Wear The People

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Wearside at Wembley Part One – Jim Fox


You knew the die was cast when we won the league game at Carrow Road 3-1 the week before the final. This being Sunderland, a cloud of pessimism descended on the long road home from Norfolk: we would surely lose at Wembley. The final itself was a familiar tale of “what if?” dilemmas. What if Colin West, the hero of the semi-final, had played?

Crucially, what if Clive Walker’s 48th minute penalty had not hit the post? David Corner could have avoided Jeff Brown writing a play about him by choosing to do what most of us would have done. It would only become apparent later that the goal itself was of dubious legality.

If you weren’t there, I can confirm the stories you will have heard about our fans outnumbering those from Norwich by maybe a 2 to 1 ratio. Tickets were plentiful as I remember: we ended up literally giving one or two away. I recall a midweek Travel Club jaunt to Southampton I was on where, strangely, Len Ashurst travelled down on the bus and decreed that anyone hard-core, or stupid, enough to be present deserved a ticket. The club made good on the promise despite the obvious fact that anyone on board would surely have already had a ticket.

The final, and the win at Norwich, would do us no good, of course. Both finalists were relegated, Sunderland only winning one game between the Wembley date and the end of the season. The end of season and much beyond that would, of course, be somewhat overshadowed by events in Brussels in late May.

This game became known as the “friendly final” but I recall an incident on the tube after the game which belied this impression. The legendary Sammy the Chin from Ryhope ended up in our carriage and became very animated and aggressive with a group of yellow and green bedecked fans in the doorway. The reason? A completely random Norwich fan had snapped the flimsy wooden stick on which his SAFC Wembley flag had fluttered. He was as enraged and inconsolable as a child, as I recall, refusing to accept any rational assessment of the contextual triviality of the incident.

1990 and 1992

Both games were an anti-climax to the campaigns which had gotten us there in the first place.

Liverpool were expected to win comfortably, and did in the end. Again, John Byrne, the hero of the campaign, provided the “if only” moment in the first half but trooping away from Wembley to find a pub, the feeling was we’d had our fun at Hillsborough, West Ham and Stamford Bridge and a repeat of 1973 was never on the cards.

It’s fair to say, however, that Armstrong’s header in the sixth round replay provided one of the best moments of our lives and, after all, you could boast that you’d seen Warren Hawke in a cup final, not something anyone had predicted.

I remember, in 1990, a Swindon fan on the tube laughing when I bitterly cut short his celebrations by informing him that their financial misconduct would see them denied promotion and the prize given to us. He wasn’t laughing on June 13th when the news broke.

I claim no perspicacity in this matter. It was widely rumoured on Wearside, and in Swindon where I had a good source, that the match itself was a meaningless charade such were Swindon’s misdemeanours, extending, it seemed, even to the cooking of books down to sales of programmes revenue level.

To this day, unsubstantiated stories persist on Wearside that Bob Murray was visibly blasé about the game having been tipped-off days before by the League that were we going up anyway.

It’s just as well the game had no bearing. Sunderland, being Sunderland, were simply dreadful and basically didn’t turn up on a hot May day in north London. Swindon were superior all over the pitch and although the winning goal was a fortuitous deflection, the defeat would have been much heavier but for Tony Norman’s heroics in goal.

In some ways, the 1990 play-off was an anti-climax anyway: after all, we’d won our “final” in the epic two-legged battle with the enemy earlier in the month, Marco’s clinching goal at the Temple of Doom being another of those moments in your life that make your whole time on the planet worthwhile.

Twin Towers? More like Twin Peaks, a blend of mystery, tragedy, laughter and pathos, much like the reality of supporting this great club. Let’s hope more memories, and better ones, are made this Sunday.

See the second part in our Wembley instalment from Jim on the ill fated Mercantile Credit Tournament and the final piece from Wear The People’s Mal Robinson later in the week.