In the run up to our Checkatrade Trophy Final, we have invited our crack (not crap) team of ALS writers to recount their favourite Magic Wembley Moments, or should that be tragic? Here's Sobs' take on our 1973 FA Cup run…
We went to Wembley Stadium, ‘twas on the fifth of May
Nineteen hundred and seventy-three, what a bloody day!
We showed them how to drink brown ale, we showed them how to sup
We even showed the buggers how to win the FA Cup.
Oh, me Lads, you should have seen us gannin’
You get the gist, and Sunderland fans weren’t embarrassed to boast about drinking a Tyneside beer back then. If you’re reading this, then you’re more than likely a Sunderland fan, and therefore don’t need the statistics behind one of the most famous FA Cup victories in the history of the world’s greatest knock-out completion – close your eyes and recite the team, then tell me why they used a yellow ball - the last time that happened at Wembley, apparently. If you’re not a Sunderland fan, you probably know the basic facts of the game anyway.
Like this season, the demand for Wembley tickets outstripped availability. We’d needed replays to dispose of Notts County, Reading, and some Mickey Mouse outfit called Man City to progress to the sixth round. The first home game of the run that was all-ticket (yes, there were such things back then as non-ticket games) was that Luton quarter-final at Roker, and the club decided to try a voucher system. The proportion of season ticket holders was considerably lower than today, so the vast majority of fans needed to get their voucher at the league game with Oxford, where the they were given out at the turnstiles. The previous league game, a “derby” against Boro, which we won 4-0 (Horswill on 25, then Halom, Hughes, and Tueart in a five minutes spell early in the second half) had attracted 26,040. 39,222 came to the Oxford game, and there was chaos at the turnstiles as the extra 13,000 all seemed to arrive at once – or that was the impression I got at the Fulwell End. Everybody with a voucher was guaranteed a ticket but others must have got them somehow, as 53,151 squeezed into the ground, a thousand or so fewer than the Man City replay, and we saw off the Hatters, who included Viv Busby in their ranks, thanks to goals from Dave Watson and Ron Guthrie – with an overhead kick. By a full-back In 1973, Ha’way man!
Semi-final time, so more vouchers were collected, with a crowd of 41,930 turning up to see us beat Carlisle. This time, certain voucher colours and codes were drawn, and about half of my usual matchday crowd were unlucky. My ticket arrived two days before the game, thanks to a detective friend of the boyfriend of somebody who worked with my mam. It was for the Arsenal end, but I wasn’t bothered, as I had a ticket, and I’d decided that I’d be able to swap it outside Hillsborough. At least I was better off than Dunny, who had no ticket of any description, but travelled anyway. Somewhere in North Yorkshire, as we bounced around the back seat singing, someone asked “Patty, is that your sister in the car behind? She’s waving something at us.” It was, and the something was a match ticket. We checked our pockets, found all match tickets accounted for, so there was a shout to the front of the bus “Dad, have you got your ticket?” “Aye, it’s in my pocket… **$!” It was Wetherby before they could stop the bus, at the Turnpike Hotel, long since subsumed by several iterations of road improvements, and restore the offending ticket to its rightful owner. He did have to endure being sung about for the rest of the journey, but at least he’d be getting into the ground.
At Hillsborough, Dunny did something pretty obvious and tried the ticket office – where they’d held back a handful of tickets to beat the touts, or something similar. Anyway, the ticket was secured - but it was also for the Arsenal end. I did indeed swap tickets with a grateful Gooner, but his mate flatly refused to swap with Dunny “Nah, I’m not bothered being in the wrong end.” In a great spot of Karma, we spotted him early in the game, which was pretty easy, as he was a big lad wearing dungarees and a Frank Zappa haircut – and standing on a concrete barrier, where he was forced to stay for most of the first half. That’ll learn him. Anyway, by some sort of pre-mobile phone telepathy, we congregated with most of the rest of South West Durham’s fit young men to watch, awestruck on the one hand (sensible football fans) and expectant on the other (bitten by cup fever), our team match then outplay the mighty Arsenal. Jeff Blockley trod on a back pass, Halom was there before Bob Wilson, and the noise – the noise. What had been a thunderous racket rose to new levels. Imagine 20,000 fans in that huge open Kop, loving each other in the most passionate, football fan way – then imagine it again, as Hughes headed on Tueart’s back-header. You could probably have heard us in Rotherham. Then Monty got a hand to Charlie George’s shot, we blew as hard as we could, but it still trickled over the line. We held out, and all thoughts of being back on the bus by five went out of the window, as Bob Stokoe became as big a star as his players. We sang his name until he reappeared in that yellow shirt with the arm-bands, he blew us as kisses as we cheered, and our thoughts turned to Wembley.
Vouchers. More bloody vouchers, and the first international phone call I ever made was from Ibiza (parents should have known better than arrange holidays during the season) to Betty Dunn, who’d been trusted with the vouchers as her brother had played in the Amateur Cup final for Willington, and it used up two days’ spending money. It was worth it – I’d been lucky, and I was going to the FA Cup Final. Obviously, as now, our nerves were still in tatters until we had those lovely bits of paper in our sweaty mitts and could hide them under mattresses and behind mirrors – anywhere to keep them from the touts we believed would be targeting our home town. For the first time, my folks paid for an away game, the result of a foolish statement from me Dad after the Reading replay – “no, I’m not putting a bet on for you, but if they get to the final, I’ll pay.” Must have cost him a fiver all in.
