top of page


Updated: Jul 18

I spent my teens living in Otto Terrace, Sunderland, near Burn Park, and in the early evening of 13th July 1966 I remember standing at our front door watching an endless stream of foreign cars heading along Durham Road towards Roker Park. It felt like a benign invasion by creatures from another planet. It was the night of the second match in Group 4 of the World Cup and the teams involved were Italy and Chile, whose last encounter in the World Cup 1962 was dubbed ‘The Battle of Santiago’ and included one Italian player being dragged off the pitch by policemen.

In the build-up to the tournament there’d been much gnashing of teeth among our rivals when St James Park had been rejected as it failed to meet FIFA standards. With the help of a nice FA grant Roker Park had been enhanced before the competition by a roof being built over the Fulwell End and permanent seats being added to the Clock Stand. Temporary seats were also installed in the Fulwell End for the four games and so the normal capacity of over 50,000 was substantially reduced. There was all manner of World Cup merchandise on sale in the town even back then and I still possess, somewhere (okay, I know really), a yellow and black World Cup Willie badge, he was our lion mascot and there was a song about him. There was also a German version ‘Fussball Willy’.

The first match in the group had been staged the night before at Ayresome Park in Middlesborough when the U.S.S.R. had defeated the very dark horses of North Korea 1-0. There must have been a few nervous officials before the Italy v Chile game that night but as it turned out there wasn’t even a booking and it ended in a 2-0 win for Italy with Sandro Mazzola getting one of the goals. The crowd was 33,000. I remember it was a great time for the landladies of Sunderland and my mate’s mam up the street had a few Italian guys staying with her.

Three days later, on the Saturday, we hosted the U.S.S.R.’s 1-0 victory over Italy when the great Lev Yashin played in goal. He was pushing thirty-seven, which seemed ancient to a kid like me, and was known as the Black Spider because he was very big and dressed all in black. It wasn’t his first appearance at Roker Park as back in the very Cold War days of November 1955 he’d played there for Moscow Dynamo in a friendly against the Lads. I’ve got the match programme for that game, which I believe we lost 4-1.

It’s got an advert on the back with a drawing of a smiling young woman raising a schooner of Double Maxim, ‘The North’s favourite Brown Ale’. I recall being on a very packed but very well-dressed train between Newcastle and Sunderland around 2pm on that Saturday in 1966 and it was extremely hot and sweaty so I was most relieved when nearly everyone piled out at Seaburn Station.

The last group game at Sunderland was the U.S.S.R.’s 2-1 win over Chile the following Wednesday when Lev was on the bench. Meanwhile the Koreans had produced a major shock the night before when they’d beaten Italy 1-0 on Teesside. The last game at Roker Park was the Quarter Final in which the U.S.S.R. beat Hungary 2-1 on Saturday 23rd July when Ferenc Bene got one back for the Magyars. I remember his pleasantly unusual surname together with that of his team-mate Florian Albert because they were partly responsible for the only occasion when my nana got excited about football.

I rang her doorbell on the evening that Hungary came back from one goal down to beat Bulgaria 3-1 to be met by a torrent of her words as she opened the door, “Eeeee! Y’ll never believe it! Etc” One of the players, I can’t remember which, had broken his arm but had returned to the pitch with it in a splint and this is what had particularly impressed her. On the day after Brazil’s World Cup victory in 1970, I was sitting in her house reading the Daily Express and could see her looking at the back page and mouthing out a word before she finally said, “Wharrist – Peelee?” Anyway, the Soviet team’s training camp was at Maiden Castle in Durham and someone managed to steal their official team flag shortly after they arrived.

Although I regularly attended Sunderland’s home games at that time, I didn’t go to any of the World Cup matches and I suppose it must have been a combination of a shortage of tickets coupled with the price, as I only got 10p pocket money a week then! My brother not only saw the four matches played in Sunderland, but he played a small part in events. At that time he was a member of the Roker Methodists football team and they trained every week in the gym at Roker Park. I’d go along and train with him sometimes and once manager Ian McColl came down to the gym and threw a ball for each of us to try a header back to him. I made a pig’s arse of mine and he said, “You’ll have to do better than that, laddie!” A happier memory was of jogging around the snow-covered moonlit pitch one night.

Anyway, because of Roker Meths’ links to the club, when the World Cup came round, many of the lads were invited to work as photographers’ runners. In those days the photographers behind the goals would pass rolls of film to a runner who’d then leg it round the track to the gym, which was being used as a makeshift media centre. My brother did that and he and the other lads, some of whom were ball-boys, came out of the tunnel before the two teams. He told me that he was shocked at what a bunch of nervous wrecks the Italians looked before the U.S.S.R. game. They made an unexpectedly early exit from the tournament, that’s for sure. There was a movie made of the competition called ‘Goal’ and my brother’s visible on that.

So, it was all a ten-day wonder for the town but it’s certainly not beyond the realms of possibility that if England manages to host the World Cup again sometime, we could once more host some group matches.