Out of the blue, an e-mail reached me yesterday from a young person in Gloucestershire called Amy, who wanted to know if there were any songs specific to Sunderland AFC. She’d heard Elvis Presley’s Wise Men Say mentioned; was this something the fans sang?
Yes, I said in reply, assuming it had been the subject of a friendly bet, or even – since Amy works in education – something to do with a school/college project on the culture of football songs and chants.
But no, it was for something more serious. Amy was grateful to have her suggestion confirmed: “I can tell my Grandma now! Its for my Grampy’s funeral next week – he was a big Sunderland fan!”
Come the service, if any of Grampy’s fellow SAFC supporters are present, I imagine thoughts will also turn to Ian Porterfield, a name embedded in the hearts of all red and whites, whether or not they were alive at the time of the 1973 FA Cup Final.
Ian’s death, in a Surrey hospice at the age of 61, was also announced yesterday.
Some of us were alive in 1973, but unable to get tickets for the match. I was working for a local paper in north London. The sports editor was a grumpy old drunk, but claimed to have impeccable football contacts; a ticket for me was a racing certainty.
He kept up the mantra until May 4, the eve of the final. We rented company-owned flats, mine upstairs from his, and next morning there was not a sign of life from the ground floor. I trudged off to stock up on cans of beer and resigned myself to watching the match on television. The sports editor, from memory, eventually resurfaced, blurted out some excuse and not long afterwards vanished altogether, some said to live in a caravan in East Anglia.
As the TV build-up to kickoff began, my football-loathing wife went shopping. But she sensed which way the game was going when, walking back towards the flat, she looked up to our open front window and heard my roars of delight.
Ian Porterfield had just scored. There was a long way to go but thanks to Monty’s saves, and some heroic defending, we clung on to the lead. Even my wife was touched by the spectacle of the trilby-clad Bob Stokoe racing across the pitch to embrace his keeper. But solid, backs-to-the-wall defensive play has often been a trademark of Sunderland teams, more often than not those that struggled with the need to score goals too. Ian had scored. The defenders’ courage was not in vain.
He packed a lot into a relatively short life. His managerial career began at Rotherham, where he won the old Division Three title, and later posts including succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen, a spell at Chelsea and periods in charge of the national teams of Zambia, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, Oman and Trinidad and Tobago.
His last job was as manager of Armenia, a position he held until the last weeks of his life, despite the cancer of the colon that was diagnosed in February and finally killed him. Less than a month ago, he was hailing a “beautiful evening for Armenian football” after a notable 1-1 draw with Portugal.
Read the professionals’ tributes elsewhere. I will end this posting with a few links. But let Ian’s widow Glenda sum up the man.
“He may have been a football man all his life, but I know him best as a wonderful human being who was liked by everyone he came in contact with. He had his wish to die in harness. Just over two weeks ago, we flew to Armenia for the Portugal game and I’ll always remember what happened at the open training session at the stadium on the day before the game. The stadium was packed to see all the Portuguese stars like Ronaldo, Deco and the rest, but when Ian walked out, they all stood up and shouted his name. It was very moving.”
And let the congregation at the funeral of Amy’s Grampy belt out Wise Men Say in memory of two men associated with Sunderland AFC, one a member of our army of fan, the other as one of that army’s greatest heroes.
** Related links/articles:
* Niall Quinn on a true legend
* A fan’s view from Arizona
* SAFC opens Book of Condolence
*** Click on my illustration for a better look at an artist’s view of the moment Ian Porterfield won the 1973 FA Cup Final for Sunderland, scoring the goal that beat much-fancied Leeds United. If anyone knows the identity of the artist, please let me know so that his or her work can be credited here. I received it in the form of a Christmas card from Tom Lynn, editor or the now defunct SAFC fanzine, The Wearside Roar.