Health warning: to be avoided by persons of a sensitive disposition who also support Leeds United.
But think back to the first Saturday of May, 37 years ago. Every street deserted, people glued to their TV sets if not actually at Wembley. All the devotion, fervour and pride captured in the selection of photos we have reproduced with kind permission of the Sunderland Echo – and the renowned Tyne Tees documentary, clips of which appear here from YouTube (complete with the Mackem lass showing off those knickers). Leeds fans who stray into these parts will be pleased to hear this is our last look at the fascinating new book by a Sunderland-supporting BBC journalist, Lance Hardy, on the epic 1973 FA Cup Final. Interview by
Lance Hardy was five when Jimmy Montgomery’s double save, added to Ian Porterfield’s emphatic strike and a towering defensive display, proved enough to win the 1973 FA Cup Final for Sunderland.
His family lived in Worksop and had no connection with Sunderland save for their familiarity with the Wearside and other Durham accents (it was Durham then) heard from many of the Nottinghamshire miners. But his father plonked him in front of the television with firm instructions to support the underdogs against Leeds United, the cup holders and just a year away from a top flight championship.
It was the beginning of a lifetime of support for Sunderland AFC. After a year or two, his dad started taking him to away games within reach and by the early 1980s he was making his own way to Sunderland matches. He started working for a local newspaper straight from school and was able to travel with the Doncaster branch of the SAFC Supporters’ Association to home games.
Working in later life for the BBC, for which he is now responsible for video content on the sports pages of the website, he has found opportunities arise less frequently, but he gets to a few games each season and has never lost that childhood passion.
“It is perhaps a unique association,” he says, “but it’s a genuine one.”
Leeds fans may moan all they wish, and – from their lofty position in the Third Division – mock our lack of achievement in the intervening 37 years.
But as Hardy grew older, he came to believe he had the makings of a terrific fairytale to tell, and set about the task with imagination, pleasure and sheer hard work. “How did the club transform itself from a club with gates of 12,000 to one getting 50,000 (for the Man City and Luton cup ties – Salut! Sunderland), with 750,000 people turning out for the homecoming as a fever swept across the region. How did that happen?
“While yes, of course it was of great regional importance, it was also a very important event for football. Among people who love the game, everybody over 40 will never forget it and everybody under 40 will struggle to believe it happened.
It is, Hardy says, it is a “story of its time, of the time the whole country apart from Leeds United fans came together to support Sunderland. I don’t think we will ever see the like again.”
And it is also important, in an age of wall-to-wall sport on our television screens, that the FA Cup Final was of enormous significance iin 1973, when it as one of only a handful of games shown live. A similar giantkilling performance today would stand a good chance of being forgotten by the time pathetically small attendances were recorded at places like the Stadium of Light and Elland Road, and of course St James’ Park, for the following season’s competition.
A friendship forged with one of Sunderland’s Class of ’73, Dave Watson, through Hardy’s BBC work, made key parts of the book – the team’s own recollections – possible. “He had often talked to me fondly about that match,” he says. “And of course he was one of my all-time heroes.
” We got talking and agreed ‘let’s try to make it happen’. He has been absolutely fantastic and was instrumental in making the book what it is, in terms of the player interviews which would probably not have been possible otherwise.”
Older fans still mention the scene in the Tyne Tees film in which one of a group of young women in red and white cheerleader costumes is seen, during the post-match celebrations on Wearside, showing off her knickers with S_U_N_D_E_R_L_A_N_D in white lettering across the seat. The scene was even shown on a national news bulletin.
But Salut! Sunderland has a sense of decorum and will not reveal, merely to satisfy prurient interest, exactly at which stage of the fourth part of the film the scene can be viewed.
No apologies for our extensive coverage of an utterly fascinating, much more so for Sunderland supporters than for anyone else but of real value to all those who love David & Goliath stories or have an interest in the social role of football in close-knit areas that have known considerable deprivation.
Salut! Sunderland is on commission, save for the few pence earned if anything published here moves you to buy your copy of Lance Hardy’s book at this Amazon link.
* Stokoe, Sunderland and 73: The Story Of the Greatest FA Cup Final Shock of All Time by Lance Hardy (Orion).