Len Ashurst presided over one of our most famous games with Manchester United. Read all about it right here...
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With Sunderland failing to gain promotion alongside Man Utd at end of the season it was not until September 1976 that rivalries were resumed, with 4 games in less than 2 months, three of them at Old Trafford. Again there was trouble at all of them, but at least the introduction of ‘the cage’ at Old Trafford whereby away fans were kept divided from the home supporters meant it was a bit safer inside the ground. But of course it made it a lot easier for home fans to identify you when you came out as I discovered by getting a smack after the first league cup game that was a smashing affair on the pitch which ended disappointingly when Jeff Clarke deflected guess who – yes McIlroy’s shot to present the home side with an equaliser at 2-2 in the last 20 seconds of the match.
2-2 was also the result in the replay at Roker Park where Sunderland played ever so well and looked to be heading for victory but guess what; yes Manchester United grabbed a last minute equaliser, when Alan Foggon punched the ball over the bar in the 92nd minute. Daly scored the penalty. The 2nd replay was again another a decent match which Sunderland really should have won as we had loads of chances but a single Brian Greenhoff goal meant the home side moved on to play Newcastle in the next round.
Less than a month had gone by when Sunderland went back to Old Trafford in the league. During that time Bob Stokoe had resigned after a poor start and Ian Macfarlane had been appointed as the caretaker manager.
The match was a very good game especially as Sunderland were 2-0 and also 3-1 down, before Kerr again laid on another for Hughes and then Bob Lee, signed from Leicester City after the Foxes had turned down Sunderland’s approach to buy Frank Worthington and persuaded us that Lee was a better player [he wasn’t] grabbed his second to send the 5,000 travelling fans in a crowd of over 40,000 wild with delight.
Sunderland that season looked doomed after losing eight games and failing to score a goal in any of the matches in January and February before they grabbed a rich vein of form that as a young man I recall with pleasure as they thrashed Boro 4-0, West Ham 6-0 and West Brom 6-1. At Easter they’d grabbed a point away to Leeds in a 1-1 draw, only a day after a 2-2 draw with the Mags at Roker.
Manchester United arrived on Easter Monday looking for a win that would go a big way to helping them win their first title in ten years. However in the lead up to the game it wasn’t the football that dominated the conversations of many young Sunderland fans but United’s fearsome hooligan reputation. This was so bad, or so good depending upon your attitude, that the Football League under considerable pressure from the Labour Government to act had decided to ban United’s supporters from attending away games – this was due to kick-in following the game at Roker Park.
There was huge press coverage given as to what might happen on the day with some papers predicting that as many as 20,000 away fans might turn out for one last scrap. Naturally not wanting to be outdone some of Sunderland’s own bunch of daft lads decided to mark the occasion by turning out in force. In fact only around 4,000 made the trip to support Manchester United and found themselves massively outnumbered in a 39,000 crowd that roared its approval at what I feel was one of the best performance’s I have ever seen from a Sunderland side as the relegation threatened side won 2-1 with goals from Kevin Arnott and Tony Towers.
After the match there was trouble outside the Roker End. Some United fans were brutally attacked and some fought fairly defiantly, especially one black guy who I can still recall mainly because I’d guess he was 6" 5’. He took some right blows but never actually went down, which is just as well. With the police in disarray I’m not even sure anyone was arrested.
Sunderland, naturally, still managed, with some help from Jimmy Hill, to get themselves relegated at the end of the season and it was therefore another 4 seasons before hostilities were resumed.
The match at Old Trafford was one of our first away games on our return and Sunderland showed that their victory by four goals to nil at nearby Manchester City ten days earlier was no feat, grabbing a 1-1 draw with Alan ‘Bomber’ Brown from Easington Colliery scoring before a crowd of 51,498 including a healthy 5 – 6 thousand from Wearside and County Durham. In the return Sunderland tore a very poor United side apart to win 2-0 with Gordon Chisholm and Gary Rowell doing the damage.
