Branch Lines: Sunderland supporters in the Heart of England

Malcolm Dawson writes….back in 1997/98 despite living in the Midlands I made 43 Sunderland games over the course of the season but as I hadn’t bothered with a season ticket, I was not guaranteed a ticket for the play off final at Wembley and when they went on general sale I was working and unable to get to the ground or even to a phone, so I missed out. What made it even more galling was hearing tell of people who had never ever been to a match before queuing up and getting seats for the big day while I ended up watching it on the telly.

At the first game of the new season, where if memory serves me right, Tommy Sorensen made his debut and Lee Clark broke his leg, I saw an article in ALS about the formation of a new Supporters’ Association branch, based in Coventry, got in touch next day and joined up. That branch was the Heart of England and at that time there were loads of season ticket holders and soon membership took off to the point where there were coaches to every weekend home game. 

The branch is still going strong with our regular contributor Wrinkly Pete (Lynn) being a stalwart and although I have been back in the North East for seven years now I still meet up with my old mates when we can. Branch Chair Sue Laffey takes up the story.

Quinny at the HoE


The Heart of England branch was formed in 1998 so this is our 20th anniversary! We were formed after the 1998 play-off final by our stalwart members Chris Herriott, Julie Harris, Steve Hay and Paul Walsh who wanted to find a group of like-minded fans to watch games with. It all took off from there and we are still going strong.

The branch covers pretty much the whole of the Midlands. We have just over 60 members, many of whom live in the area around Coventry where we are based, but we also have fans from as far east as Corby, as far west as Monmouth, as far south as Trowbridge and as far north as Nottingham. We also have a few exiles in London and the North East. Because we cover such a large geographical area, we find it hard to get everyone together but we organise coaches to home games as often as we can. We are always represented at away games too. There are around a dozen members who travel to virtually every home game despite the distance involved.

Monty signs Wrinkly Pete’s Cup Final programme.

We are honoured to have Kevin Ball as our President and he has been to Coventry to visit us. We have also had visits from, amongst others, Niall Quinn, Gary Rowell, Bobby Kerr, Dave Watson, John O’Hare, Len Ashurst, Gary Bennett, Jimmy Montgomery, Dick Malone and Micky Horswill.

In the early years we had a monthly newsletter “Turnips are Big and Purple” the name of which came about through the regional confusion between what is a turnip and what is a swede – you have to live down south to understand! That’s been replaced with regular email updates as we move with the times.

We do an annual predictions competition and last year gave half of the proceeds to the Bradley Lowery Foundation continuing a history of charity fundraising which started in 2002 when five branch members went to all 92 football league grounds in 69 hours, raising £4000 for the British Heart Foundation in the process.

Dick Malone’s visit to the HoE Branch with member Mark Strong

We have many amusing anecdotes that have involved branch members.

One of the best featured a member who had lived in the Midlands for a while and then moved back home to the North East. In those early days we were running coaches to every home game and many of us would have a pre match pint in the Howard Arms where we would meet up with friends and family.

On one occasion this former member came in and told us that on his way to the City Centre he had passed a pony which he was sure was lying dead on a grass verge at the side of the road. After stopping his car he went over to check and though convinced it was dead gave it a kick. Of course the poor beast had only been sleeping and jumped up, startled.

Two weeks later at the next home game on his coming into the pub we are regaled with the story of how he’s had a letter from the RSPCA outlining the incident and how having been reported by a concerned member of the public who had taken his car registration, they were obliged to investigate whether or not there was the possibility of an animal cruelty charge and asking for a written statement from him. He’s devastated, claiming he only went to check to see if the poor pony was alive.

No animals were harmed in the making of this website

What he had failed to see was the name of the RSPCA Inspector a Mr. T Hickhead and that the address was that of a member in Houghton. However, he dutifully responded claiming ‘there was no sign of life, snorting, panting or movement as I gingerly edged up to the rear of the animal’.

At the next home game after receiving his branch newsletter he was not amused at the antics of some of our members. Even today he still gets reminded of his brush with the pony whenever we see him.

A few seasons back, after an enjoyable visit to Gillingham a few of us decided that we would go back the next season, even though we were in different divisions, for another of their games and visit the pub where we had received a warm welcome and had a great night. We chose to go for their final home fixture of the season when they were due to play Walsall. We turned up in our red and white shirts and got some rather strange looks from the home fans, telling us we were at the wrong ground and stewards trying to direct us to the away end! After the match we went back to the pub where they were ordering pizzas and invited us to join in with their end of season party but unfortunately we had a train to catch back to the Midlands, via London.

