We wouldn’t leave because we knew it might never be this way again.
Sadly we got that right.
But at 4.45 p.m. on a dreary Saturday back in early April 1973 there was only one thought, one word, on the collective minds and lips of those many thousands who’d trekked down to Sheffield.
Never before, and certainly never since, have a manager and supporters shared collective tears as they did that day while the last Arsenal player trooped miserably from the Hillsborough pitch.
Perhaps it was because he was born and raised the son of a coal miner who worked in what was, back then, a proud organisation called the Northumberland and Durham coalfield. Maybe that’s why he understood that this was about more than just football.
This was one final roar from a part of the country on a slippery slope of unemployment, neglect and frustration, whose once proud football teams did little more than bounce between the divisions.
And for once it ended in tears of joy, not despair.
That he was a former Newcastle player mattered not a jot. He was one of us – a journeyman manager plying his trade at lower level clubs who was proud to get a chance to work again in his native North East. He took over a team floundering near the bottom of Division 2 and transformed it into a free flowing, aggressive work of sporting art.
No one could ever call the final an anti-climax but strangely it felt, by that May, ordained. No, it was the victory over the Gunners, where we’d collectively inhaled that rolling ball into the net for Vic’s first goal and where the referee, sensing history, hadn’t let them take that corner. That was the moment when we knew we were back. That Sunderland Associated Football Club stood proud again. Finally.
It didn’t last for Bob and it didn’t last for Sunderland. The team split and when promotion finally came a few years later the momentum was gone and the club was back to being a footballing yo-yo.
But Bob Stokoe deserved that acclaim. This was his day and his hour.
And for all those fans? Well, 40 years later we can at least say we were right.
We wouldn’t leave because we knew it would never be that way again.
(Our Canadian Correspondent)