There were no neutrals. Everyone outside Leeds wanted Sunderland to win the 1973 FA Cup Final. Continuing our coverage of Lance Hardy’s new book** on the sensational upset our Lads caused at Wembley, Pete Sixsmith wallows in the memory of a quite different world …
Photos from 1973 by kind permission of the Sunderland Echo
Patrick Vieira on £150,000 a week; Kenwyne Jones valued at £40m; Manchester United with debts of £750m and tickets for Saturday at Chelsea at a tad under £50.
Money, money, money. I don’t think the game has ever been so wrapped up in finance and it somewhat dissipates the pleasure of watching a simple football match.
There were days when football, and everything around it, was much more innocent. I was reminded of this as I read Lance Hardy’s excellent book, Stokoe, Sunderland and ’73.
The title tells you everything you need to know; it’s a book about the greatest FA Cup victory in living memory, the manager who engineerd it, the players who delivered it and the fans who witnessed it and who have never quite got over it.
I got the impression that the heroes of 73 were not in it for the cash. Yes, they made a good living and they were better paid than most, but wages had not reached the astronomical levels they have now. In fact the ’73 team come across as people who loved football, loved fame and liked, rather than worshipped, money .
The book is a very exhaustive (but not in the least bit exhausting) account of that wonderful period 37 years ago. when to be a Sunderland fan was the most wonderful feeling in the world.
Relegations, cash problems, were all forgotten about as we became the nation’s darlings and slew the hideous dragon known as Leeds United. The author has been able to access 10 of the 12 players involved, back room staff, journalists and supporters and has used their accounts to recreate the days when a Wembley Final ticket could be had for a pound and supporting a football team was not an example of lifestyle choice, more something in your blood.
The book is particularly strong on the various background stories to the triumph: Stokoe’s career at modest clubs, his intense dislike of Revie, the differences between Alan Brown and Stokoe, all of which will be unfamiliar to younger readers, but which seem like yesterday’s news to me.
He makes the point that it was Stokoe’s predecessor Brown who had laid the foundations for success with his youth development programme. This gave us Monty, Ritchie Pitt, Bobby Kerr, Billy Hughes, Micky Horswill and Dennis Tueart.
In addition, it was Bomber Brown who had brought in Dick Malone and Dave Watson. What Stokoe was able to do was add three and then to encourage these players to express themselves in a positive way for four months and become legends on Wearside for ever and ever.
Stolkoe comes across as a straightforward figure, more of a man manager than a master tactician and as someone who, at this time, could get the best out of the excellent raw material that he inherited.
Hindsight is a great gift, but Kerr, Tueart, Hughes and a few others wax lyrical about his ability to get them to play as they wanted to rather than the way that the more methodical, cerebral Brown insisted on. Deep down, they realise that Brown’s insistence on doing things his way, made them better players as they matured but that Stokoe was able to give them the licence they had craved under the austere Brown. Only Ritchie Pitt has bad words to say about Stokoe; the manager didn’t rate him and was keen to sell him. I had forgotten that Stokoe regarded John Tones as a better player than Pitt.
For people like me, it’s a wallow in nostalgia, almost like a sepia tinged print of what the game was like in the days when it was much simpler and uncluttered by financial considerations and restrictions on how you watch a game.
Hardy evokes this period exceptionally well in his interviews with the players and fans, who all realise that the product they are watching now is as far away from ’73 as ‘73 was from The Team Of All The Talents.
It’s an excellent read. If you are a younger fan, read it and you will get a whiff of the euphoria of those magic winter and spring months. If you are one of those, now in their 50s and above, who experienced it, the sights, the smell, the sounds and joy of Roker Park, Meadow Lane, Maine Road, Hillsbrough and Wembley and that utterly improbable, utterly glorious story will come flooding back.
As the song goes;
We went to Wembley Stadium, it was on the 5th of May
In nineteen hundred and seventy three, what a f****** day
We showed them how to drink Brown Ale, we showed them how to sup
We showed the Yorkshire B******** how to win the FA Cup
And now, we have an away trip to Portsmouth in a competition that, in its early stages, few seem all that bothered about. How times have changed.
** Stokoe, Sunderland and ‘73: The Story of the Greatest FA Cup Final Shock of All Time. Published by Orion. Buy it at a bargain price at this link.