Soapbox: World Cup Willies

soapbox

Celebrated for its literate and loyal readership, Salut! Sunderland has been promised a review copy of Stokoe, Sunderland and 1973; The Greatest FA Cup Final Shock of all Time, which sounds more like a short chapter than a book title. Watch this space. But we know all about it already, not because we broke into the print works to snatch a copy but because our own Pete Sixsmith was interviewed for it . This, however, is more about the 2018 World Cup and the campaign to bring it to England – and Sunderland …

Last weekend the papers contained a breakdown of the possible venues for the 2018 World Cup Finals, should the FA manage to put a believable bid together.

At the moment, they seem to bear a remarkable resemblance to my Year 11 group – riven with infighting and squabbles. Mind you, I sometimes think that the Year 11s have more common sense those who run the National Game from their plush new offices at Wembley.

The Stadium of Light and the club’s bid came out it well, the city itself, not so good. The Stadium is, along with Wembley and no other ground in England, a proud recipient of the top FIFA Grade for stadiums. Better than Old Trafford, The Emirates and the hotchpotch up the road. .

Quinny also ran a great campaign, focusing on the North East in general and using the region’s Football League clubs (bar one) and Durham County Cricket Club as partners, making it an inclusive bid from the region rather than one (or two) places.

The city did not fare so well, but surely the criteria has to be on football rather than specific leisure facilities, otherwise we would be playing games at Whitby, Southport and Weston-Super-Mare because they have nice scenery and lots of hotels and decent railway stations.

I am pretty sure both our bid and the one from Newcastle/Gateshead will be successful, based on the region and the undoubted passion there is up here for the game. It would be ridiculous if either missed out in order to give football backwaters like Plymouth and Bristol a game.

It also made me think of the 1966 tournament and the games played at Roker Park. I was 15 at the time, wasting my time at school, but already a serious trainee anorak. I read Soccer Star, World Soccer and Northern Football and even had a subscription to Soviet Weekly so I could keep an eye on the Soviet First and Second Divisions.

When I heard that Roker Park had been awarded three group games and a quarter final, I was over the moon. I saved up for the tickets (7/6d each for the Roker End) and tapped my mum for the bus fare (2/6d on the OK Football Special).

The club had smartened up Roker for the games. The office block on Grantham Road had been built and seats had been installed in the Upper Clock Stand. They were state of the art in ’66 – armchair style and reasonably wide. When I had one in 1993, they were bloody uncomfortable!! They even put temporary bench seats in the Fulwell End and the two paddocks.

The games were not classics. The Italy v Chile opener saw both teams on their best behaviour after The Battle of Santiago four years earlier Italy won it in as unconvincing a manner as you could wish to see and then lost to the USSR on the Saturday. That was my first sighting of the legendary Lev Yashin, a huge man who personified the USSR and its sporting prowess at the time. He was a real man of the people, signing autographs, smiling gaily and sitting at the front of the team bus, waving at all and sundry with those huge hands as it made its way up Durham Road to the Prospect traffic lights.

The third game was a dead rubber with the USSR through and Chile out but the real sensation had been at Ayresome Park a day earlier when The People’s Republic of Korea had beaten the Italians. As we watched the Soviet reserves go through the motions in their game, Barison, Fachetti and Co were being pelted with tomatoes as their plane landed in Rome. Some of the irate fans even forgot to take them out of the tins!!!

Next up was a quarter final between the USSR and Hungary who were fraternal brothers from the Eastern Bloc, notwithstanding a little local difficulty in 1956. There were a number of Hungarian exiles in the crowd, having settled here after the Rising and they made the Soviets less than welcome. Plus, the Hungarians had been responsible for the performance of the tournament in beating Brazil 3-1 at Goodison Park.

Brazil had been without Pele who had been kicked off the park by the Bulgarians, but that should take nothing away from Hungary who had two wonderful attacking players in Ferenc Bene and Florian Albert and who had scored one of the best goals I have ever seen – by Janos Farkas. They were clearly intent on beating their Soviet brothers and were widely tipped to do so

Unfortunately, while Florian Albert was a genius up front, their goalkeeper was more like Albert Tatlock and let in an absolute duffer as the red shirts overcame the whites by 2-1. The main talking point of the afternoon came as the scoreboard man at the Roker End, kept running up and down his ladder to keep us posted on the PR Korea v Portugal game. The Koreans had taken a 3-0 lead in the first half, only for Eusebio (or Eh yus ibo, as Genial Joe Mercer christened him) to take over and see Portugal home.

After that, the circus moved on to London and Liverpool and I believe England won the final tie – without a Sunderland player in the squad. How Allan Gauden failed to make it is a perpetual mystery to me.

If we get the tournament in 2018, I will be 67. In fact, I would be 67 even if we didn’t get it. It will be 52 years since the last one. Logic says a small country with excellent stadiums and a reasonable infrastructure should be an obvious pick against joint bids and the time zone problems that Russia and Australia propose. But when did logic and football ever go hand in hand?

On a different note, the BBC producer and erstwhile Sunderland fan Lance Hardy has produced an excellent book about the 1973 Cup win. Called Stokoe, Sunderland and 1973; The Greatest FA Cup Final Shock of all Time, it should be out for Christmas. I know it’s a good book because he interviewed me and bought me several pints in the Grand in Bishop Auckland. Look out for it on Amazon – grab the cut-price offer byusing this link – or Play.com.

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