Stokoe, Sunderland and ’73

The story behind the FA Cup Final between Sunderland and Leeds United in 1973 is one of the most romantic the competition has witnessed.  Lance Hardy's book offers a wonderful insight into a year to remember.  For IBWM, Mike Grady caught up with the author.

Stokoe, Sunderland and ’73 is not just a book about Sunderland. It is a book about fairytales, heroes and legends.

It is an FA Cup fable that we have not seen the like of before or since. It is the serendipitous tale of a group of under-achieving players brought together at an under-achieving club propelled to cup glory by a manager who achieved little before or after.

It is the story of Bob Stokoe’s Sunderland overcoming the might of Don Revie’s Leeds United.

I found the author, Lance Hardy, who has worked as Programme Editor on Match of the Day as well as Assistant Editor on Football Focus and Series Editor on Final Score, on Twitter, and so began my quest.

A few tweets, DMs and emails later, we arranged to meet up on a cold winters’ night in Hammersmith.

“Going back, it’s a real labour of love, and it’s a real privilege to do it as well,” he said as we settled down.

“It struck me as crazy that this book hadn’t been written. There is a host of Sunderland books, but no one has touched the story of ’73.”

Hardy, a Sunderland fan admits he knew a lot about the cup run before he launched into his research, but he wanted to know the ins and outs of how the run evolved.

“I’d watched the cup final, read the programmes, had newspaper cuttings passed on to me and when I joined the supporters’ branch, I spoke to fans who were there and I read a lot.

“I knew all the scores, players and results, but the minutiae of it all I’d heard second hand. The Manchester City game [the 5th Round replay] I’d heard was the greatest game at Roker Park, but I’d never sat down and seen the whole game.”

Dave Watson, the cup-winning centre-half, played a big part in helping Hardy research the book and contacting other members of the team.

Hardy knew Watson through his work with the BBC, where he would contact him and his company, David Watson Limited, about booking ex-professionals such as Gary Pallister, on to the Football Focus sofa.

I couldn’t have done this book without Dave,” Hardy admits. “Because he was able to act as a bridge between me and the players and to say to them ‘Look - I’ve known this guy for over 10 years, he’s a Sunderland fan and he wants to do it properly’. It gave me their trust to tell me what they did.”

When researching the book, Hardy found a lot of the televised material no longer exists. The Pride and Passion of Sunderland survived in script and video format but the audio track was destroyed.

The footage of Billy Hughes setting off a laughing box when Dave Watson was asked by Barry Davies on BBC television if he was as good a centre forward as a centre-half has also gone.

Unable to get hold of a lot of the tapes himself, Hardy spent a lot of time going between the BBC, ITV, Tyne Tees and the British Film Institute.

“The pre- and post-match interviews at Wembley are gone but bizarrely ‘It’s a Cup Final Knockout’ survived and all of the pre- and post-match analysis with Brian Clough and Bobby Charlton and highlights from the hotel from Match of the Day survived.

“I was speaking to Dennis Tueart a couple of months ago because he wanted to get hold of some of the programmes I’ve talked about but they’ve just been wiped.”

Stokoe, Sunderland and ’73 is published by Orion, who Hardy had been published with when we co-wrote Bobby Dazzler, the story of darts hero Bobby George.

Hardy admits that when writing the pitch in 2007, he tried to write it so that a national publisher would take interest.

“To me, it was a fairytale; an FA Cup fairytale,” he said.

“Obviously you can’t take Sunderland out of that because it’s questionable whether that story could actually have taken place anywhere else, given the history of the club, the economic times given the characters involved and the fans.”

Those fans played a major part in Sunderland and Stokoe’s cup run – with attendances rising from 11,000 to 55,000 in a matter of weeks. Hardy touches on the notion that the fans were always there, they were just “disillusioned”. Stokoe changed this.

But Sunderland didn’t just have local support; they became the nation’s darlings for six months in 1973 and were rooted for from Brighton to Berwick.

“What became apparent to me was that never before or since has the nation taken to a club more than they did in ’73. There were a number of factors in that; the fans were one, Stokoe, in the character he was, got hold of something in the nation, then there was the Leeds factor as well.

“When I wrote the proposal, I was keen to capture that. Anyone over the age of 40 will never forget it, and anyone under the age of 40 won’t believe it happened.”

Featuring the like of Billy Bremner, Jim Montgomery and Bobby Kerr; Stokoe, Sunderland and ’73 gives the history behind the cup run, involving characters such as Brian Clough, Don Revie and Alan Brown.

It is a well-written, funny and highly entertaining look at one of the biggest FA Cup shocks of all time that flows well and will leave you longing for the FA Cup of days gone by.

If you like a fairytale, a story of an underdog or just a great football book, then make sure you pick up this brilliant account.

Stokoe, Sunderland and ’73 is now available in paperback and you can buy it here