LEEDS UNITED supporters of a certain vintage may want to avert their eyes on arrival at the Stadium of Light on Sunday for fear of catching sight of a ghost from the club’s past that has never truly been exorcised.
A statue of Bob Stokoe, captured doing the jig of delight on the Wembley turf that became such an iconic image of the 1973 FA Cup final, stands proudly at the entrance to Sunderland’s impressive stadium as a permanent reminder to one of football’s biggest Cup upsets.
It will not be the only tribute to a day that still sends shivers down the spine of any United fans at Wembley to see Don Revie’s side beaten by Second Division opposition.
More than 40 years may have passed since Ian Porterfield broke Leeds hearts but Stokoe and his Cup winners are held in as high an esteem on Wearside now as they were in the immediate aftermath of the May 5 final.
The match-day programme for Sunday’s third round tie will be full of nostalgia surrounding Sunderland’s Cup triumph, while even the media attending the tie will be given a wi-fi code that features a key figure in what remains one of the Cup’s biggest upsets.
For Trevor Cherry, making his first Cup final appearance in 1973 after joining Leeds from Huddersfield Town the previous summer, no promptings will be needed for a day that he can only look back and wonder, ‘What if?’
“The FA Cup was huge back then,” said the 66-year-old when talking to The Yorkshire Post ahead of United’s trip to the North East.
“It was everything, more important than the league in many ways. My age group had grown up watching the Cup final.
“Now, of course, the league and qualifying for the Champions League seems to be what matters the most. But not back then, which is why getting to my first Cup final was such a huge thing for me.
“The build-up was fantastic. Everyone was really buoyant and the noise when we came out of the tunnel, well I had never heard anything like it.
“The Leeds and Sunderland fans were so passionate and because I hadn’t played for England by that stage of my career, the noise coming out of Wembley was new to me.”
Cherry’s 10 team-mates had all started the previous year’s Cup final, when Leeds had beaten Arsenal to lift the most famous trophy in English football.
What they had not faced in 1972, however, was an opposition manager who was not afraid of indulging in what, during Sir Alex Ferguson’s time at Manchester United, became known as ‘mind games’.
A few days before the final, Stokoe had made a few barbed comments about United’s semi-final win over Wolves that were clearly designed for the ears of Cup final referee Ken Burns.
“I was staggered during the semi-final,” Stokoe told the Press before journeying south to the capital, “at the way Bremner went the whole 90 minutes disputing every decision given against his team.
“My message to Mr Burns is I want him to make the decisions and not Mr Bremner.”
Bremner appeared unmoved, telling The Yorkshire Post: “It is like Wilfred Pickles have-a-go week”, Halifax-born Pickles having been the host of BBC Radio show ‘Have A Go’ at the time.
It would be the last public utterance by a Leeds player ahead of Wembley, as Revie ordered there to be no display of public confidence before the day of the game.
The result was taut, monosyllabic replies when the squad were interviewed during the traditional Cup final morning build-up. Sunderland, in contrast, looked relaxed, as BBC commentator Barry Davies discovered while speaking to centre-half Dave Watson live on the team coach heading to the Twin Towers and team-mate Billy Hughes let off his new toy, a laughter box.
This contrasting approach may have contributed to Sunderland settling quicker on a slippery, rain-soaked surface. They went ahead on 31 minutes, when Porterfield cushioned the ball on his thigh before firing into the roof of the net.
It would prove to be the winner. The goal, though, is not what the 1973 final is best remembered for.
Instead, Jim Montgomery’s incredible double save to keep out, first, Cherry and then Peter Lorimer is what first comes to mind when mention is made of Sunderland’s famous win.
Cherry recalls: “I still watch replays of Peter’s follow-up shot and think it’s going in. It was an incredible save. Jim had pulled off a decent one from my header, which I caught really well.
“But, as the ball came to Pete, I just knew he was going to finish it. He was such a good goal-scorer.”
Montgomery’s dramatic save to deny Lorimer was why Stokoe, sporting a trilby and overcoat over red tracksuit bottoms, ran first to his goalkeeper at the final whistle.
Leeds fans who do catch a glimpse of Stokoe’s statue outside the south-east corner of the Stadium of Light on Sunday will be reminded of that moment and they may well hope that their own players, now second tier to Sunderland’s Premier League, can take inspiration and pull off a big upset.
“Things aren’t going too well for Leeds right now,” says Cherry. “The club badly needs a win so let’s hope the Cup can provide it.
“I am a big one for believing that wins breed confidence and that leads to more wins. And if ever a side needed a bit of help right now, it is Leeds.”