Sunderland AFC’s Glory Days – That 1973 FA Cup Final

Written by on 19th April 2024

With the constant rise of European football and the Premier League, many believe that the magic of the FA Cup is slowly dying. However, that can’t be said for Sunderland fans who still revere that historic 1973 Fa Cup-Winning side, which remains one of the all-time great stories of the competition.

 May 5th 1973. The date that every Sunderland supporter holds close to their heart. It’s the day that second division Sunderland conquered the mighty top-flight Leeds United at Wembley. Although way beyond my time, the significance of this date and that team has never been lost on me. Whether it be Ian Porterfield’s goal or Jimmy Montgomery’s save, these stories will reverberate along the Wearside terraces for many years to come.

Photo: ALAMY – Bob Stokoe celebrating Sunderland’s 1973 FA Cup Victory

My Dad, a staunch Sunderland supporter, was born just months after the final and the way even he speaks about the final is consistently brimmed with pride and passion. Perhaps it could be said that his pride and passion is an enlightening reflection on the mentality of that great Sunderland side.

Despite my constant reminders of that great side, I still wanted to learn more. I recently invited a life-long Sunderland supporter, John Gardner, to the Spark studios to delve deeper into that historic day. Aged (), John has seen it all and the way he speaks about his experience at the 73’ final is nothing short of inspirational.

John’s Story

After so many years, John’s memory of the day remained as clear as ever. As he sat opposite me in the studio, I noticed a silk scarf wrapped around his neck that had been passed down by previous generations which he had took with him to the final over 50 years ago. It epitomised the attitude of Sunderland’s loyal fanbase and the full-blooded legacy that has carried on for years.

John Garner at Spark Studios

As John told his account, you could see the pride written across his face. He explained Sunderland’s underdog status, saying: “There’s no second division team, other than Sunderland, to win the FA Cup since 1931 and here’s Sunderland there in 73 and they had a job to do on them. But everybody said “Oh, we’ll win this” and yeah, I would say confident, but you have to be.”

That sort of mentality has always been present within the Sunderland fanbase, yet on that day in 1973 it was translated with ease by the players on the pitch.  The Black Cats are known for their incredible support, but that has always been the case. As John points out, their following has always been overwhelming for even the biggest English clubs, saying: “Oh, it was unbelievable when you got there. It was just all red and white and we were all saying, “Well, where’s all the Leeds fans.” And yeah, it was unbelievable.”

As mentioned above, that confidence from the supporters was reflected on the pitch, where heroes were made…

Wembley – Where Legends are Made

John remembered all the details from the key moments of the game, which some have went on to become iconic moments of the game. Perhaps at the top of that department is Jimmy Montgomery’s save, which has propelled him into football folklore ever since. Most football fans, and Sunderland fans especially, will have seen this save but for those who may not know, John provided a detailed account of it as he saw it from the stands.

“The game really hinges on that save. It has to be one of the best saves, I would say, in football,” John claimed, “The ball was knocked over and Trevor Terry headed it down and Montgomery got down and got it out, knocked it onto the crossbar, it came back out and Peter Lorimor who had a rocket of a shot – hit it from about ten yards and it was how he saved it, I do not know to this day. He knocked it onto the bar and Vic Halom cleared it, it was absolutely brilliant. That was about half-way through the second half, and we knew from then on that we’ve got this.”

John also revealed: “At the time, Gordon Bank’s save against Pele in the World Cup and it (Montgomery’s save) was classed as the same as that. And, when you saw it, you just don’t know how he got it out, it was unbelievable.”

It wasn’t just Montgomery who claimed iconic status back in 1973, either. John discussed the legendary figures of Bob Stokoe and Bobby Kerr. Many Sunderland fans will be familiar with Stokoe as his statue stands tall outside of the Stadium of Light as a permanent reminder of the true ethos behind the incredible football club.

John remembers the actual moment behind that famous statue, saying: “What I can remember after the final whistle went was, I can remember Bob Stokoe, his statue if you’ve seen it outside the stadium, he had his hat on and he ran straight across the field, straight to Bobby Kerr and he picked Bobby Kerr up and he put his hat on. It was just brilliant, absolutely brilliant.”

Listen to the full interview here.

The Legacy of 1973

I also spoke to Michelle Charlton, who is part of the newer generation of supporters and a current season ticket holder. We discussed the importance of the 1973 legacy being maintained throughout the younger sections of the fanbase.

Michelle claims: “It will always be known as the greatest achievements in Sunderland’s history. It’s extremely important that those players and the team are remembered for what they achieved.”

Photo: ALAMY – Sunderland fans celebrate after the Sky Bet League One play-off final at Wembley Stadium, London.

Although this triumph was so long ago and any success like 1973 seems a long way away for the Sunderland faithful, they can sure hold on to the same hope that those thousands of fans did over 50 years ago in a similar position. Of course, the finances in football make such a feat incredibly difficult, but if there’s one thing that is always present in the Sunderland fanbase – it is unconditional and whole-hearted support.

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