The History Programme: (3) Sunderland sting Watford Hornets, Blissett and all

Pete Sixsmith‘s stroll through his programme collection pauses to reflect on a good win in a good season. It was also the  year in which the club celebrated its centenary, though the pages of the match day programme for Watford’s visit offers no hint that a telegram from the Queen has been received at Roker Park …

front coverFor our next trip down Memory Lane (always a far nicer place than the present) we go into the 1980s, a turbulent decade for Sunderland fans.

We started it in our 100th year as a football club, winning the old second division and almost becoming an established top flight side before a bitterly disappointing League Cup Final defeat and a subsequent relegation back to whence we came.

It got worse. We thought we had found a quick route back to prosperityville when Len Ashurst was replaced by Lawrie McMenemy, a successful manager at Bishop Auckland, Doncaster Rovers, Grimsby Town and Southampton – and an absolute bloody disaster at Sunderland.

Like Steve Bruce and Danny Graham, he was brought up a black and white. Unlike those two, he was never pilloried for his boyhood allegiance – he was just seen as hopeless.

We ended the decade back in what was coming to be our natural home – the second tier. However, we had spent one season in the third tier and had clambered out of it thanks to Dennis Smith, a man I consider to be one of our better managers over the last five decades of suffering, er watching, Sunderland.

However, it is to the centenary year that I have gone for this selection. It is April 1980 and we are pushing for promotion. We had started slowly, but never lost touch with the pack (remember, we are still on two points for a win) and we were on a good run.

Since losing 3-1 at SJP on New Years Day, we have taken 22 points out of 30. A Stan Cummins goal gives us revenge over the team who will in future years be forever known as the Horse Punchers and then we have two never-to-be forgotten wins on successive days at Wrexham and Shrewsbury, the time of the Great Wem Camping Trip of which I have written before.

As usual, we get a wobble and manage a draw at home to Orient, before a late goal by the flying plumber, Barry Dunn, salvages a point at Eastville, one time home of Bristol Rovers.

Going into the Watford game, we were third, with ourselves, Leicester City, Birmingham City and Chelsea chasing the available places. We had the biggest crowds (average around 26,000) and there was a solid determination from Ken Knighton that his first season in charge would be a good one.

The board had backed him and he had brought in Chris Turner to compete with Barry Siddall for the keeper’s jersey and, over the season, funds were freed to bring in John Hawley, Stan Cummins, Claudio Marangoni and Joe Hinnigan.

In addition, local lads Shaun Elliott, Joe Bolton, Rob Hindmarch and Kevin Arnott were regulars as were imports Steve Whitworth, Jeff Clarke and Mick Buckley. Most of the Clock Stand Paddock regulars agreed that it was a decent team and that there was no reason why promotion should not be achieved that season.

Watford were hanging around in the bottom third of the table, clear of the relegation zone and just waiting for their summer holidays. They had three former Roker favourites in their squad in Mick Henderson, Wilf Rostron and a man who had experienced the previous promotion, Ray Train.

Click on images for clearer view
Click on images for clearer view

A crowd of 32,195 congregated at Roker on a beautiful Spring day. The game was on Match of the Day and we did ourselves proud, giving the Hornets, who included a young Luther Blissett, a walloping by five clear goals.

Pop Robson, in his second spell with the club got two, Mick Buckley a hard working midfielder brought to the club by Jimmy Adamson from Everton, got one and Shaun Elliott slid in two beauties at the Fulwell End to give us a great win and keep us in third place.

It was such a good performance with the team functioning like a smoothly running machine. Elliott’s two goals were superbly taken and he looked so happy as he took the congratulations of his team mates. At least one fan decided that his first born would be called Shaun – if he were a boy. The future looked bright.

The week after we took 12,000 fans to Cardiff and came back with a point after Robson grabbed a late equaliser. Some fans, frustrated about delays at getting into Ninian Park, pushed at a not very secure gate and clambered over a turnstile to get in. But due to other results, we slipped down to fourth and had to win our last game.

This was a Monday night fixture against a West Ham United side who had beaten Arsenal to win the FA Cup on the Saturday. 47,129 squeezed into a creaking Roker Park to see Kevin Arnott and Stan Cummins send us back to the First Division, and give a fitting end to the Centenary Season. Indeed, this was such an important night that Madame Salut attended – and has not been back since.

The programme was continuing to develop. It cost 25p for 16 pages and there was some decent reading in it. Ken Knighton “said” that “the promotion pot keeps bubbling and boiling” and bemoaned the fact that Shaun Elliott had been suspended for the previous game at Bristol Rovers – the first Sunderland player to be banned that season.

There was an interview with a tousled haired Kevin Arnott who “never ceases to be amazed by Terry McDermott” and who reliably informed the readers that he nearly joined the “enemy”.

Directions were given to Ninian Park (333 miles) and there was a feature on a Sunderland fan who was working in the Antarctic and kept missing James Alexander Gordon on BBC World Service. He could receive one telegram a month (younger readers, ask your dad) in a world without texts, satellite TV or broadband. How did we survive?

