Magic Wembley Moments: 1985

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 Giles Mooney's take on our 1985 Milk Cup Final v Norwich...

This weekend my son will, at the age of ten, watch Sunderland at Wembley for the first time.

He’s beyond excited. He can’t wait to see his heroes on the pitch, to hear the deafening Sunderland faithful cheer the goals as they hit the back of the Portsmouth net before watching local boy and Sunderland fan, George Honeyman lift the trophy.

In his mind, it’s inevitable.

And his certainty has reminded me of a time when I felt the same.

By chance, I was ten and Sunderland were going to Wembley. I knew I would watch local boy and Sunderland fan, Barry Venison, lift the trophy.

That day I got to cheer no goals and I learned that supporting Sunderland is, mostly, a pain in the backside.

Going to football in the mid eighties was an experience I’d never want my son to go through. The semi final second leg in 1985 resulted in almost all the coaches driving back to Wearside without windows after the Chelsea fans made some brick based modifications. It was the season of Heysel, hooliganism was common place with games attracting a number of travelling ‘fans’ not going near the football ground at all.

Add in the miners’ strike and impending relegation and you can see why a Wembley trip, a chance of silverware for the first time in my life was like a blinding light at the end of a very long tunnel.

Anyway, there we were, ready to watch our heroes – Venison, Turner, Pickering… The hero I really wanted to see didn’t play. And if he had, he’d have been playing for Norwich.

He-whose-world-we-live-in had signed for Norwich the previous summer and, after a horrible knee injury, had missed most of the season. He wasn’t fit and so, like us, watched from the stands.

The first half passed with minimal incident. The confidence was still there at half time. We’ll do this. European football on the horizon (as it turned out Norwich didn’t play in Europe after English teams were banned). And then came the second half and everything went a bit, well, Sunderland.

David ‘for God’s sake just put it out for a’ Corner didn’t put it out.

Asa Hartford had a shot which Chris Turner could have walked over, waved at the crowd and then picked up had Gordon Chisholm not chested it, inch perfect, into the corner of the net. Typical Sunderland. So typical, in fact, that we did it again five years later.

It was seconds after half time and so, although we were gutted, we knew there was still time.

And so it proved when Barry Venison, hair flowing in the wind, somehow made a Norwich defender handle it in the area and we were back in it.

Most people view winning a penalty like my son views us going to Wembley – the hard work is done and the inevitable will follow. Of course, as we learned that day, neither of those things tend to work out.

Clive Walker, hair flowing only a distant memory, committed the football sin of not even forcing a save. And that was when reality dawned. It wasn’t going to be.

The game went on but the belief didn’t. The final whistle brought with it a relief that it was over and, strangely the most memorable part of the day. Our hero joined his Norwich team mates on the pitch but then peeled off and walked over to the Sunderland fans and received one of the most incredible receptions for a player I’ve ever seen. Gary Rowell was, and is, one of our own, whoever he was playing for that day.

So here we are, 34 years on, and like 1985, we head to Wembley to play against a team next to us in the league, both with lots still to do away from the cup final to meet our goal for the season. Norwich finished above us that year but both clubs were relegated, possibly distracted by their day out. We can’t afford for that to happen this year – it’s only a good Checkatrade game if it’s our last Checkatrade game ever.

If you’d have told ten year old me that I wouldn’t see Sunderland win at Wembley until my own son was ten, well, let’s be honest, I’d have still stuck with them. We all would. No one supports Sunderland for the glory and the trophies. But a couple this year would be nice.

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