Sunderland’s Twelve Days of Christmas: (3) Manchester United

Pete Sixsmith
Pete Sixsmith, full of seasonal cheer

John McCormick writes:  

While it’s always a pleasure to introduce a piece by Pete, having a pint  with the man himself prior to the Everton game gave this post an added dimension (And doesn’t the beer taste good, Pete?) Being bound up in the turmoil and prospects of our team, as we all are, we sometimes forget that football is fundamentally a social activity, to be enjoyed by both players and punters, and that includes the pre-match beer and banter. As we supped our ale and contemplated the grins on the bluenoses around us, we didn’t manage to wax lyrical about the days of  “Joe, Joe, Joe Baker”. I still remember the anticipation at the signing, and the chant, and a even a trip to Bristol.  This game, however, is a blank.

3.  27/12/69 Manchester United (H) Drew 1-1

Not a great deal to choose from on this date. In the dim and distant past, when Boxing Day fell on a Friday, games were not played and took place on the regular Saturday. No Sky TV then to mess around the schedules and not even a Match of the Day to worry about as the nation sat through BBC 1’s big film, Doctor at Large with Dirk Bogarde, Donald Siden and James Robertson Justice (lots of totty and I believe Bogarde administered a spanking to one of his patients), The Coward Revue on highbrow BBC 2 (“terribly, terribly good”) while ITV treated us to The Nearest and Dearest Special; The Ghost Picklers Past, with Hylda (“She knows you know”)Baker and Jimmy Jewell, formerly part of the music hall double act Jewell and Warris. It also featured the wonderful Joe Gladwin as the pickle factory foreman, Stan. Joe later found fame as Wally Batty, swain of Norma and pal of Compo. But I digress.

Had there been a Match of the Day,the game would have been described by David Coleman, then in his prime. He was a great commentator and the man who gave us the sheepskin coat, so beloved by John Motson and Brian Moore. They needed them in those days. The TV commentary box at Roker was perched on top of the Clock Stand and Coleman must have made that difficult ascent up the metal ladders with more than a hint of trepidation.

He is best remembered for his athletics commentaries and his blunders. Private Eye had a “Colemanballs” column for many years as a tribute to the errors made by him. His best one was probably in Mexico in 1968 as David Hemery scorched away with the Men’s 400m hurdles. “And who cares who’s third?”, said the diminutive commentator, “It doesn’t matter.” Well it did to John Sherwood, who ran the race of his life to win the bronze medal. That was when Colemanballs was born and avid viewers paid careful attention, waiting for other slipups. They were royally rewarded on 5th May 1973, when he called the score 1-1 as Trevor Cherry’s header was palmed out to Peter Lorimer, standing feet away from the goal. “1-1” intoned the great man, before Monty sprang across and pushed it away. He lost a bit of credibility on Wearside after that.

Meanwhile, back in 1969, I was witnessing my first relegation season, having been more interested in Lewis Jones and Jeff Stevenson at Headingley in 1958, with Sunderland AFC not appearing on the Sixsmith radar as the Loiners basked in the glory of the previous year’s Challenge Cup win. Alan Brown’s second spell was not a huge success and we had gone into this season minus Colin Sugget, sold to West Brom for £100,000 and with Joe Baker, who came from Nottingham Forest for £30,000.

Baker had been a good player, earning an England cap while playing for Hibernian and then moving to Torino, playing alongside Dennis Law and against Jimmy Greaves and Gerry Hitchins. From there he went to Arsenal and enjoyed his years at Highbury, forming a partnership with former Stanley United player Geoff Strong that produced an abundance of goals.

That scoring habit continued at The City Ground when he moved to Forest, helping them to second place in the First Division, behind European Cup Winners, Manchester United. Then he moved to the centre forwards graveyard known as Sunderland. The goals dried up, and he had a dismal final season in the top flight, netting in this game and one other. The chants of “Joe, Joe, Joe Baker” were muted by the time we slipped back to the second tier, having spent the entire season in the bottom three – although only two went down in those ancient days.

He never stopped trying and had clearly been a good player. His goal against United was drilled in at the Fulwell End and the vast majority of the 36,000 crowd celebrated his equaliser which we hoped would herald a new dawn for the club in the new decade. It didn’t.

Some things never change.


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