Other incidents, too detailed to go into here, involved breakfast beers and lobster before a trip to London and the attempted (though ultimately unsuccessful) unfurling of a branch flag at a live broadcast of the National Lottery following a game at Loftus Road.

After the early days of the branch we now find it less viable to run coaches to every home game now but we still get to two or three fixtures a year, co-ordinate lift shares and apply for tickets for away fixtures, though we can’t always guarantee success, especially with the small allocation the club gets from some clubs in this division.

However, for exiles living away from the North East, those who through family connections grew up supporting The Lads or for those in the region who chose to follow SAFC for whatever reason the branch is a great way of forming friendships and sharing the joys and tribulations of following the team.

Live in the Midlands and want to join us? Contact our membership secretary, Karen, at

Sue Laffey

HoE committee with Benno
HoE members complete their tour of the 92 league grounds for the British Heart Foundation

We all agree: name the North Stand after Monty (or do we?)

We’ve chosen one of Jake’s generic Salut! Sunderland images as this is a democratic effort

John McCormick writes: It was Malcolm who sent the e-mail about a poll to decide on names for the stands at the SOL but it was Eric who made the original request, via the comments section, in Colin’s guess the score for the opening game of the season. My contribution was the headline you see above and the construction of the page.

Charlie Hurley, Bob Stokoe, Bradley Lowery, Raich Carter, Stan Anderson, Jimmy Montgomery and Ian Porterfield, in no particular order, were the first names we came up with; I added Cloughie and Shack when setting up the poll.

Read moreWe all agree: name the North Stand after Monty (or do we?)

Stan Anderson RIP: Sunderland to the core but captained all the Big Three clubs

Salut! Sunderland is happy to credit the official site of the SAFC Former Players’ Association, which kindly allows us to reproduce its images:

Salut! Sunderland is deeply saddened by news that Stan Anderson, who will be remembered with special fondness by SAFC supporters of a certain age, has died aged 84.

In a characteristically noble tribute to a great Sunderland captain, the club historian Rob Mason recalls Stan telling him: “I was from a family of dyed in the wool red and whites – playing for the team I supported was always a privilege and a pleasure for me.”

Read moreStan Anderson RIP: Sunderland to the core but captained all the Big Three clubs

Clough, Monty, trouncing Chelsea … Salut! Sunderland shares memories with Football Friends

Jake flies the flag

Monsieur Salut writes: Why does Salut! Sunderland exist? What prompted its creation? What was my first game? What have been my highs and lows of supporting Sunderland? All the kind of questions we regularly ask Who are You? candidates. This time the boot was on the other foot. The newish Football Friends site wanted answers from me. Here they are – and do check out the site for chats with those responsible for other club blogs …

Read moreClough, Monty, trouncing Chelsea … Salut! Sunderland shares memories with Football Friends

Pete Sixsmith’s alternative “Who’s who”

Pete Sixsmith. Delivers more than just the papers
Pete Sixsmith. Delivers more than just the papers

John McCormick writes. Our Web wizard has scheduled some site maintenance and you may find the site is down for a short while some time today, so please bear with us.

And while we’re on the subject of bearing we need to move beyond  the Lynden and Graham Gooch situation. Luckily, we have Pete Sixsmith to help us. Pete doesn’t just appear on TV (who else saw him on MOTD?) He doesn’t just deliver erudite summaries to the papers (and nor does he just deliver the papers). He’s also a bit of a historian, as he demonstrates in this wander through the genealogical archives of the North East:

Read morePete Sixsmith’s alternative “Who’s who”

Raise the roof tonight as Sunderland prepares to honour two sons

Jake: 'get your own honours tonight, Lads'
Jake: ‘get your own honours tonight, Lads’

It may seem an odd thing to juxtapose final words of encouragement to the Lads, hours from tonight’s potential season-saver, and richly deserved honours about to be bestowed on two of Sunderland’s finest.

But think about what Jimmy Montgomery and John Hays have done for the club, the city and the region and it becomes the most natural mixing of themes imaginable.

