Sunderland 1973: The Stokoe factor

IT will soon be 50 years since Sunderland pulled off one of the great FA Cup final shocks of all time, beating the pre-eminent team of the time, Leeds United, 1-0 at Wembley. Sunderland, universally considered to be a big, underperforming club, had not won anything since 1937 when they lifted the old trophy and they have not won anything significant since. Outside their Stadium of Light, a very eccentric statue of their manager in 1973, the much-loved Bob Stokoe, is a constant reminder of that glorious day: May 5, 1973.

Sunderland had been relegated from the first division in 1970 and had finished 13th and 5th in their first two second division campaigns. Stokoe took over in November 1972 after Alan Brown was sacked and his arrival seemed to rejuvenate the players at Roker Park. He was 42 years old, although he resembled an elder statesman of the game. He had won the FA Cup as a player with Newcastle United in 1955 and was very much a son of the North-East. His enthusiasm and spirit was quite infectious, something Sunderland needed as their crowds had dropped to around 15,000 in 1971-72 – the lowest since 1915. Alan Brown’s last game, a 0-0 draw at home to Fulham was watched by less than 12,000 people.

Sunderland were in 19th place when Stokoe became manager and his first game was a 1-0 home defeat at the hands of Burnley, but the team then went on an eight-match unbeaten run. Among the eight were the first two stages of their FA Cup run, the third and fourth rounds, in which Sunderland beat Notts County and Reading, both after replays. At the start of February 1973, Stokoe signed journeyman forward Vic Halom from Luton Town and he made an immediate impact, scoring on his home debut in a 4-0 victory against Middlesbrough. Sunderland had moved up the table but they were still too close to the bottom for comfort.

The FA Cup run didn’t really come alive until the fifth round when Sunderland were drawn away to Manchester City, a team that included star names like Colin Bell, Mike Summerbee, Francis Lee and Rodney Marsh. Sunderland were the underdogs, but were far from overawed at Maine Road. It was an excellent game, as acknowledged by The Times: “Nobody could have asked for more from a cup tie: sweat, subtlety, tension on the field and four walls of roaring, involved spectators”. City took the lead after 16 minutes through Tony Towers. Mick Horswill levelled in the 36th minute and then Billy Hughes put them ahead on 68. It was only an unfortunate own goal, four minutes later, that earned City a replay, Jim Montgomery punching a corner from Summerbee into his own net. In a game of 40 fouls, City had Towers sent off seven minutes from time.

The replay was a stirring evening of high drama and passion. Almost 52,000 people, the biggest home crowd for three years, packed into Roker Park and witnessed a Sunderland performance of “vigour, enthusiasm and shooting power”. Halom and Hughes scored excellent goals to give Sunderland a 2-0 lead inside 25 minutes and although Lee pulled one back in the second half, another Hughes goal, turned in at the far post after Dennis Tueart shot across the area, gave Stokoe’s side a 3-1 victory.

Luton Town were beaten 2-0 in the sixth round, a week after the Hatters had beaten Sunderland in the league. The goals came from the impressive Dave Watson and Ron Guthrie. Sunderland were in the semi-finals and were paired with Arsenal, who had been in the past two FA Cup finals and a final of some sort in every year since 1967-68. 

The Gunners played dreadfully at Hillsborough, but Sunderland were outstanding, constantly bothering their first division opponents, notably through Horswill, who was very abrasive in midfield and really stymied England World Cup winner Alan Ball.  Arsenal centre half Jeff Blockley, in particular, had a torrid afternoon and was eventually taken off and replaced by John Radford. Sunderland had given an early warning to Arsenal when Horswill’s was turned over by Bob Wilson. In the 19th minute, Halom took advantage of a bad back pass by Blockley, pushed the ball past Wilson and then rolled it into the net. In the 63rd minute, Hughes made it 2-0, back heading past the Arsenal keeper who could only help the ball into the net. Arsenal were stunned but launched a series of attacks which inevitably came to nothing, mainly due to the efforts of Montgomery and Watson. Five minutes from the end, Charlie George scored for Arsenal, but it was not enough. 

Sunderland were through to the final. Stokoe was delighted and promised his side would not be visiting Wembley just for a day out:  “We are not world beaters, but we won’t be lacking in effort. We are a team of fighters.”

It was very clear the nation was on the side of Sunderland and that Leeds seemed to be painted as the bad boys who had a mean streak of professionalism about them. It was a little unfair as Leeds were also capable of stunning football. “They represent then good, the bad and the ugly in football… and know all the tricks of the trade and how to use them,” said one journalist on the eve of the final. The Timesexplained that Leeds’ success over the past decade has “left them on an island surrounded by reefs of jealousy, as were Arsenal in the 1930s.” At the same time, the newspaper admitted: “The fact that the world wants them to lose will have little influence on them.”

