Pete Sixsmith, currently playing Santa for the children of County Durham, was born in Leeds and is an ardent supporter of the Leeds rugby league side. But we all know him as a passionate Sunderland supporter from boyhood, when he arrived in the North East and saw the light of righteousness. Who better to look at the history of our FA Cup encounters with Leeds United, 3rd round opponents at the Stadium of Light in January? United fans who want to engage in proper banter are welcome to add their own recollections or thoughts on Pete’s musings (one of them might even volunteer for the ‘Who are You?’ interview) …
Isn’t the BBC doing a rather splendid job with the FA Cup? After years of ITV and their desire to squeeze in as many advertising breaks as possible, it is a real pleasure to see non commercial TV take a real interest in a competition that gets better the further down you go in it.
I missed Monday’s live draw from ‘ull due to work duties on the railway. Broadband connections at the North Pole (aka Stanhope) were iffy so many thanks to John Penman and Sixsmith Minimus who texted the outcome of the velvet bag fest to me. I was hoping for Dover Athletic away, as The Crabble would have been a new ground for me. Instead we got Leeds United at home.
We have a history in the FA Cup dating back to 1927 when they put us out of the competition 3-2 at Elland Road. Forty Years On, to plagiarise that scion of the Scratching Shed, Alan Bennett, we played them in an epic Fifth Round tie that took three games to settle.
The first game at Roker was a 1-1 draw in a game that was marred by Bobby Kerr’s broken leg after a legitimate tackle by Norman Hunter. Neil Martin (better than Eusebio according to the Fulwell End song) had put us ahead, only for Jackie Charlton to level eight minutes later. The game was fierce and competitive and was played out in front of a massive crowd of 55,763.
Four days later, just before my 16th birthday, while a lot of my friends were getting their first 50cc scooters with their 50cc scooter insurance to race to the games, the two teams met again at Elland Road in front of what was a record crowd for United of 57,892. There were few Health and Safety concerns in those days as an estimated 15,000 Red and Whites squeezed into whichever part of the ground they could.
It turned out that Elland Road was incapable of taking a crowd of this size and there was severe overcrowding, leading to the collapse of a crush barrier. This led to fans pouring onto the pitch and a hold up in play. The injured were taken to hospital and the game resumed with fans squatting on the touchline within touching distance of the players.
And we criticise Health and Safety regulations!!!
Once again, we took the lead, this time through John O’Hare (When we want goals he’s always there, as the Fulwell Song Book had it) only for Johnny Giles to level within a minute. The game swung end to end, went to extra time but no winner could be found.
In those days, ties were played to a finish. The penalty shoot out was for foreigners; in England a tie was played to the end. So, five days later, we trundled off to Boothferry Park, Hull for another go at settling it.
It was controversial. Both teams had injuries, having played on the Saturday. We lost 3-0 at Stoke, a game remarkable only for my 16th birthday and Colin Suggett’s debut. He was an unused sub at Boothferry as the teams lined up.
Rod Belfitt put them ahead and it looked as if it would be enough. Then, Alan Gauden, in for Bobby Kerr and later to be a firefighter with the Durham Fire Brigade, rattled home an equaliser with 12 minutes left. Then it got controversial.
Cec Irwin (one of the Flowerpot Men –“Cec and Len, Flowerpot Men”) brought down Jimmy Greenhoff. With indecent haste, referee Ken Stokes awarded a penalty, ignoring the fact that the foul was outside the box and that Greenhoff was yards offside anyway.
Peter Lorimer wrote in his autobiography that Don Revie had told his players to go down wherever they could and that he was never sure if Stokes had been nobbled. We were convinced that he had and some fans tried to get at him and at Billy Bremner but the police cleared the pitch and Johnny Giles slotted home the spot kick.
There was still time for the two Georges, Herd and Mulhall to be sent off, Herd for a hack at Terry Cooper and Mulhall for using his extensive Aberdonian vocabulary on Mr Stokes.
So, four ties and not one win against United, until that glorious day in 1973. And no FA Cup tie since then, so this is a resumption of hostilities.
They have not had to look hard for troubles over the last few years. On their last visit to Wearside, in 2006, they were dispatched 2-0 on Boxing Day thanks to goals from David Connolly and the excellent Grant Leadbitter. The performance they put up that day under Dennis Wise and his assistant, a Uruguayan whose name escapes me at the moment was feeble and they finished the length of the division behind us as they were relegated with Luton and Southend.
Since then, they have had points deducted, changed managers on a regular basis, nearly gone out of business, banned various newspapers from the ground and had three different proprietors, the latest of whom has failed the fit and proper ownership test. They look as far away from a Premier League return as we do from a Champions League place.
But their fan base has held together and they will probably travel in large numbers to this game, leaving the rusting and ageing hulk that is Elland Road in order to gaze on a thoroughly modern football stadium that is not hemmed in by railway lines, terraced houses and industrial units. It is when passing by train that one realises how small Elland Road is.
Some good news on contracts, with Connor Wickham signing a new deal with the club. He has looked a good player at times this season and clearly Gus and the coaching staff have faith in him; he has started every PL game so far.
Hopefully, he will have a couple of new teammates in January – maybe even in time to play against Leeds.
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