Read moreRaise the roof tonight as Sunderland prepares to honour two sons

Jimmy Montgomery BEM: a richly deserved honour as Birmingham City would agree

A day to remember
A day to remember

Salut! Sunderland is thrilled to join the chorus of praise for Jimmy Montgomery, who has been awarded the BEM (British Empire Medal) for – and this is an understatement – services to football over the past half-century.

The official club site talks of Monty as a “Sunderland AFC legend and club ambassador” and quotes him as saying: “I am absolutely delighted and it’s a great honour to receive this award. I’ve been involved with football for a number of years, in many different and enjoyable roles. I have so many great memories that last a lifetime and to share this one with my family is something that I will savour [ wrote ‘saviour’ which seems a Freudian slip – Ed].”

SAFC’s chief executive officer Margaret Byrne – once, I believe, a member of the SAFC Supporters’ Association London and SE branch – described Jimmy as a “true gentleman … held in such high esteem by everyone in the city”, a view definitely held by Salut! Sunderland codgers who have come across him.

And let us mark the occasion by republishing a piece – without amending dates etc – that appeared during our 2013 series on the 40th anniversary of the 1973 FA Cup final that remains, in the broader public vision, Monty’s finest achievement in a career that took him beyond his Wearside home ground to Birmingham City, Vancouver Royals, Southampton and Nottingham Forest.



Read moreJimmy Montgomery BEM: a richly deserved honour as Birmingham City would agree

Sunderland, Leeds and Wembley 1973. Part 5: Jimmy Montgomery ‘lived the dream’

Jake remembers ...
Jake remembers …

Continuing our series of reminiscences of May 5 1973, Salut! Sunderland talks – thanks to the excellent Jeanette Sutton (nee Coyle) – to Jimmy Montgomery.

Check out the generic link – – for commemorative items you may have missed. Monty was not alone; there were 10 other heroes that day against Leeds united – Dick Malone, Ron Guthrie, Richie Pitt, Dave Watson, Mick Horswill, Ian Porterfield, Bobby Kerr, Dennis Tueart, Billy Hughes and Vic Halom – plus the unused substitute David Young. But Monty was an obvious choice to speak to …

It was not, in Jimmy Montgomery’s view or mine, the best game he ever played.

But in the few seconds it took him to make his extraordinary double save from Trevor Cherry and Peter Lorimer, Monty ensured his place in the imaginary goalkeepers’ hall of fame that inhabits the minds of countless fans of every club in most countries where footballs are kicked.

Read moreSunderland, Leeds and Wembley 1973. Part 5: Jimmy Montgomery ‘lived the dream’

Sunderland, Leeds and Wembley 1973. Part 2: ‘how I spoke to Rod Stewart and hung my scarf on the FA Cup’

Jake remembers ...
Jake remembers …

In the second part of her reminiscences of 5:5:73 Jeanette Sutton (nee Coyle) recalls the game, the post match celebrations with the team and their wives, her brushes with the celebrities of the glam rock era and how she got to decorate the FA Cup itself with her red and white scarf. (Jeanette was talking to Deputy Editor Malcolm Dawson)

MD – So we left our conversation with the victory at Hillsborough and the whole of the red and white supporting part of the North East excited by the prospect of The Lads running out at Wembley to face the might of Leeds United, who at that time were considered to be one of the top clubs. What do you recall about the build up?

Jeanette – Back in the 1970s there wasn’t the same degree of celebrity culture and saturation coverage of football. There were still only three television channels of course and the only time you got to watch league football on TV was Match of the Day on Saturday night and the ITV regional highlights the following afternoon. But in the context of the times there were plenty of off the field distractions for the team.

They had done some radio interviews, and a few of them bumped into Rod Stewart, who being a football fan and celebrity Scotland supporter took a great interest in the team. Glam rock band The Sweet had presented Billy Hughes with one of their gold discs for their recording of their hit “Little Willy”. Local comedian Bobby Knoxall and a choir of primary school children teamed up with the players to record “Sunderland All the Way” the obligatory F.A. Cup Finalists’ song.

The Sunderland lads were all down to earth people. Second Division players with no pretensions and it was like a dream come true when they were given sponsored cars to drive in the run up to the final. They embraced the limelight and enjoyed the moment for what it was but unlike present day footballers they were always accessible, in tune with the fans. We all felt that we all belonged to one big happy family, players, fans and club officials alike.

