Arguably the biggest day in our club’s history was acted out at the Old Wembley on this day forty seven years ago, making it without doubt at least the joint best awayday of all time. With the team having warmed up for the ’73 FA Cup Final by drawing at Orient in midweek thanks to Dave Young’s only Sunderland goal, the fans were checking their tickets for the hundredth time. Mine had been secured thanks to the voucher being amongst the lucky ones drawn out of somebody’s hat, and confirmed by my spending a large chunk of my holiday money ringing Betty Dunn to check they’d been through to pick it up.
I and my mates were just about old enough to appreciate the enormity what we were about to receive and young enough to be still around to remember it – sadly, not all, but most of us. Few people can remember who won the FA Cup in a particular year at the drop of a hat, but everybody knows instantly who won it in 1973. At some time shortly before six in the morning of May 5th 1973, about a backpass from where I’m sitting now, I saw a sparrowhawk chasing its breakfast as we headed for the OK bus. Along with the other fifty three people I’d travelled to home games with for the previous three years, I was off to Wembley. Nervous anticipation was very much the order of the day as we joked our way south and parked up on some sort of elevated coach park in the vicinity of King’s Cross – I just remember it was a vast expanse of gravel with a brick wall around it, and we weren’t the only Sunderland coach there. Being too young, and above too nervous, to start on the beer, we paid our first visit to Del’s Diner, beneath the arches at St Pancras. It was run by a bloke who sounded like Phil Mitchell and looked like Sammy Davis jnr, but claimed to be from Wallsend. For many years the lavvy door wouldn’t shut properly, and you had to either put your leg up in front of you or your foot up behind you to keep it closed, depending on the nature of your ablutions. About twenty five years ago it went all upmarket and stopped doing fry-ups, more’s the pity. Anyway, back in ’73 we stuffed our faces with grease then got the tube up to Wembley, and as the only one of us who’d been before, to a schoolboy international, Pos had to keep us right regarding when to get off. I suppose we could have followed the crowds, but it was reassuring to have someone who actually knew where they were going.
Our first sight of the old stadium on its biggest day of the year was at the far end of the huge column of red and white that filled Wembley way – there hardly seemed to be a Leeds fan in sight. As we wandered, eyes wide open in delight, towards the twin towers, we were offered tickets by what can only be described as cartoon touts. You didn’t have to hear them speak to recognise them, and with one exception we’d never even been to Wembley before, but did we really look like we had the cash to pay over the odds for tickets? After a few minutes wandering about, we saw them again – they’d obviously approached the wrong Sunderland fans, as the pair of them were being held up by their ankles and shaken. At least some ticketless fans got tickets without being ripped off. My group was split into two because of the turnstiles we’d been designated by the luck of the draw, and arranged to meet up on a particular patch of damp grass “after we win”, and in we went. Gren, Patty, johhny, and Tommer went one way, while myself, Pos, Dunny, and Natty (Man Utd fan, but had got a ticket because he played for Bishop Juniors) went the other. I remember there being two sets of turnstiles, one to check you had a ticket and one to actually let you into the ground proper. Years later, a work colleague explained that he’d bribed his way through this for a fiver, which was five times more that we’d paid. Lucky lad. In those days, allocation was 33,000 to each club and the rest to FA, to be shared around the football world – such as Bishop Auckland FC, and I suspect the Northern League was well represented that afternoon. A large proportion of that final third seemed to have fallen into red and white hands, as Sunderland folks seem to have an innate ability to get in where a draught couldn’t.
By the time the ground filled up, we noticed how much space there each of us could command – about a whole paving slab size. Then Stan, another hanger-on but this time courtesy of Shildon FC, somehow found us and we were five. Actually, he didn’t so much as find us as tread on my foot, and we settled, if that’s the right word, into our little spot about a third of the way back with the West End just to our left, wearing our striped football cardigans (you know, with the zip up the front, sourced at Jack Haley’s in our case) matching tams, several scarves, and in my case my grandad’s white medical coat (from his days in the sick-bays of WW2) with red stripes added, as well as a special pocket for holding programmes. I also had my crake, which spun its happy sound, so irritating anywhere but at a football match, as we waited for things to start. The fans’ travelling treasure, that mile (allegedly) long scarf, wound its happy way across our end as the rain came down, the Roker Roar flexed its vocal cords and the pre-match stuff started.
