As the new decade started things weren't looking too rosy in the lands of SAFC. We’d been struggling ever since we’d been promoted in 1964 and the writing was on the wall in the 1969-1970 season. On 27th March I was in the Paddock for the derby with Newcastle and the area around the ground that day was like a warzone. There was still no serious segregation of the fans in those days and huge numbers of Newcastle fans had turned up. They were everywhere, even dominating our fans’ bastion of the Fulwell End.
There’d been a lot of fighting outside and cars had been set on fire, windows smashed, the lot. I’d arranged to meet a girl from school and go to the game with her, but her dad wouldn’t let her out of the house when he saw what was going on. Until then there was just a casual understanding that the away fans would turn up and go into the left-hand side of the Fulwell End.
After that the police and the club had to wise up. I was at the second last match of the season when we put on a brave show in an exciting 0-0 draw with champions Everton but the last match was against Liverpool and the 1-0 defeat condemned us to relegation. I used to go for a beer before and after the match in a very traditional pub in Roker Avenue called the Howard Arms and it was 1/10d (9p) a pint when I first used to go there. After that Liverpool game my sister’s boyfriend came in and threw his red and white scarf to me in disgust, saying that he’d had enough of the team. That scarf would get me into trouble a few years later when I was mistaken for a Boro fan by a few of our own moronic fans.
On 3rd October 1970 we beat Bolton 4-1 but the memorable part of that game was the near-appearance of ex-Sunderland legend Charlie Hurley. He’d last played for us the previous year but was still, and will always be, revered. He was substitute for his new club Bolton and when one of their players went down injured for a while in the second half a tremendous chant of, “Charlie! Charlie!” went up from the Fulwell End. Charlie emerged from the dugout and communicated by sign language with his colleagues across the pitch as the chant echoed around the ground. It continued tantalizingly but finally Charlie signalled that he understood he wasn’t needed and he withdrew from the scene.
Three weeks later we lost 0-1 to Oxford and my mates and I took a distinct dislike to one of their players, a balding bloke with very short shorts. We didn’t know which Oxford player had got the winning goal and were mortified to discover it was the very player we’d been calling a tit all afternoon. There were two players with the same surname and he was listed as Atkinson, R. As in Ron. My hero at that time was striker Joe Baker, who’d taken a very long time to get off the mark but he knocked quite a few in that season including one great back header from the edge of the box that will always stay with me.
Crowds had dwindled badly since I’d first started going to the match back in 1962 and one particularly grim day was 13th February 1971 when we lost 4-0 at home to Cardiff. I think one of their goals was scored when Cec Irwin was bending down to tie his bootlace but unfortunately he stood up just as Monty blasted a goal-kick away and the ball cannoned off him and into the net. The crowd of 11,566 was not amused.
The first game of the 1971-1972 season was against Birmingham at home and it was the wettest I ever got at a game. I was in the uncovered Roker End and there was an almost non-stop deluge so I got completely soaked. The crowd was less than 10,000 and the score was also a disappointment, 1-1. We seemed to be condemned to mediocrity and who could have guessed that as we got a new manager, Bob Stokoe, just before Christmas 1972 that international renown was just around the corner? Bob had been in the Bury side that day when Cloughie had broken his leg ten years earlier so I wasn’t too enchanted when he took over. In January 1973 I was there to see us wallop Brighton 4-0, which was a taste of things to come. Nine of the twelve who made up our F.A. Cup-winning squad four months later played that day and it was without doubt the most joyous period of my time as a Sunderland fan. I didn’t catch any of our Cup games until the semi-final at Hillsborough, when we beat Arsenal, but I was glued to the radio when we beat Man City 3-1 in the replay and I really wish I’d been there as it was one of those games that people still talk about years afterwards.
After we’d won the Cup expectations were of course very high and many people thought that we’d get promoted the following season but instead we became the team everyone wanted to beat. The first match, a dour 1-1 home draw against Orient, was a sad portent. I saw the home derby against Boro on 2nd March 1974 but we lost 2-0 and both Bobby Kerr and Dennis Tueart were sent off. Not long afterwards Tueart was off for good, to Manchester City along with Micky Horswill and they were the first of the Cup-winning side to leave though Richie Pitt had received a career-ending injury in that first game against Orient.
I’d been to Old Trafford in November 1974 to see our epic clash with Man United, which we lost 3-2, and I was at Roker Park on 18th January to see the return fixture. We dominated the game but it still ended 0-0. As I left the Roker End some police were shepherding a large group of Sunderland lads who’d been chanting, “Where’s the famous soccer hooligans?” through a gate in the Clock Stand and one of the cops was uttering threats about what was going to happen to them when they got inside. We finished fourth that season so we were gradually heading in the right direction.
We finally made it back to the top flight the following season and the first match I remember was on 27th September when we hammered Notts County 4-0 with goals from Pop Robson (2), Vic Halom and Bobby Kerr. I walked back across the bridge in the pouring rain feeling all was right with the world. The match that clinched promotion was on 19th April 1976. I was there in a packed Roker End as we beat rivals Bolton 2-1. There was a crowd of almost 52,000 and the atmosphere was fantastic. The weather was scorching too and I went home with a red streak across the top of my face. We’d had a touch of Cup glory too that season but sadly were knocked out in the quarter final by Third Division Crystal Palace in a 1-0 home defeat on 6th March.
The following season we were promptly relegated but talk about a season of two halves! We were okay for the first few games and then went on a terrible run which culminated in us failing to score for ten league games in a row. Then we turned it around big time from Friday 15th February when we managed a 1-0 win and our form in the second half of the season was about as good as champions Liverpool. I was working in London around that time so I didn’t see many games then and the only ones I remember were the away ones against West Brom and Everton, the latter of which saw us relegated in controversial circumstances. One of the most depressing games I attended was in September 1977 when we were well beaten by Bolton 2-0.
Following our relegation the previous May we’d started badly, only winning one match in the seven so far. As it became apparent that we were about to lose again the atmosphere was very angry and I observed the strange sight of at least one fan slowly climbing up from the Paddock below the main stand in order to attack some Bolton fans above with whom they’d been engaged in heated debate. Anyway, we managed to turn things around and finished the season a decent sixth. That was one of the classic periods at Roker Park for me because there was always a group of my mates standing together on the same spot in the Roker End. Even if the game was crap, and it often was during those grim seasons, we always kept ourselves amused, with gallows-humour being the order of the day. Sometime in 1977-1978 I went over to the match but just as I approached the Roker End I realized I didn’t have enough money in my pocket and as I was by myself I couldn’t get in.
As often, the end of the 1978-1979 season saw us locked in either a promotion or relegation clash, in that case it was the former. Round about that time there was an interesting group of early middle-aged guys who used to stand near us in the Roker End and they had their own very esoteric chants. I saw them once chanting in what sounded like Clingon while holding one arm above their heads with the palm horizontal. I don't know what it was all about but they were thoroughly enjoying themselves.
I moved back to London in January 1979 but was in Sunderland for a break when we had a crucial home game against Blackburn on Easter Monday. We lost 0-1 in a very frustrating game. I always remember it for the unfortunate part played in it by our young striker Roly Gregoire who’d hardly had a game prior to that but who was a bundle of nerves during the match and could’ve made much better of a number of chances. The fact that he was black caused the torrent of abuse raining down on him to be even worse, I’m afraid, and he never played for us again as far as I recall. Although we won our last away match against Wrexham 2-1, we finally lost out when Crystal Palace won the following Friday to pip us at the post. I was informed of this by the ticket-man at South Clapham Station.