The atmosphere was electric in the run up to the big day and the town and surrounding districts were covered in red and white. People were desperate for tickets. Fortunately for us Dad had his season ticket allocation and I was given a chance to buy a ticket as a staff member for the price of £1. But even better, I was invited to travel to Wembley on the League Liner with other officials and members of staff.

MD – That must have been a great feeling. So what about the day itself, 5th May 1973, a date indelibly stamped on the heart of any Sunderland supporter alive at the time?

Jeanette – My two sisters Trish and Fiona had been planning to watch it on television along with my Mam and my Nana when just days before the Final I was able to get hold of another two tickets so they could also make the trip. They travelled with Dad on the train and then met me on Wembley Way as I proudly stepped off the League Liner. Just as it had at Hillsborough it poured with rain but we hardly noticed it. The nation seemed to have taken us to their hearts and people were shouting and wishing us luck as we walked to the stadium. Although we were the underdogs we were on top of the world and really felt it would be our day. The omens were good after all. We had last won the cup in 1937 and this was 1973. The last time Bob Stoke had met Don Revie at Wembley was in their playing days when Stokoe’s Newcastle beat Revie’s Man City 3-1. A team playing in stripes had never lost at Wembley. We couldn’t lose with all of that history behind us.

Jeanette's FA Cup Final Ticket and League Liner seat.
Jeanette’s FA Cup Final Ticket and League Liner seat.

This was the 70s and being a fashionable young lady from County Durham, I was wearing black trousers, a yellow jacket with black lapels and yellow platform shoes. I may have been showing the rest of the world that the North East knew a bit about fashion but my outfit afforded little protection from the rain!!!

Once inside the stadium we watched the ground fill and there seemed to be double the number of Sunderland fans as those sporting the colours of our rivals. As ever we were in fine voice. When Frankie Vaughan appeared on the pitch to lead the community singing we did him proud. The last song in the build up was always “Abide with Me” and for me it was so emotional I found it difficult to get to the end of the song. Somehow though I made it and then I knew it was almost time. A huge roar went up as the teams emerged Stokoe and Revie proudly leading out their respective teams. Don Revie was smartly turned out in suit and tie whilst Bob Stokoe was in his bright red tracksuit which a couple of hours later, combined with his raincoat and trilby, would provide the world with the iconic images we now associate with the full time whistle in that match.

Bobby Kerr won the toss and he chose to play towards our end. It couldn’t have gone any better for Dad, my sisters and me as we got a great view of the goal and Monty’s double save.

From kick-off the lads worked hard for each other, they challenged for every ball and took the game to Leeds who seemed troubled by the heavy pitch. Every single Sunderland player was a hero that day and the all star Leeds United team struggled to make an impact. Some resolute defending by the likes of Richie Pitt, Ron Guthrie and Dick Malone left Mick Jones with no space and the dangerous Lorimer and Gray were marked out of the game.

Billy Hughes got a knock early on which caused us concern but he ran it off and was soon moving much better. It was Hughes who took the corner which the pigeon chested Vic Halom brought down beautifully for Ian Porterfield who rammed it into the net from about 12yards. The whole place erupted. We were amazed ourselves as Porterfield, a left footed player had scored with his wrong foot.

The dream continued as Hughes and Tueart kept running at Leeds, causing them all sorts of problems. Kerr, Horswill and Porterfield were dominating the midfield and Dave Watson marshalled the defence which stood firm, apart from the one chance which fell to Leeds, bringing out the best in Jimmy Montgomery who accomplished what has been described by many as the save of the century. It was certainly at least on a par and maybe even better than Gordon Bank’s effort against Brazil in the 1970 World Cup.

He had already made a couple of good saves but then came the moment when time stood still for those of us behind the goal. First of all Trevor Cherry came in with a diving header which Monty cleared only to see Lorimer get on the end of it. His volley thundered towards goal but somehow Monty miraculously got a hand to it and tipped it onto the crossbar. Dick Malone swooped on the rebound and hoofed it upfield out of the danger area. Lorimer couldn’t believe it and at that moment I think everyone knew it was going to be our day.

But you could still feel the tension in the air and some Sunderland supporters who couldn’t stand to watch the closing moments went below the stands, anxiously pacing up and down, trying to guage what was happening from the noise of the crowd. As it happened in the last ten minutes Sunderland looked the more likely to score but we were all whistling, anxious for the game to end. I remember my Dad shouting “Play on we can score another here!” and he was almost proved right as in the dying seconds Hallom came close to bundling Harvey over the line and into the goal.