And lose they did, for Sunderland fought, attacked and thwarted the all-star Leeds side, a team full of internationals that had kept their season alive in the league, FA Cup and European Cup-Winners’ Cup. The only goal of the game came in the 30th minute, following a corner by Hughes. Watson went up for the kick, the ball fell to Ian Porterfield, who killed the bounce and swivelled to shoot into the net. 

Leeds had many chances, as they always did, but they found Montgomery in their way almost every time. The most talked-about opportunity came when Paul Reaney’s cross was met by a Trevor Cherry diving header that was saved by Montgomery, but the ball ran out to Peter Lorimer who opted to burst the ne in his own way. Montgomery tipped his shot onto the bar and the moment was gone for Leeds. Montgomery’s double stop was every bit as spectacular as Gordon Banks’ save from Pelé in 1970.

Sunderland had become the first second division side since West Bromwich Albion in 1931 to win the cup. Not for the first time had Leeds fallen at the final hurdle and this time, they must have been equally upset by the reaction of the rest of the world, who seemed to take pleasure from the discomfort of Don Revie’s men. Stokoe, with his trilby perched on his head and red track suit under his raincoat, ran onto the field like an eccentric dad-dancer, embracing Montgomery, the best uncapped keeper in British football. Leeds would be back in 1973-74, winning their second league title in style, while Sunderland took another three seasons to gain promotion back to the first division. They are still waiting to add to their honours list.

The men that won the FA Cup: Jim Montgomery, Dick Malone, Ron Guthrie, Micky Horswill, Dave Watson, Richie Pitt, Bobby Kerr, Billy Hughes, Vic Halom, Ian Porterfield, Dennis Tueart and David Young.

Footnote: Sunderland entered Europe for the first time in 1973-74 having qualified for the European Cup-Winners’ Cup. They reached the second round, losing to Sporting Lisbon after beating Vasas Budapest.

Tottenham Hotspur 1951 – a first league title for the Spurs

LONDON was slow off the mark in winning football trophies, but in the 1930s, Arsenal became the first team from the capital to win the championship. This opened a period of unparalleled success for the Gunners and cast other London clubs into the shadows – including Tottenham, who had won two FA Cups (1901 and 1921) before Arsenal found the secret to success. In the early 1950s, Arsenal found their place as London’s top club under threat from their north of the river rivals.[1]

Tottenham has spent 15 years in the second division by the time they won promotion in 1950 under Arthur Rowe. The club, despite drawing big crowds to White Hart Lane, had become something of an underachiever but the appointment of Rowe, a former player and highly regarded coach, had sent Spurs back into the top flight with a team that played eye-catching football.

Rowe was heavily influenced by continental methods and was offered the job of Hungary’s coach before he arrived back at Tottenham, the club he loved. Some claim Rowe influenced the legendary Mighty Magyars of the 1950s, but it is without doubt that two of the greats of English football management, Bill Nicholson and Alf Ramsey both benefitted from their association with him.

Rowe’s methods became known as “Push and Run”, a term he did not appreciate as he felt it was an inadequate description of his approach. It was a system that was both pragmatic and enterprising, relying on quick, short-passing and optimal use of space. Rowe saw the Arsenal style of the 1930s as quite negative although many teams tried to copy it without having the resources to pull it off. Rowe said: “Our method is better – to obtain an appreciation of the fact that the team is more important than the individual. I feel that the individual gets more benefit, too.” [2]

Rowe was appointed manager in 1949, succeeding Joe Hulme. His first signing was Alf Ramsey, a Dagenham-born full back from Southampton. The rest of the squad had been with the club for some time, including the likes of skipper Ronnie Burgess, big-handed goalkeeper Ted Ditchburn and Bill Nicholson, whose careers started before the second world war. Nicholson revealed years later, that Rowe liked to use phrases and sayings that captured the essence of the way he wanted his side to play: “A rolling ball gathers no moss”, “the team makes the stars, not the stars the team”, “make it simple, make it quick”, and so on.

“I never got more pleasure from the game than what the 1951 team gave to me” – Arthur Rowe.

Although this all sounds very simple, the fact is, Tottenham’s style was somewhat revolutionary at the time. In 1949-50, Spurs steamrollered the second division, winning the title by nine points. They also beat first division Sunderland 5-1 (who finished third in 1949-50) in the FA Cup to emphasise their strength.

Once back in the first division, Spurs had something of a wake-up call on the opening day. They were beaten 4-1 at home by Blackpool, with Stanley Matthews running full back Charlie Withers ragged. Spurs were too anxious which was a problem given their passing game relied heavily on calmness and clear heads. They recovered from that setback and it was not long before they were playing with confidence and conviction once more.

