Every now and then something comes along that you must just read. Whether it is the good work that our friends over at ALS have been doing, the new, and quite excellent, Blizzard, or of course, the top notch Sunderland chatter that we bring you on a daily basis.
In December, 2009, another must-read hit the shops in the shape of Stokoe, Sunderland and 73: The Story Of the Greatest FA Cup Final Shock of All Time. If you are a regular listener to the Roker Report podcast, you will have heard me raving about Lance Hardy's book.
Telling the story of our most-famous cup run, it not only features interviews with all of those involved in that magnificent season, but has in-depth reports on the games and manages to incapsulate the impact that the season had on the town. When you throw in its tales behind the relationship between the great Bob Stokoe, Don Revie and even Brian Clough, it is, without exaggeration, probably the finest football book that I have ever had the pleasure of reading.
Thanks to this, I got in touch with Lance Hardy in a hope to talk to him about his work. For now, he is up to the eyeballs in organising the women's World Cup, due to his role as editor at BBC Sport, but he did alert us a previously unseen Q&A session that he conducted with friend of the site Mike Grady (freelance journalist and senior writer for Channel 4 Paralympics), and both were kind enough to pass it on for us to use, right here on Roker Report.
Mike: First things first, why do you support Sunderland?
Lance: I’m from Worksop, which in ’73 was pretty anti-Leeds as most of the country was. In the 60s, a lot of miners from County Durham moved down to Nottinghamshire so I had a lot of family friends who were Sunderland fans. Obviously, at the time, a lot of the country was quite taken with Sunderland as well, so I started to get involved, and that’s how I got attached. I always maintained that I was supporting them before kick-off, not after the final whistle.
My Dad started taking me to games when I was seven or eight, to places in the area - Sheffield, Derby and then I’d go up to Roker Park. By the time I left school, I’d joined the Doncaster Supporter’s branch and I used to go to every game. So from ’86 to when I came to London in 1990 I’d only miss a few games a season.
Since I’ve been working for the BBC, I’ve been working weekends, so I’ve been getting to five or six games a season.
Mike: What was your first Sunderland game?
Lance: The first time I saw Sunderland in the flesh was in 1976 away at Derby, and as is appropriate, it was the beginning of the longest non-scoring run in the club’s history. They went ten games without scoring, which was the club record."
Mike: Before writing the book and starting your research, just how much did you know about the game?
Lance: 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 minute 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.
Mike: How and where did you research the book?
Lance: I did extensive research at The British Newspaper Library in London and Sunderland City Library plus others. I also spent a lot of time viewing BBC and ITV archive material. Sadly some gems - such as Billy Hughes and his laughing box on Grandstand (a fantastic story from within the book - Dan) - have now been destroyed. The research gave me the background to the story, the players gave me the insight.
Mike: It's a shame that so much material has been destroyed, is there much left?
Lance: 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.
Mike: You interviewed a lot of people for Stokoe, Sunderland and ’73, who was the most useful person you spoke to?
Lance: I couldn’t have done this book without Dave Watson. 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.
I would also say speaking to the late Keith Collings, the Sunderland chairman in 1973, was enlightening too. He could tell me first hand about his approaches to Brian Clough and Don Revie before the club finally opted for Bob Stokoe as manager. He was key to the story of how the Cup-winning side broke up so quickly as well.
Mike: How did you pitch a book about a North East football team to a renowned national publisher?
Lance: To me, it was a fairy-tale; an FA Cup fairy-tale. Obviously you can’t take Sunderland out of that because it’s questionable whether that story could actually have taken place anywhere else.
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.
And Mike finished off the session with a couple of non-book related questions...
Mike: Favourite game?
Lance: "The quarter-final, quarter-final replay and the semi-final from 1992 - the nearest I have felt in the flesh to what I saw on television in 1973."
Mike: Favourite player?
Lance: "Gary Rowell."
Mike: Favourite Sunderland shirt?
Lance: The blue away shirt he wore when he scored his hat-trick against Newcastle in 1978. The best replica shirt around in my view.
Mike: Tell us a funny story...
Lance: I edited Match of the Day the night before Mick McCarthy’s appointment at Sunderland. He was a guest on the show that night for the FA Cup Quarter-Finals and we went to the canteen together. He knew I was a Sunderland fan and he asks me questions about Sunderland. He did the show, said goodnight and the next day he was appointed manager. I didn’t have a clue.
I genuinely hope that the chat between Lance and Mike has persuaded you to get hold of a copy of the book. Infact, here's a link, so that you can do that right now. Click here to be taken to Amazon.
We hope to feature both Lance and Mike again here at Roker Report in the future, but for the meantime, get yourself over to Twitter and follow them both now. Click the names here to find them on the site.. Lance - Mike.
Have any of our readers already read the book, or does anyone out there have memories of '73 itself? Be sure to get in touch via the comments field as ever.
And check back to the site later today, as we have some excellent pictures from the time on their way.