Sunderland’s weight of cup expectation rests upon mercurial winger Johnson

England player and his team-mates will attempt to emulate the 1973 FA Cup winners

Sunderland’s Adam Johnson did not expect to play every week for Manchester City, just more than once a month. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Sunderland’s Adam Johnson did not expect to play every week for Manchester City, just more than once a month. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images


This is no time for soundbites. But you could feel the hand of history tapping shoulders in Sunderland on Wednesday afternoon.

There was a white-haired man gazing at the Bob Stokoe statue outside the Stadium of Light, while a camera crew gazed at him. It was Jimmy Montgomery.

Stokoe, Montgomery, 1973, each received repeated mentions this week, 41 years on from one of the most famous FA Cup finals of them all: Leeds United 0 Sunderland 1.

In the foyer of the Stadium of Light hangs the trench coat and trilby hat that Stokoe wore that wet Wembley day, when his celebratory run to Montgomery became one of the defining images of 20th century English football.

Gustavo Poyet was asked about that. In 1973 Gus Poyet was a five-year-old growing up in Montevideo, Uruguay; Bob Stokoe grew up in a coalmining family in High Spen, Gateshead. Gus didn’t think he would wearing a hat at Wembley.

Times change. In 1973 Stokoe’s opposite number was Don Revie, who came from Middlesbrough. On Sunday at Wembley, Poyet’s opposite will be Manuel Pellegrini, who comes from Santiago in Chile.

About 30 miles divided Stokoe and Revie, whereas the width of Argentina separates Poyet from Pellegrini. But this Sunday will have none of the managerial edge of 1973. Bob Stokoe detested Don Revie and the feeling was mutual.

A year before the famous cup final, while manager of Blackpool, Stokoe had made accusations of corruption against Revie dating back to the 1960s. Revie was damaged by them.

The two men had been Wembley Cup final opponents before, too. In 1955 Stokoe was in the Newcastle United side that defeated Manchester City 3-1. Revie was in the City team, who had a plan to win – they called it the “Revie plan”.

‘Revenge is sweet, Stokoe’
That game was in Stokoe’s mind when he returned in 1973. In Paul Harrison’s marvellous biography of Stokoe,

Northern and Proud , Stokoe recalls standing in the Wembley tunnel with “memories of 1955 flooding back.

“I glanced across at the Leeds players and one of them mouthed obscenities towards me.

“As we walked out, Don Revie was next to me. He turned to me and said something along the lines of ‘Revenge is sweet, Stokoe’. There were a few unnecessary expletives in his statement.

“I smiled nonchalantly at him and walked on, my hands behind my back as though I was out for a walk. I was wearing my tracksuit along with a mackintosh coat, as rain had been forecast and I am a practical man. I stuck my hat on my head, too. I didn’t want to get a soaking. After all, this was Wembley.”

Revie, of course, did not get the revenge he had hoped for. Yet Stokoe, a Newcastle player, was turned into bronze on Wearside.

Stokoe’s team were in the Second Division then and, almost ever since, Sunderland have been in the shadow of that silver FA Cup. The numbers 1,9,7,3 feature in the ticket office telephone line and Jack Colback let slip that 1973 is also the door code at the club’s training ground. The year retains a daily presence.

Colback also revealed that he has never been to Wembley, a level of inexperience that may tell against a possible direct opponent, Yaya Toure.

Poyet is the 19th Sunderland manager since Stokoe. That says something about the club’s fumbling for success. None has carried a major trophy back to either Roker Park or the Stadium of Light and there is a fear that such are the riches of Manchester City, on Sunday Sunderland might not just fail again, they might fail badly.

Poyet said after last Saturday’s visit to north London, when Arsenal won 4-1, that if Sunderland played the same way at Wembley they could be “embarrassed”.

That would not be helpful. Knock-on effects are not guaranteed – it took Sunderland until 1976 to be repromoted to the First Division – but the concern is that a heavy defeat against City could bleed into the relegation battle Sunderland have been in since the opening day’s home defeat by Fulham.

So it’s not just the weight of the distant past they have to bear on Wearside, there is the weight of the immediate future.

Third-bottom of the Premier League, Sunderland don’t play a league game for another fortnight. There is Wembley on Sunday, then Hull City away in the FA Cup quarter-final next Saturday. There are then league trips to Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester United and a re arranged game at City.

Managerial revolving door
Congestion looms. So although Poyet was in happy form on Wednesday, he knows there is a breathlessness to the future.

“Someone told me last week: ‘You have been here for four months and it feels like you have been here for three years,’ ” said Poyet, who took ill in a Newcastle restaurant recently.

The immediate past also carries weight. Poyet is the third manager in 12 months – Martin O’Neill and Paolo Di Canio precede him. And when Adam Johnson was quizzed on the past year he replied: “Ups and downs I suppose.

“Now we’re definitely more stable. We’re going in the right direction. It’s been difficult for everyone. No one wants to be in a relegation battle every year.

“It’s credit to the lads now and the gaffer. We were seven or eight points adrift a couple of months back, so to be right in the mix with a couple of games in hand is great credit to us. It’s definitely the best it’s been in my nearly two years.

“In May this could turn out to be one of the best seasons in Sunderland’s history. At the beginning it could have been one of the worst.”

Johnson moved from City to Sunderland. He appeared in the 2011 FA Cup final for City against Stoke. He was a young lad at Middlesbrough when they won the League Cup this weekend 10 years ago.

But City sold Johnson. He did not expect to play every week, just more than once a month.

And that is what Sunderland are up against, a team who can sell them an England winger because they can. Hence the bookmakers’ odds are not dissimilar to last year’s final, when fourth division Bradford City were beaten 5-0 by Swansea. Tomorrow Sunderland have been afforded Bradford’s role. That has some logic, though it ignores those numbers 1,9,7,3.

Should Sunderland win, it would be their biggest victory since then. Should they lose, it might not be their biggest defeat of the season.

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