Written by Brian Leng
As Sunderland fans celebrated well into the night following their team’s 3-1 victory over Reading, behind the scenes at Elm Park Bob Stokoe was finalising the deal that would secure the services of Luton Town striker Vic Halom, a player who would soon make the most dramatic of starts to his Sunderland career and one who would become a key member of the cup-winning team. However, as Vic reveals, he’d almost agreed to join First Division Everton until Bob Stokoe intervened at the eleventh hour:
“We were actually up on Tyneside preparing to play Newcastle in the fourth round of the F.A. Cup when our manager Harry Haslam called me to one side to tell me that Luton had accepted a bid from Everton for my services. As far I was concerned, it looked like a great move for me but on the eve of the Newcastle game the Luton squad travelled down to Teesside to watch Middlesbrough play Blackpool and it was there that I bumped into Bob Stokoe. I told him about the move to Everton and he asked if I would be interested in joining Sunderland. The more he talked, the more interested I became as he outlined his plans for rebuilding the team and by the time he’d finished I’d pretty much agreed to join him at Roker Park. Turning my back on Everton wasn’t easy as they were a top-six First Division side but I’d always rated Bob as a manager, even though he used to give me torrid time when I was a youngster at The Valley. I agreed to meet him the following week to finalise the deal and I actually signed on the dotted line immediately after Sunderland’s game at Elm Park.”
If Sunderland’s new striker had any lingering doubts about turning his back on the big time these would surely have been dispelled when he ran out at Maine Road a couple of weeks later in front of over 54,000 fans. Sunderland had brought down a massive following from Wearside for the fifth round tie and their support was boosted by large numbers of Manchester United fans who had descended on the ground after their game against Crystal Palace at Old Trafford had been postponed. Immediately after the Reading replay, Ritchie Pitt had joined Arsenal on loan but his stay at Highbury was short-lived when he was recalled to Roker after David Young picked up an injury in a league game at Sheffield Wednesday. For the Sunderland-born defender it would be the turning point in his career.
Sunderland fans were in terrific voice when the game kicked off but after a bright start by their team, they must surely have feared the worst as City’s star-studded forwards took control and began to lay siege on the visitor’s goal. The first opening came when City won a free-kick out on the left which resulted in Lee firing the ball low and hard towards the far post where Marsh raced in to drive the ball towards goal from close range. It looked a certain goal but somehow Montgomery managed to dive backwards and save the ball right on the line. Sunderland then had a lucky escape when Porterfield lost possession to allow Lee to race through and only a last-ditch tackle by Malone saved the day for the visitors.
It was a short-lived respite however, and on sixteen minutes City took a deserved lead when they won a free kick just outside the box after Watson was adjudged to have handled. The free kick was taken quickly and created an opening for Summerbee and after his shot was beaten down the ball rebounded to Towers who promptly drove the ball past Montgomery with a terrific right-foot shot from just outside the box. Moments later the home side almost added a second when a run down the left by Towers opened up the Sunderland defence and when the City midfielder crossed from the goal-line, Lee shot narrowly wide with the goal at his mercy. Then a Summerbee corner caused havoc in the Sunderland defence before Halom stepped in to clear with Marsh and Lee ready to pounce on the loose ball.
The opening thirty minutes had been all City with little evidence of Sunderland as an attacking force but after thirty six minutes they grabbed an equaliser in the most unusual of circumstances. The build up began in midfield when Tueart was pulled down and when Kerr floated the ball into the box Watson went up with Corrigan but when the ball dropped, Tueart was adjudged to have fouled the City ‘keeper. Corrigan took the kick passing the ball short to Donachie on the edge of the box but was ordered retake it after Horswill had encroached. Amazingly, the City ‘keeper tried the same ball not noticing that Horswill had cleverly stood behind Donachie who was caught in possession by the Sunderland midfielder who then flicked the ball over his head before firing a terrific volley into the net with Corrigan looking on in disbelief.
“I deliberately stood behind Willie Donachie in the hope that Joe might play the ball to him again,” recalls Mick, “but I couldn’t believe my luck when he actually did. Willie was caught flat-footed as I nicked the ball off him and it dropped beautifully for me to volley home - I’ll never forget that feeling when I saw the ball hit the back of the net!”
The second period began with City pressing forward and they almost regained the lead when they won a free-kick after Watson fouled Lee just outside the box. The City striker took the kick himself and fired in a great shot only for Montgomery to turn the ball over the bar. Sunderland were under constant pressure at this stage but as their defence continued to frustrate the City forwards they began to come more into the game. Nevertheless, it was the home side that came closest to scoring when Summerbee created an opening for Lee who sent in a terrific low drive only for Montgomery to produce a yet another brilliant save.
Moments later however, Sunderland stunned the home fans by grabbing the lead with a truly stunning goal from Billy Hughes. Tueart began the move in the centre-circle releasing Hughes with a great ball sending the Sunderland striker clear from the half-way line. Hughes raced towards the City goal with defenders in hot pursuit and when he reached the edge of the box he checked inside to beat Jeffries before unleashing a terrific left-foot shot high into the net. Sunderland fans were going crazy but their joy lasted little more than four minutes when City grabbed an equaliser following an uncharacteristic error by Montgomery. The goal came from a left-wing corner by Summerbee and when the City winger floated his kick into the six-yard box Montgomery, under pressure from Marsh, allowed the ball to slip from his grasp and over the line.