David Bedford, on whom the 118 118 adverts are based, was no Sunderland fan, but he won our support by wearing red and white socks for the 3,000 metre (or a similar distance, I wasn’t measuring) race, in which he defeated the previously unbeatable Belgian Emile Puttemans. Then Frankie Vaughan led the “community singing” which, as ever, culminated with Abide With Me and the national anthem. If you’ve never heard the Roker Roar, let me assure you that everything you’ve heard about it is true, and when it swept across Wembley when the teams came out, the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. The passion and the throbbing noise that had reached epic proportions for the first time that season when we’d beaten Man City swelled up and simply filled Wembley. Imagine the sound of “short and fat, he’s a tw%t, Billy Bremner” from nigh on forty thousand Wearside voices rolling across the turf and over the stands – magic.
The game itself has been written about so often and in so much detail that there’s not much point me giving a blow by blow account, but certain things stand out. Pitt’s “welcome to Wembley” tackle, kissing the nearest young lass when we scored, the rain, the noise, Vic putting Harvey into the net, Guthrie having more shots than Lorimer, and Dick Malone forcing the substitution of the man who was supposed to tear him to pieces, Eddie Gray. And the big one. That save. One of those slow motion moments, as time almost stood still from the millisecond Monty stopped Cherry’s header and the ball fell perfectly to Peter Lorimer. The ball, viewed through the net of a gaping goal from where we stood, could not have presented itself more perfectly to the man with one of the hardest shots in football. He shaped up and fired it straight at my face, my frightened face – then up came that arm clad in green, tipped by that pathetic excuse for a goalkeeper’s glove, and the ball was off the crossbar, down, and, with the prostrate Cherry flicking a heel at it, scuffed away by Dick Malone. Did you see that? How did he keep that out? What just happened?
We’ve all been to games where we’ve held on for the last few minutes, but this was something else. OK, so we defended like demons, with Dave Watson later described as a mobile version of one of the Twin Towers, but we also took the game to Leeds and played an awful lot of good football as well. There was so much whistling from our fans as we begged the ref to end it that I failed to hear the real thing, and wondered why Micky Horswill, who’d also had more shots that any Leeds player, was on his knees – then realising that it was all over because of the roar. Arthur Cox, our trainer, was held back by a steward as he tried to follow Stokoe’s famous sprint across the damp turf, that immortal trilby and flapping mac combination a stark contrast to the muddied strips of the players. The embrace of Monty as we realised we’d won the biggest and most famous knockout competition in world football. Sunderland. My Team. Dunny’s team. My grandad’s team. Then the tears came - the first time in my life I’d cried over something happy. I remember looking around and seeing, as well as my mates, people older and uglier than myself doing the same. Some looked as if they could have been there in 1937, doing exactly the same thing. The climb up the steps to the royal box, the raising of the cup, prompting the roar to swell up again, the collection of medals and the stumble back down the steps, dropping the cup, then the run around the pitch with that trophy held aloft and boss Bob and captain Bobby on their shoulders. Ee-aye addio, we won the cup, the best chant of all time.
Out of the ground, and our merry band was reunited at the desiganted patch of damp grass, with the screaming, hugging, and jumping about starting all over again. I’ve smiled a lot since, but that day I learned just how wide a smile can be as we asked stupid questions like “did you see that save?” Pos narrowly avoided serious injury when the tube doors closed on him, and we got our revenge by almost rocking it off its rails as we sang our way back to King’s Cross. We ran down the road from the station, scarves a-twirling, singing, dancing, shaking hands with bemused strangers, and trying to come to terms with what had just happened. Then came our first grown-up, pub-type, trophy-winning celebration, as we crowded our under-age bodies into a bouncing pub full of joyful Wearsiders, drank slightly too much (which wasn’t very much, to be honest), and laughed as Natty’s sweet sherry was downed in one by a celebrating Big Lad. The Big Lad promptly replaced it with a pint and the advice to “celebrate like a man, man!” There was panic when one of our number mistook the uniformed dummy in the glass case for a policeman and dived under the table to hide, then it was a dizzy gallop back to the bus for a midnight departure after a few “ee-aye-addio” choruses.
We slept our way north, but never for long, as Joe woke every twenty minutes or so and sang “ee-aye-addio, we won the cup” for a while before dropping off again. Five hours or so later, we were in bed, but not for long, as we ran to each other’s houses just to make sure it had really happened, we’d really been there, and once that was confirmed by parents wielding the Sunday papers, we sang and danced some more. School on the Monday, our bags hurriedly decorated with FA Cup symbols, was virtually lesson-free, as pupils and teachers alike sought stories and took the time to acknowledge each of us who’d been there.
A Hell of a day out