WILL Sunderland get promotion next season? Will new players be signed? Who will be Sunderland’s greatest rivals for promotion? These are just some of the vital questions which Echo sports writer Dave Bowman put to Sunderland manager Bob Stokoe in this exclusive interview.
Money will be found for new players – Stokoe
DAVE BOWMAN: When you took over at Roker Park did you ever imagine you could achieve so much success in such a short period?
BOB STOKOE: No. If anyone had suggested that we would do as well as we did, I would have thought he was crazy. Nothing has ever happened to me as drastically.
QUESTION: Which Cup-tie victory gave you most satisfaction?
ANSWER: I think the Manchester City game gave me most pleasure. It was such a good performance to go there and draw, then beat them at Roker – that was the start of the revolution.
QUESTION: How big a part did the supporters play in bringing the Cup to Wearside?
ANSWER: They played a tremendous part. I cannot emphasize how much their backing meant to us. They worked as hard for our success on the terraces as the players did on the field.
Required for Midfield
QUESTION: You have said that you hope to sign new players before the new season starts. What departments need strengthening most?
ANSWER: Having lost John Hughes and Brian Chambers from the first team squad, and with Bobby Park still out injured, we need someone for midfield to cover up front.
QUESTION: Do you have anyone in particular in mind?
ANSWER: A lot of names have been mentioned in the Press, but I prefer to wait until everything is settled before divulging players I want. Once somebody knows you’re after him, it doesn’t help.
QUESTION: If everything goes according to plan during the summer, how many new faces will there be next season?
ANSWER: It’s difficult to say. We might finish up with two, three or even four new men.
QUESTION: How much money is available for team-building?
ANSWER: I have no idea. We haven’t got any money. If we sign anyone, we go deeper in debt. Nevertheless, I have been assured of the board’s support – money will be found to strengthen the first team pool.
QUESTION: The Second Division is always a hard league to get out of, but next season looks like being particularly tough. Which team do you rate as the biggest dangers to Sunderland’s promotion chances?
ANSWER: I think Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and Fulham will figure in the promotion race. Then there’s Middlesbrough; they must be in with a chance too. It will be a hard competitive league; we have no right to believe that because we won the Cup that this entitles us to promotion.
QUESTION: During the Cup run Sunderland were almost always the underdogs. Does it bother you that the team is already firm favourites for promotion next season?
ANSWER: We haven’t made ourselves favourites, but it is a responsibility we will have to carry. This season should give us a good start. The support and the atmosphere will be a big help. I only hope we can keep it going; the relationship between the club and the fans is first class.
QUESTION: What is your reaction to the view that Sunderland’s participation in the European Cup-winners’ Cup next season will impair promotion chances?
ANSWER: It is a diversion, but we will have to take it in our stride. There is always a danger that in going for too many targets a team may end up with nothing. Look at Leeds; they were trying for so much, whereas Burnley, who were knocked out of the League Cup and FA Cup early on, plugged away steadily and ended up as Division Two champions. Something is bound to fall by the wayside. You have just got to do your best in every game and see what happens.
QUESTION: What single change in the game would you like to see?
ANSWER: I would like to see three up and down or even four up and down brought in. This is on the agenda for the League’s annual meeting next month so it could come about. It would mean another chance for Second Division clubs.
No chance to relax
QUESTION: It’s been an exciting and exhausting season for the team and for you in particular. How will you unwind and relax during the close season.
ANSWER: I will have no chance to relax for a while yet. There’s more to the manager’s job than just what happens on the field. There’s the problem of contracts, looking for new players, and many other things ... I haven’t even made any arrangements for a family holiday yet, though I hope to be able to fit in a couple of weeks in June. It will take me all summer to answer all the mail I’ve had. There have been well over 2,000 letters from all parts of the world. The Post Office must be pleased with us for this!
QUESTION: Finally have you any message for Sunderland fans for next season?
ANSWER: Just that I hope to do the best for the club that I possible can. I am delighted by what has been achieved already, but we have to gear ourselves to achieve promotion in the next couple of years. It won’t be for the lack of trying. We will give the fans everything we’ve got and hope that they will give us everything they can in the way of support in return.
Stories taken from the Football Echo on May 19, 1973.