After that it was pretty much backs to the wall stuff with Montgomery more than making up for his error with a string of superb saves to keep Sunderland in the game. Nevertheless, Sunderland weren’t finished as an attacking force and with ten minutes remaining Halom brought a great save out of Corrigan when he headed Tueart’s centre towards goal. Then, with seven minutes remaining the game exploded when Horswill beat Towers only for the City midfielder to bring him to the ground with a blatant body check. Suddenly the players were at each others throats and when order was restored Towers was ordered from the field. From the resulting free-kick Sunderland almost made the home side pay when Hughes climbed to send in a thumping header only for Corrigan to produce another brilliant save. Soon afterwards the final whistle blew to bring a truly magnificent encounter to an end and whilst Sunderland had been under pressure for most of the game few could deny them a replay.
The following morning the first signs the cup fever that was about to sweep across Wearside appeared in the streets around Roker Park as supporters queued for tickets for the replay the following Wednesday and by lunchtime it was announced that game was a sell-out. In its long and proud history, Roker Park had provided the stage for many classic matches but it’s doubtful if any ever matched the high drama that unfolded in the replay against City, either before or since. City striker Francis Lee had added spice to the event by announcing that he would forfeit a week’s wages if City lost at Roker Park although this simply added to Bob’s Stokoe’s team’s determination to win the tie.
A capacity crowd of almost 52,000 packed the Roker terraces as Bobby Kerr led his team down the tunnel and out onto the pitch for the club’s biggest game in years. The legendary Roker Roar had been lying dormant for so long yet it was stirred into life in truly dramatic fashion after only fourteen minutes when Sunderland took the lead with a goal of stunning quality. The move began when Hughes attacked down the left and when he appeared to be hemmed in near the Fulwell End corner flag he turned inside before playing the ball square to Porterfield. The Sunderland midfielder then switched the play bringing in Horswill who quickly moved the ball on to Kerr just outside the right hand corner of the penalty area. Halom had made a run on the outside and when Kerr played the ball through the Sunderland centre forward unleashed an unbelievable shot that flew into the far corner of the net with Corrigan in the City goal looking on as a helpless spectator.
It was an unbelievable strike and a one that Vic Halom, not surprisingly, still remembers clearly. “To be honest I’d expected Billy Hughes to cross the ball in from the left so I held back waiting to make a run into the box, “recalls Vic, “ but the play switched and when Bobby rolled it into my path I just hit it first time. You instinctively know when you’ve struck a ball correctly because you don’t actually feel anything and I caught this one perfectly and it flew into the top corner of the net!”
The goal had set Roker Park alight and moments later Halom could have made it two when a free-kick from Malone was headed into his path by Watson with only a brilliant save by Corrigan denying the Sunderland striker his second goal of the night. Soon afterwards Montgomery was called into action to deny Bell and then Marsh from levelling the scores but the play quickly switched to the other end of the park and on twenty six minutes Sunderland doubled their advantage with a brilliant solo goal from Hughes. Receiving a long throw from Kerr on the right, he raced into the box and when his first shot was charged down he controlled the ball, rounded Donachie before crashing a terrific shot into the far corner of the net. At this stage Roker Park was literally rocking and with Sunderland so much on top, the half-time whistle came as welcome respite for City’s shell-shocked players.
The interval gave Malcolm Allison’s team the opportunity to regroup and with so many top players in their side, it was perhaps inevitable that they would come out for the second half with all guns blazing. Sunderland desperately needed to keep their composure in the early stages of the second period but on fifty-four minutes City pulled a goal back when Lee netted from close range after Bell had headed into his path. Suddenly, the game appeared to be swinging City’s way and Lee looked a certain scorer when he latched onto a Bell cross from the right only for Montgomery to deflect the ball clear with his legs. Sunderland were hanging on desperately during this period but as the half progressed they slowly regained their composure and roared on by their fanatical supporters they began to look dangerous on the break
Then, twelve minutes from the end, Hughes sent Roker Park into a frenzy of delight when he netted Sunderland’s third to make the game safe after a stunning break down the right. Again it was a superb flowing move involving Porterfield, Malone and Halom which sent Tueart through just inside the right-hand corner of the box. The angle was tight but as City defenders converged, Tueart kept his composure to send in a terrific low shot which Corrigan could only parry across the face of the goal and directly into the path of Hughes who arrived at the far post to knock the ball into the empty net.
“I knew we were home and dry when that goal went in,” recalls Billy, “The noise was unbelievable and whilst the final was an unforgettable experience, it was the City replay that always meant the most to me. There was nowhere quite like Roker Park when the Roker Roar was in full voice!
Back in the dressing room the players celebrated wildly and a few were in tears, particularly Ritchie Pitt who reveals that his show of emotion was mainly down to relief after performing so well in such an important game. “When I got back into the dressing room I just sat and cried because having had doubts cast over my ability, I’d proved conclusively that I could hold my own against some of the greatest players in the English game. If my self confidence needed restoring, then it certainly happened that night against Manchester City.”
Sunderland Former Players were saddened to hear of the passing of Corny O'Donnell. Corny's Funeral arrangements are as follows:-
Friday 9 March, 11am St Augustines, Wealcroft, Felling NE10 8QS
12.00 Saltwell Crematorium, Saltwell Road, Gateshead, NE8 4TQ