Not so the following season, crushed at home 5-1 but not before Stan Cummins had grabbed an equalising goal just before half time. However in the crowd surge that followed in the Roker End my by now slightly elderly dad was knocked off his feet and tumbled down the terraces. He was pulled back up by a celebrating crowd most of whom had long gone by the time the referee blew his whistle for the end of the game.
In the return game in March Sunderland shut up shot. Chris Turner played ever so well, as he often did against Manchester United before departing at the end of the 1984-85 season to play regularly there.
I was more concerned about events off the pitch however as this was the year I’d started to be influenced by the emerging fashion trend that had wormed its way up to the North-East. This was primarily the result of Liverpool ‘scallies’ robbing the living daylights out of any shops when they visited Europe, bringing back with them a range of expensive gear. Of which Sergio Tacchini track suit tops were one! And so with a take out pay of not much more than £65 a week I believe from my job as a semi-skilled machine operator at Tudor Crisps I’d invested and again this is a guess £45 on one. Little bloody good it did me, some bugger taking their revenge at my showing off by putting a cigarette burn mark on the back – in hindsight he probably saved me a fortune as it turned out, so thanks.
When we next visited Old Trafford it was Xmas, it was 0-0, and some of my mates went in Father Christmas outfits and with little to film on the pitch the Match of the Day camera’s scanned the crowd to pick them out. No doubt determined to have my own moment of fame I recall, vaguely, managing to drink 9 pints during a 90 minute stop over on the way back and being violently sick. Both games ended 0—0 that season.
In March 1984 Sunderland lost 2-1 in a drab match at Old Trafford that marked the end of Alan Durban’s reign at the club, Lee Chapman had raised our hopes with one of his few goals to give us an early lead but by the end Sunderland were a well beaten side. Durban when he was Stoke manager had scoffed at the suggestion his job involved providing entertainment suggesting that if that was so then he’d send in the clowns, when he got to Sunderland he signed a few of which Chapman was just one and no-one was laughing.
It is of course the November 1984 game at Roker Park that is rightly remembered by so many Sunderland fans from that period, a classic game that had literally everything – goals, sending offs, a hat-trick hero and a fantastic come-back by Sunderland to win the match 3-2. It remains one of the best games I’ve ever seen, certainly in the top 25 out of around 3,000 or so I’d guess I’ve seen so far, not all of course involving Sunderland.
Utd arrived in fine form but at home so were Sunderland and had won 5 and draw 2 from their first seven home games. Off the pitch of course the area was in uproar as the miners’ and their wives battled against an intransigent Thatcher led Government and the police determined to destroy the NUM for what they’d done to the Tories during the 1970s. Sadly by the time the Miners went back to work defeated in March the following year Len Ashurst’s side had slumped down the table to eventually be relegated.
I digress, anyway a confident Manchester side soon swept into a 2-0 lead courtesy of Bryan Robson and Mark Hughes. United’s fans had been given two sections in the by now much reduced Roker End and those Sunderland fans who like myself had now gravitated from the Fulwell to the Roker End had been squeezed next to the Main Stand. The away fans were in fine voice. Sunderland did manage to get themselves back into the game when Clive Walker got on the end of a Colin West flick to reduce arrears to 1-2.
Then David Hodgson did the best thing he ever did in a Sunderland shirt by getting himself sent off! However in the process he took the best player on the field down the tunnel with him, Hughes reacting to an elbow in his direction. Ten men each and then just before half time two-each when Gary Bailey bundled Gary Bennett over, Clive Walker hammering in the penalty at the Roker End.
Then amazingly Gordon McQueen did exactly the same thing on ‘Little Stan’ Cummins with the same result, a penalty from Walker to make it 3-2 with the Sunderland man this time running over to celebrate in front of our section in the Roker End, queue delirium and some serious noise from all parts of the Sunderland sections. Total silence from United.
I can recall that Sunderland played some exceptional one touch stuff in the first 20 minutes of the second half. United’s fans headed for the exit long before the whistle and at the end the biggest roar of the season could probably be heard from miles away. A great day.
Be sure to come back tomorrow for the conclusion of this mini-series, and feel free to check out Mark's own website for details on his range of Sunderland AFC related books, as well as general football interest ones, HERE.
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