, Suggett, Martin, Porterfield, Mulhall. Sub; Kinnell.

We were having a poor season, standing 19th after the Boxing Day defeat while the Mags, under chain smoking former skipper Joe Harvey, were in the upper reaches of the table and did indeed qualify for Europe at the end of the year. We set off well and Colin Suggett opened the scoring in what was his best season for Sunderland. Ollie Burton equalised from the spot before Suggett restored the lead and then Bruce Stuckey gave us a two goal lead with a stupendous shot that whizzed past Marshall in the Magpies goal. With ten minutes left, the points looked safe.

One of Roker Park’s peculiarities was that it had two clocks, one in the middle of the Leitch lattice work on the Main Stand and one perched on top of the Clock Stand – which is how it got its name. Good for fans who tried to gauge how much time was left, but it sometimes led to players watching the clock and calculating how much longer there was before the man in the middle blew his whistle sometimes leading to a loss of concentration.

Which is exactly what happened in this game. Two goals ahead with ten minutes to go and a good team should be able to close it out. We didn’t and allowed the Mags to grab a point that they scarcely deserved. Firstly, Burton slotted home another penalty and then John McNamee, a centre half who was to cultured football as Nigella Lawson is to household financial management bundled an equaliser over the line and had the temerity to swing on the Roker End crossbar.

I remember trooping back to the OK bus, parked on the seafront, bitterly disappointed and knowing that, when I returned to school, the black and whites there would give me some stick. My mood was only slightly lightened by the fact that the next day was New Year’s Eve and that there would be a fair few tips from the customers on my Sunday paper round.

But I would have swapped them all for a 3-1 win. So would McColl. A man of some dignity, but out of his depth at Sunderland, he was dismissed a month later after a home defeat to Second Division Norwich City in a Cup replay. In came Alan Brown and out went Ian Porterfield, who despite the song current at the time, was not to play a great part in any conversations with Brown. He almost sold him and had he done so, one wonders if the course of history would have been changed.

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1 thought on “Sunderland’s Twelve Days of Christmas (6): Newcastle United”

  1. I remember this one well. It was one of the few times I went into the Main Stand, just to the left of the tunnel. As Pete so rightly says it is a game we should have won.

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