In fact, Spurs started to demonstrate their approach was a vision of the future and an antidote to the gloom that had descended upon English football after their calamitous World Cup in Brazil, which included the 1-0 defeat against a USA team in Belo Horizonte. Attendances in 1950-51 were in decline following the post-war boom and by the end of the season, top division gates had fallen by 3%. [3]

By November 18, when Spurs met Newcastle, they had already thrashed the league champions of 1949 and 1950, Portsmouth and hit six goals past Stoke City. Tottenham were superb when they beat Newcastle United 7-0, including Jackie Milburn, saw the press compare Spurs’ play to the “Dynamos and crack continentals” that people had been reading about. Newcastle simply had no answer to Spurs’ fast-moving play and powerful shooting as well as the form of Eddie Baily and Les Medley, who scored a hat-trick. The media called it the “massacre of White hart Lane” and began talking about Spurs as possible champions.

Spurs were not invincible by any means and Huddersfield Town, in particular, seemed to have found a way to play them, beating them three times in 1950-51 including a third round FA Cup tie. By mid-January, early season pacesetters Arsenal had fallen away and Spurs were top of the league with Middlesbrough pursuing them hard. On January 13, Spurs had a setback when they were beaten by Manchester United after Ditchburn claimed he had been fouled when the winning goal was scored.

At times, Spurs looked as though they were tiring, but they kept winning even though half of their team was over 30 years of age. In total, 16 of their 25 victories were by a single goal margin but not when they faced West Bromwich Albion in March. A 5-0 drubbing of the Baggies convinced Rowe that his team would be champions. Spurs feared Newcastle more than anyone, even though Manchester United were playing superbly in the run-in. On April 7, Spurs travelled to the north east to face a team that had already reached the FA Cup final. Newcastle were beaten 1-0 thanks to a goal from Sonny Walters and The People proclaimed Spurs were the team of the season. They were six points ahead of Manchester United and had four games remaining.

It appeared, however, that Spurs had started to jitter a little, losing at home to Huddersfield and then drawing with Middlesbrough. Manchester United continued to win, though, beating West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle. Only three points separated Spurs from United but a win for Rowe’s team would clinch the title with one game to go.

Sheffield Wednesday, who were trying to hang on to their first division status, were the next opponents at White Hart Lane. Spurs were not at their best, but took the lead through Len Duquemin, their centre forward from Guernsey. Duquemin was a hard working forward known as “Reliable Len” who knew how to score goals and in 1950-51, he netted 14 times in 33 league games.  His goal against Wednesday was enough to win the game and the title. Wednesday were relegated a few days later.

The quality of Spurs’ football won them many friends in 1951, but this was not a team for the future as the average age was close to 30. Some sections of the press predicted they would dominate for a few years but it just wasn’t possible. Of the regular side, Alf Ramsey, Arthur Willis, Ronnie Burgess, Bill Nicholson, Les Medley and Les Bennett were all over 30. Ted Ditchburn, Charlie Withers, Harry Clarke, Peter Murphy and Tony Marchi were in their late 20s. It was a team built from local players, though – four players were from Edmonton and another three from other parts of London.

Unequivocally, it was a title-winning combination with some outstanding individuals. Welsh international Burgess was an incredibly strong, inspirational figure, described as a “like a marathon runner, a human dynamo who was always in support”. [4]  Bill Nicholson paid him the greatest tribute: “He had everything: good feet, ability in the air, strength in the tackle and was a beautiful passer of the ball.”

Eddie Baily was another pivotal figure and a loyal clubman. John Arlott’s description of a player who won nine England caps and played well over 300 games for Spurs in a very unique way: “As neat as a trivet, busy as a one-man band, alert as a boarding house cat, elusive as a dog in a fair.” [5]

Seven members of the squad won England honours and Burgess picked up 32 caps with Wales. Tony Marchi played in Italy for Vicenza and Torino and also spent two years with Juventus. Alf Ramsey won the World Cup with England and Bill Nicholson, 10 years later, led Spurs to the hallowed double.  Many of the 1951 champions are still talked of today as club legends and rightly so, Spurs were arguably one of the most influential teams in the period leading to 1966.

[1] Tongue, Steve: Turf Wars, a history of London football. 2016, Pitch Publishing.

[2] Wilson, Jonathan: Inverting the Pyramid, 2008 Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

[3] Walvin, James: The People’s Game, 1975 Mainstream.

[4] Goodwin, Bob. Spurs, A Complete Record. Breedon Books 1988.

[5] Welch, Julie. The biography of Tottenham Hotspur. 2021.