It all came unstuck in the quarter-final at home to Crystal Palace, but until then many of us were seriously fantasising about a repeat of our wonderful Wembley win three years earlier. We were still in the Second Division and we felt that if we’d done it once, then…
In the 3rd Round tie at Roker Park we beat Oldham 2-0 with goals from Mel Holden and Pop Robson and in the next round we saw off Hull 1-0 at home with Tom Finney scoring. I wasn’t at either of these games and can’t remember anything about them at all but I was there for the 5th Round match at First Division Stoke City on 14th February. I was living in London then, as now, and got a day-return ticket from Euston and was back in time for a Valentine’s meal in the evening.
There was a good crowd of just over 41,000 and we came away with an inspiring 0-0 draw, which took them back to our place three days later. In the replay it was 1-1 after 90 minutes with Finney again scoring for us and then Holden got the winner in extra-time. So far it was following the pattern of 1973 but then we drew Third Division Crystal Palace at home in the 6th Round on Saturday 6th March. On paper it looked like a very good opportunity for us to proceed to the semi-finals but, as they say, we weren’t playing on paper.
Palace were hitting the headlines at that time with playboy manager Malcolm Allison and his trademark fedora, sheepskin coat and cigar. Early one Friday evening in January 1976 I happened to be passing the Sportsman’s Club at the bottom of Tottenham Court Road in London when I saw Malcolm just about manage to stagger out of a taxi and into the front door.
On T.V.’s Football Focus the next day they showed a newspaper headline that read BIG MAL FOUND SLUMPED WITH MYSTERY ILLNESS. Well...it wasn’t a mystery to me at any rate. He certainly knew how to enjoy himself and I was told many years later that he was also a great after-dinner speaker. The showbiz hypnotist Romark had made some very public pronouncements about Mal around this time and I remember reading a piece about an encounter between them as Mal arrived back at Euston Station after losing a game. Romark started going into his spiel and Mal had replied, “Fuck off, you horrible little ****!” I’m not sure why but Mal went up in my estimation after that.
As I was at university back then and had little money, I hitched up to Sunderland for the Palace game. I bumped into one of my favourite teachers from school, Jeff Wylie, as I walked over the bridge to the match. I had a ticket for the Clock Stand, which wasn’t my usual turf, but you had to take whatever you could get of course. Our team lined up as follows: Monty, Malone, Bolton, Towers, Jeff Clarke, Moncur, Kerr, Longhorn, Holden, Robson, Finney with Billy Hughes coming on as sub for Longhorn. This was the same side that had beaten Stoke except for Jackie Ashurst instead of Longhorn and Mick Henderson replacing Hughes as sub.
A train bringing most of the Palace fans had been delayed and so they arrived about half an hour after kick-off. There was a photo in the Echo of some of them running from Seaburn Station. The crowd was nearly 51,000 but it was all a bit edgy and Palace beat us when their star player Peter Taylor crossed for Alan Whittle to score a second-half goal at the Fulwell End. The gloom descended and I hated the sound of that mournful Palace chant of, “Eeee-ger-erls,” that echoed around the ground.
I had to hitch back on the next day and it was snowing as my Dad dropped me off at Carrville. Just before we got there he quick-wittedly flashed down a car sporting a Palace scarf out of its rear window and raced up to have a chat with them with a view to taking me to London. He came back in a bad mood and explained that the guys in the car couldn’t understand him because they were all deaf. I don’t suppose I would’ve enjoyed travelling with three Palace fans anyway. As it was, I got back without much incident.
Palace went on to play Second Division Southampton in the semi-final at Stamford Bridge and were beaten 2-0 in a game that was marred by a lot of violence on the terraces. Southampton beat Man United 1-0 in the final and so became the second side from that division to lift the trophy after a gap of forty years or so. Not that I’m biased of course but lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice and although I was pleased about the result - I also won a little bet of £6, which was a few bob back then - it could never have had the same impact as Sunderland’s victory three years earlier now, could it?
Bob Stokoe is of course rightly remembered for 1973 but it shouldn’t be forgotten that about eight weeks after getting us to the Quarter-Finals in 1976 he also took us up as Second Division champions. Not bad for a tenure of less than four years.