So, the 1973 FA Cup winning side have finally been granted the Freedom of the City of Sunderland. Sobs caught up with Dennis Tueart to get his reaction to the honour…

While manager Bob Stokoe received the honour many years ago, the awarding of something similar to the players was something the fans had thought long overdue. Not just the fans, though – one of those very players had long since voiced the opinion that the achievement of that team should be recognised in some significant way. Dennis Tueart was that player, and, just like the other Lads of ’73 I’ve been lucky to speak to over the years, while you might think that after all these years they’d be fed up of talking about it, mention the FA Cup win and they’ll talk all day. Here goes…

“I feel extremely proud to have been given the Freedom of the City of Sunderland with the rest of the players. It’s a great recognition for what happened back in 1973, and it’s great that it’s happened at last. About ten or fifteen years ago at one of our anniversary dinners, probably the 25th anniversary one now I think of it, I said that there should be some sort of recognition, and I’ve been banging on about since then but never got anything back. Then at Billy Hughes’s funeral just before Christmas I met the other players. I was thinking that we’re all getting on and there’s various health issues, the usual things, and wondering if anything is going to happen while the rest of us are still here. Winning the Cup showed the value of the club to the community at the highest level. I’ve said it many times – in the November we were playing in front of 12,000 but by April it was 50,000, which shows the interest and enthusiasm the Cup run generated. That Tyne Tees documentary, Meanwhile Back In Sunderland just showed it perfectly – the place was absolutely abuzz through the week but on the Saturday there was nobody there. The whole mood of the place improved, and the contribution of people in their workplaces went through the roof because everybody was happy. From a personal perspective it was great to be part of that, and the fact that the other seven members of the squad, not just those in the matchday twelve, are being included is great, because you don’t go from November to May with just twelve players. Recognition for Joe Bolton, John Tones, Keith Coleman, Jackie Ashurst, Brian Chambers, John Lathan, and Mick McGiven is important because they’d played their part in the whole season. I used to travel with Brian Chambers from our homes to Sunderland, and we still speak regularly - he said after the final that his name had been announced over the tannoy more than anybody else because he was listed as the substitute in the programme, but we sold him to Arsenal just before the game, and the change had to be announced. He actually got his Cup Final tickets from Arsenal.

Add to that the fact that so many of us had come through the youth system, that eight of us had played in all nine cup games, and that five of us were local, and it made it such a really significant, special thing… and we had our group of Scots, like most sides back then. We’d only brought in Big Dave and Vic from “outside”, really. The team fitted together like a jigsaw, and we didn’t have too many major injuries or suspensions, so the first team selection played the majority of the cup games, and several of us played 50 or so games that season. We’d known each other a long time, and it was almost like automatic pilot as we knew what each other were thinking. We had seven players in that group who were virtual internationals – me and Dave went on to play for England, Billy played for Scotland, Dick and Ian were in Scotland squads, Monty was in the original England World Cup squad in 1970, and Micky was called up to the England U23 squad when we went to Man City. The disappointment for me after the win was that the club didn’t take things on – they didn’t reward the players who’d done it and they didn’t invest in the club to move it up to the next level.

We’ve had it confirmed year after year just how much that cup win meant to the supporters – it was an Everest we had to climb to get there, while teams that have won it numerous times are already at base camp. There were some fans who’d travelled to Derby for Billy’s funeral and they said to me about the cup final: “Dennis, that was the greatest day of my life”, and if you ask the players who still live in the area, they’re constantly getting told this. They’re still revered for it, and for it to stand the test of time like it has is testament to the affection those players are held in because of what the win meant to the area. Back in the day, that documentary showed the high regard that the players were held in then, and comments from the fans today show that’s still the case.

I know it takes about eight weeks to physically prepare the scrolls for the Freedom of the City presentation, so that takes us into next year. I don’t know if they are able, or even want, to do some sort of virtual presentation, but from all quarters, from the players’ point of view, the fans’ point of view, the club’s point of view, the council’s point of view, and from the City of Sunderland’s point of view, it has to be done properly at some stage. Especially during these times when there’s limited social interaction people want to see things like this take place in the real world. It would give people something to look forward to, and the local media would pick it up as well. And for the football club as well, because the one thing Sunderland needs at the moment is some good news.

I’ve been following the proposed takeover in the news, with the son of the former Marseille owner being involved. In my days as a director at Manchester City, we were in a similar situation, in the third level, we were up to our eyeballs in debt, carrying players who were no longer good enough for what we wanted, carrying players on contracts that were far too big for where we were. I know Sunderland’s gone a long way down the route of sorting those situations out, but at City it took us five years to re-establish ourselves at the top and to stay there. It’s not rocket science, you need a long-term strategy, and when you put a strategy like that together, you need a group of people who understand it, are bought into it, and have the skill set to produce positivity and make it work. It’s important how you say things when trying to get your message across, “this is where we were, this is where we are now, and this is where we want to be.” They have to have the ability to put an operational structure in place, as well as a financial structure. Everything needs to be communicated absolutely accurately and honestly to get the strategy to the supporters and getting a PR person in to make sure that happened was one of the first things I did at City. The fans had to believe what we were doing so they would support what we were doing and have patience. You need people in your group of directors, and in any business, not just football, who understand how to put your strategy in place. Not just implement it to start with, but to manage it through the whole process. I hear so many people saying this ex-player should be doing this or that, but it’s like putting a team together. One of my big idols is Alex Ferguson – he played 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1, and he bought players to fit that system. Now, you get some managers who just get excited about buying players, and when they put them in the team, it’s not where they can get their best performances.

Unless they get the right people in the right positions running the club, it’ll not work. You need a combination of business and football experience to make things work. There’s a football business, and a business business, and you’ve got to get them both to run properly. People shout “get your hand in your pocket” but owners and directors are not going to throw good money after bad . You need to know why you’re putting your plan together and how it will work. At City we had our ups and downs– up then down with Joe Royle, then three good years with Kevin Keegan, and the rearranging of the finances, but that I was on my way out by then. You need unity between the departments, stability in the organisation, and team spirit in the people running those departments – and then the finance to back that up.”

Let’s hope that the shift in power at Sunderland brings those things and that they are in place by the time the Freedom of the City presentation happens.