You remember daft things. Walking to the bus very early on May 5th, I saw a sparrowhawk close to where I now live. That would have been seen as a good omen by my Saxon forebears, therefore it was good enough for me, and so it turned out as we were part of probably the single most memorable day in the club’s history. Away we went at six o’clock, with the same fifty folks I’d travelled to home games with for the previous three seasons, and we parked up somewhere near King’s Cross, with the grown-ups heading for a pint and we for a fry-up at Del’s Diner beneath the arches of St Pancras. Then a tube ride to Wembley. Wembley. Only one of us had been there before, to see England, and he kept us right where tube stations were concerned. Not that he needed to, as our first sight of the old stadium on its biggest day of the year was at the end of a huge line of red and white – they must have been there somewhere, but there was hardly a Leeds fan in sight. It was a damp day, but nobody was bothered about the weather as we approached, and were offered tickets by very obvious touts. Did we look like we had the money to pay over the odds? I doubt it, but not long afterwards we saw them being held upside down and shaken – at least some ticketless Lads got lucky. Our little group was split in two by our designated turnstiles, so we arranged to meet up “after we win” at a certain spot, and in we went, well before kick-off. Patty, Johnny, Tommer, and Gren in one turnstile, myself, Pos, Dunny, and Natty the hanger-on (who’d got his ticket from Bishop Auckland FC courtesy of playing for the juniors) in another. Back then, the two finalists got about 33,000 tickets each, with the rest going to the FA, to be shared with the wider football world and member clubs. A fair proportion of those ended up in red and white hands – then, as now, we got in where a draught wouldn’t.
As the ground filled up, we noticed how much space (about a whole paving stone) each of us could command, then Stan, another hanger-on from school and beneficiary of Shildon FC, stood on my foot and our little band grew to five. With the West End goal just to our left, we stood about a quarter of the way back, with matching football jerseys and tams, several scarves each, and, in my case, the doctor’s coat worn by my granddad in ship sickbays in WW2 – but with red stripes attached and a special pocked added to keep my programme safe. The fans’ travelling treasure, the mile-long scarf, wormed its way across the West End as the rain came down, but we didn’t care as we watched an 800 metre race, then David Bedford, complete with red and white socks, beat world record holder Emile Puttemans over 3,000 metres. Then Frankie Vaughan sang Abide With Me, we joined in, all of a sudden it was time for football, and the Roker Roar set Wembley alight despite the wet. If you’re too young to have experienced it, let me tell you that everything you’ve heard about the Roker Roar is true. It filled Wembley despite the best efforts of the Leeds fans – imagine the sound of 40,000 Sunderland voices booming out “short and fat, he’s a tw*t, Billy Bremner” with the noise rolling across the turf and booming back over the stands. Magic, it really was.
The game’s been written about often enough for you to know the necessary facts and details, but for me the stand-out memories are Pitt’s Welcome to Wembley tackle, kissing the lass in front of me when we scored, the rain, the noise, Dick Malone putting Eddie Gray in his back pocket to force his eventual substitution, Halom’s shoulder charge, and the goal gaping for what seemed like minutes as Lorimer fired his shot straight at my face – and the save. They were followed by the longest last few minutes of any football match ever, us not hearing the whistle and wondering what Horswill was doing on his knees – then realising the roar meant that it was all over. Arthur Cox was being held back from the pitch by an over-enthusiastic steward, Bob was away across the grass, beige mac flapping, trilby in place, arms outstretched to grab Monty for the most famous group hug in our history.
Then came the realisation that we’d just won the biggest club competition in the world. Us. Sunderland. My team. Dunny’s team, my grandad’s team. After that, the tears came – for the first time in my life I cried over something happy. I remember looking around and seeing not just my mates, but older and uglier people, doing exactly the same thing. People who looked like they might have stood in the same spot thirty seven years earlier, doing exactly the same thing. Then the Lads climbed the steps to the Royal Box, collected their medals, dropped the cup, stumbled back down the steps, and ran around the pitch with captain Bobby and manager Bob on their shoulders, trilby and mac dispensed with, red and white bowler on his head. They were joined by a fan who’d managed to evade security, as we sang the best chant of all time… Eee Aye Adio, We Won The Cup.
Out of the ground, and our merry band were reunited as planned, slipping about on the grassy bank as we hugged each other, jumped around, and screamed all over again. I learned that day just how wide a smile could be, and we smiled that smile as Pos narrowly avoided getting stuck in the tube train’s doors and we had our revenge by almost rocking it off its tracks on the way back to town. We ran down the road from King’s Cross, scarves twirling, dancing, singing, shaking hands with bemused strangers, trying to come to terms with what had just happened. Then came our first grown-up, pub-style, trophy-winning celebration as we crowded our under-age bodies into a pub full of bouncing Wearsiders, drank slightly too much (which wasn’t a lot, to be fair), and howled with laughter as Natty’s sweet sherry (aye, I know) was downed in one by a celebrating Big Lad who promptly replaced it with a pint and the advice to “celebrate like a man.” We were dizzily back on the bus at midnight for more renditions of the Eee Aye Adio song. We slept but fitfully, and never for very long, as Joe woke up every twenty minutes and immediately began singing it again.
The next day we ran to each other’s houses to make sure it had really happened, we had actually been there, and the FA Cup really was ours. It had, we had, and it was, so we sang and danced some more. School on the Monday was virtually lesson-free, as the teachers took the time to acknowledge each of us who’d been at Wembley, and those who hadn’t, no matter which team they supported, wanted to hear our stories.
Few people can remember at the drop of a hat who won the cup in a particular year, but most, football fans or not, can tell you who won in in 1973. To quote Brian Moore of ITV: “They came down from the North East with hope, and they’re going back with the FA Cup.”