Advertisers were more in evidence, with Donn Suspended Ceilings taking a whole page, Vaux putting out a full team of beers and our Saab friend Les Allen, who had added Honda to his portfolio and was trading from his new premises at Harbour View.

The season ended in success for Knighton, but he was sacked in March 1981, with the club involved in a desperate relegation struggle. Some things never seem to change.

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12 thoughts on “The History Programme: (3) Sunderland sting Watford Hornets, Blissett and all”

  1. Sobs said “Bozo was about to join when Knighton found out he’d lied about his age, or number of goals, or number of appearances, or something, and Ken said he wouldn’t sign someone who told porkies.”

    What would Ken have made of the Nunez saga I wonder?

    • I don’t think Nunez told any fibs. Maybe his agent did, or maybe Reidy and saxton got hold of the wrong DVD and didn’t conduct due diligence when signing the papers.

      At least Nunez provided me with a unique sight – running through a defender’s legs at Luton in the League Cup.

  2. I remember going to Wrexham on the Monday and then travelling down to our B&B in Shrewsbury. Vast quantities of ale was supped in the Labour Club causing several of us to miss our train to London. Wednesday lunchtime followed a similar pattern, as did Thursday. Myself and a guy called Ron Greenwood (no, not that one) finally left Shrewsbury on Friday afternoon. We couldn’t stay any longer as we had a train to catch to Sunderland at 8am on Saturday morning. Out of all the games mentioned the only one I didn’t see was West Ham at home. This was probably the London Branches darkest hour. Despite several requests and pleadings for an early departure, we were booked on the 2pm from KX arriving at Newcastle at 5.10. You can imagine the chaos. Trains jammed solid. Unable to get on to the trains we took a chance with a taxi. The roads were totally gridlocked. Finally arriving at Roker Park just before kick off we had no chance of getting in and spent the whole game in the New Derby. Some Branch members got in, a lot didn’t. I missed 4 games all season. To this day I have never seen our goals from that night.

  3. It was a belting game that one, and I remember the excitement at being on MOTD, as it was relatively unusual for a Div 2 game to feature. Hard to believe that a third of a century has passed. That season was my last as a Fulwell Ender before taking up what became my favourite spot in the CSP. I think I only saw one more game from the Fulwell before we left Roker (the quarter final of the FA Cup replay v Chelsea). I still have the programme for this Watford game somewhere which is unusual because unlike the Sixer I only used to buy them once in blue moon. We were in the shadow of these affluent lads from places like Shildon.

    Great memories stirred.Now correct me if I’m wrong about this but that silver circle on the front of the programme used to feature some player or other at that time. I recall my mate buying a programme at some time during Knighton;s reign, only to scratch the circle to reveal one Bozo Bokata, a Yugoslavian (as they were at that time), who we were interested in signing. He never did appear at Sunderland other than as an error in a programme competition.

    • Bozo was about to join when Knighton found out he’d lied about his age, or number of goals, or number of appearances, or something, and Ken said he wouldn’t sign someone who told porkies.

      Imagine iof managers applied the same standards now!

  4. Great piece. Are you going to do one covering your visit to Vicarage Road two years later…? 🙂

    For interest, Watford’s sub at Roker Park that day was Kenny Jackett, making his league debut.

      • Quite right sir!

        I could remember him getting a couple and Cummins getting one but thought Brown had, also, scored.

        Checked on Statcat and my memory was playing tricks.

  5. It was a great end to the campaign with the only match, out of those you referred to, that I missed being the Watford game.

    At Shrewsbury the end housing the majority of our supporters was dangerous to the extreme with the numbers packed in resulting in not enough room for any form of movement and breathing being an optional extra!

    I can, also, remember Marangoni who had IIRC been dropped sitting in the wing stand closest to that end and looking, suitably, dapper for an Argentinian of Italian descent.

    It was at the Wrexham game, though, that I did something I am ashamed of to this day!

    I was in the main stand and after the game, as we were leaving I said to my then g/f “that showed the Welsh bassas”, with a view to it being overheard.

    I can still remember the look of disbelief and scorn on the face of a father who was there with his son.

    Not my finest hour, especially considering I’m half Welsh!

    Our support at the Cardiff game was amazing and I can remember travelling down the M50 which was just a procession of cars and coaches displaying the colours.

    There had to be many more there than the 12,000 quoted in the article.

    Thanks, though, for a great piece that brought back so many memories – most good, one not so good.

    It, also, made me think of our first game the next season, which was at Maine Road (we won 4-0) and once again made the me hope – I should have known better!

  6. No mobiles, no internet, no Sky and the half times courtesy of the old fashioned board with letters representing the fixtures as seen on the back page of the programme. We got our gas from the Gas Board, our electricity from the Electricity Board and our phone line from British Telecom.

    Happy days!

    After spending four and half hours on the phone last week to BT “Customer Services” trying to sort out the mess they created with my Broadband, Landline and Sky TV, it’s no wonder I long for those simpler times before the idea that privatisation would lead to improvements for the consumer.

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