Then, to our great relief, the final whistle went and the dream had come true. The man next to us was in tears as “the little general” Bobby Kerr climbed the steps to the Royal Box. And as if ordained from above, the rain stopped, the clouds lifted and the sun shone. We couldn’t contain our joy and we sang all the way to the first empty phone box we could find, so that we could share the special moment with our Mam.

The family were heading back to Sunderland but for me the night was just beginning. I jumped into a taxi to celebrate the victory in London, having arranged to meet Linda and Billy Hughes, as I was to be their guest at the winners’ banquet at the Park Lane Hotel. Once I’d met up with Billy and Linda whilst celebrating with a glass of something fizzy, we rang Rod Stewart, who at that time was one of the biggest stars in rock music. Looking back now it’s hard to believe but it really did happen.

Shortly after I left for my room at The Park Lane Hotel to change for the celebration.
At the time I thought that I was being ultra stylish and never even gave a second thought that my dress would be considered anything other than sophisticated and chic. So much so that I never realised that perhaps a black and white dress was not the best colour scheme to wear at a Sunderland AFC celebration. I have never been allowed to forget my choice that night and have never worn a black and white dress since.

Jeanette in the infamous dress with Billy and Linda Hughes
Jeanette in the infamous dress with Billy and Linda Hughes

The evening passed in a daze with champagne flowing like there was no tomorrow. I remember that Brian Connolly of Sweet was there as were Alan Price and Georgie Fame. Suzi Quattro was one of the artists providing the entertainment and I recall her leaving the stage in a huff because we wouldn’t listen to her. All we wanted to do was dance and enjoy the moment.

Next day, the wives, girlfriends and I got on the coach back to the North East.The team still had a league match to play so were staying in London. The cup was put on the back window of the coach and as I was the only one with a scarf we hung it between the handles. I still have that scarf and wear it to all the matches.
The team homecoming was fantastic, with the sea of red and white starting at Scotch Corner and the parade itself at Carrville. It was red and white all the way to Roker Park and the days ahead were fun filled with parties and celebrations which went on for months.

This young team, many who had come up through the ranks had had a tough road to Wembley. Great team spirit and with a philosophy based on hard work and togetherness they beat the mighty Leeds, every single one of whom was a full international. Whilst Ian Porterfield and Monty were of course heroes on the day it was a team performance that won the Cup for Sunderland.

Dave Watson had been superb throughout the earlier rounds, defending our goal but also scoring important goals that saw us through the earlier ties. And who knows what might have happened if Dick Malone hadn’t been there to boot the ball away after Monty’s second save?

The Wembley victory was especially sweet for Dad and me as we had endured the highly controversial meetings with Leeds in the cup run of 66-67. Having drawn at Roker Park then at Elland Road we journeyed down to Hull for a second replay. Leeds were given a penalty for a foul by Irwin on Greenhoff in an incident which occurred outside the penalty area. To add insult to injury Greenhoff had dived and was also offside.

On May 5th 1973 Reaney, Bremner, Hunter, Lorimer and Giles all took the field for Leeds and as we celebrated we remembered the old saying “EVERY DOG HAS HIS DAY!!”

Jeanette on Jeanette.

I have lived in a leafy suburb in Birmingham for more than 30 years with my husband Michael (a Tottenham fan) and our 2 daughters Amy and Gemma. The girls were brought up to follow Sunderland and we have had some wonderful moments together following our team. Sadly my dad passed on a couple of years ago and my mam isn’t able to go to the ground any more but she still listens to the match on the radio every week. I still get to the matches with my sisters and their children who are all part of the red and white army. I am Secretary of the Heart of England branch of the Supporters’ Association.

1973 May 5See all Salut! Sunderland’s articles recalling May 5 1973 and the run that took SAFC to FA Cup glory:

Join the Salut! Sunderland Facebook group – click anywhere along this line

And follow us on Twitter: @salutsunderland … click along this line

When SuperKev’s Birmingham magic wasn’t enough

It’s on YouTube so it must be OK.

Salut! Sunderland wanted Birmingham to go through to the FA Cup semi-finals because the Charlie Hurley link with Bolton, right at the end of his playing career, was outweighed by the combined Kevin Phillips/Jimmy Montgomery factor.

Read moreWhen SuperKev’s Birmingham magic wasn’t enough