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.
Pc 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.