It was very exciting that season, because we had a wonderful run in the FA Cup well as achieving promotion. Again it went to the final game and trying to forget the previous two years was difficult. We were at home to Charlton and we went 1-0 down. They had Peter Wakeham, our former goalkeeper, playing and he was absolutely outstanding. He never performed like that when he played for us - he turned on the display of his life and I thought we’d never score. I said to myself: ‘I am going to go up there and everything’s going to go in the net, me, Peter, the ball, everything, we are not going to lose this game!’ Then, almost immediately we got an equaliser and with minutes to go Johnny Crossan netted the winner. I asked him Peter afterwards: ‘What were you on to stop us? You never played like that for us!’ and he said: ‘Well, I love playing at Roker Park’. A lot of good pros loved playing at Roker Park, it was a good stage, if you turned on a good display the fans did show their appreciation, reluctantly or not.
That day, when we did our lap of honour, was probably the greatest moment of my entire career. We were all sitting in the dressing room afterwards when Syd Collings, our chairman, came in and as he opened the door and all you could hear was “Charlie, Charlie, Charlie…” and Syd said ‘Look lads, you’ll have to go back out again.” To go out to that kind of call, that kind of support, was incredible. I mean some of them the lads had already started to get changed, George Herd only had a jock strap and shirt on, some had no boots on, but it just showed how important it was for us to go out there.
We went around for those fans, big shipbuilders, big miners, crying their eyes out, we were shaking hands with these guys and nearly crying ourselves because of the emotion they felt. The pride of actually getting back into the 1st Division was second to none.
After the game Alan Brown said it was all down to the players, but in my opinion I would say it was 50:50. I would have said that the Roker fans were the people who helped us get up there. We had a spell just before the promotion season when we were undefeated for 18 months at Roker Park, now that is no mean feat, we played in cup games and everything. So the fans, in my opinion, deserved a tremendous amount of credit for us actually getting back to the 1st Division. It was where people said we belonged but no-one belongs, we had to fight to do it, you have to fight for things in life - you don’t have a given right to anything.
Of course, Sunderland fans always talk about the FA Cup games against Everton and Manchester United that season. Everton were the reigning league champions and a brilliant footballing side. They stuck Jimmy Gabriel up front; he was midfield player who apparently had been doing really well. I remember thinking: ‘Well Jimmy, it’s going to be a different game today son!’ We beat them 3-1, I scored, Jimmy Mac and then an own goal from Mick Meagan put us three up at half time. After the break Brian Harris another wing half pulled one back for them - all the goals were scored by half backs! It was as good a display as any we ever made when I was at Sunderland - there were 61,000 inside Roker that day and the fans went absolutely crazy.
Then it was Manchester United at Old Trafford in the 6th round. I remember Alan Brown’s team talk beforehand when I asked who was going to stop Bobby Charlton, Dennis Law and Georgie Best and he put his hand on his chin and walked around for a bit giving it some thought and said: ‘I don’t think you’ll be able to do it on your own Charlie!’ Well that broke the ice amongst the players, because don’t forget we were still a young team. We went out there as a swashbuckling squad with nothing to lose. Unfortunately, one Sunderland player scored an own goal… I think his name was Charlie something!
I used to have this trick - the crowd used to love it - I would to go to hammer the ball away and then just flick it back to the keeper. I really don’t know who shouted because there were about 64,000 in the ground and the noise was unbelievable. All I did was a little flick on and I turned round and there’s Monty right up me backside. Don’t forget it was early days in Monty’s career; he wasn’t used to what I would do. He knew after that though!
We went 3-1 up, maybe Johnny Crossan’s greatest game for us, he was magnificent and then in the closing stages Monty went for a cross and gets whacked in the face by Dennis Law. Now at 3-1 with minutes to go a keeper would stay down, put on all the agonies and roll around and waste a bit of time. But Monty was just a young lad and when Arthur Holland, the referee, asked: ‘Are you all right - can you get up?’ he replied: ‘Not really, Charlie’s got his foot on my arm!’ Monty got up though and if he’d stayed down for maybe another 2 or 3 minutes it could have made a bit of a difference. He wasn’t quite ready and they scored from the corner and then Bestie equalised with just about the last kick of the game.
The replay at Roker Park was unbelievable - no-one knows how many got in that night after the gates came down at the Roker End. You can’t blame the fans though, if you’ve half a brain and the gate goes down and you can get in without paying then, that’s life. The game itself was another cracking match that went into extra time, we were two one up with a minute to go and then Bobby Charlton scored with header right at the death - again we were thwarted in the last minute.
So we go to Huddersfield for the second replay and in the first half we played maybe the best football we’d played against them. When Nicky Sharkey put us one up just after half time, it looked very good, and then they suddenly hit us with three quick goals. We couldn’t manage to fight back from there and ended up losing 5-1.
Remember, we were still a very young side and it had been a great experience albeit desperately disappointing at the end.
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