Ha’way Back When: Sunderland’s tour de force – as the Second Division champions of 1976 take Down Under by storm

Sunderland's 1975-76 Second Division title winners. Back, from left: Roy Greenwood, Billy Hughes, Bob Moncur, Jimmy Montgomery, Trevor Swinburne, Dick Malone, Jackie Ashurst, Mel Holden; Middle: Jeff Clarke, Tommy Gibb, Mick Henderson, Dennis Longhorn, Ian Porterfield, Joe Bolton, Vic Halom; front: Bobby Kerr, Ray Train, Bobby Mitchell, Tony Towers, Tom Finney, Bryan "Pop" Robson.  see Saturday August 27 2011
Sunderland's 1975-76 Second Division title winners. Back, from left: Roy Greenwood, Billy Hughes, Bob Moncur, Jimmy Montgomery, Trevor Swinburne, Dick Malone, Jackie Ashurst, Mel Holden; Middle: Jeff Clarke, Tommy Gibb, Mick Henderson, Dennis Longhorn, Ian Porterfield, Joe Bolton, Vic Halom; front: Bobby Kerr, Ray Train, Bobby Mitchell, Tony Towers, Tom Finney, Bryan "Pop" Robson. see Saturday August 27 2011
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It’s impossible to imagine such a scenario nowadays, but Sunderland, fresh from winning the Second Division title, underwent a 10-match tour down under at the end of a long and demanding season in 1976.

The Rokermen headed off to Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia and Singapore and returned unbeaten, with seven wins and three draws on sun-baked pitches in sweltering conditions, scoring 33 goals and conceding nine.

Ha'way Back When in association with John Hogg Funeral Directors.

Ha'way Back When in association with John Hogg Funeral Directors.

Boss Bob Stokoe missed out on medical advice, after a bad reaction to a course of injections for cholera and smallpox, so coaches Ian MacFarlane and Martin Harvey took charge, insisting the tour was no holiday.

Keeper Jimmy Montgomery relished the tour ahead of departure, admitting: “It is the chance of a lifetime. I am particularly looking forward to seeing Tahiti.

“It is the sort of place you would only get the chance to see on a trip like this.”

The tour kicked off with two games in exotic Tahiti, taking on the national team in Papeete.

The hosts won the Pacific Games just a few months earlier, but a much more skilful Sunderland side proved too strong.

Pop Robson netted twice in the opening 5-1 success, with Billy Hughes opening the scoring, Gary Rowell, at 18 the youngest player in the squad, finishing off a Hughes cross and Ray Train bagging his first Sunderland goal from a free-kick.

Tahiti, though, hit back impressively in the rematch, storming two goals ahead inside half an hour and Sunderland relied on an 85th-minute Rowell strike to rescue a 2-2 draw.

Hughes earlier halved the deficit with a header.

Sunderland moved on to New Zealand, overcoming the Kiwis’ national team 3-0 in front of a 12,000 crowd in Auckland.

A large contingent of exiles roared on the Wearsiders, with tour skipper Bob Moncur the star of the show.

The defender headed home a corner for the 41st-minute opener, then Roy Greenwood took a Hughes pass in his stride before despatching a fine shot beyond the keeper.

Moncur headed home a third goal late on after Robson flicked on Hughes’s corner.

Sunderland headed on to Australia, touching down in Brisbane for a 6-0 drubbing of Queensland – on a day of sadness as former chairman Syd Collings died at the age of 72.

Chairman Keith Collings flew home from the tour following his father’s death.

On the field, there was tragedy too as referee Jack Williams collapsed and died of a heart attack, shortly after the final whistle of what he had previously announced would be his final match.

Rowell and Greenwood both scored twice as Sunderland raced 4-0 up by half-time, with Bobby Kerr and Dennis Longhorn (penalty) adding to the tally.

The Australian national side pushed Sunderland all the way before being pipped 4-3 in a thriller in Sydney.

The Rokermen trailed 1-0 and 3-2 but rallied, inspired by record signing Robson.

Robson slipped home Kerr’s pass for the equaliser at 1-1, then Rowell nodded Sunderland in front, finishing off after Hughes rattled the bar.

Australia, managed by ex-Sunderland defender Jimmy Shoulder, responded with Dave Harding’s second goal and a strike from Atti Abonyi, but Robson levelled from Dick Malone’s cross and Greenwood grabbed a dramatic winner after Robson nodded down another Malone centre.

Sunderland headed south to Tasmania next, and striker Mel Holden finally made an impact on tour, enjoying a day to remember by bagging all five goals in a 5-0 demolition of Tasmania in Hobart.

He notched a 30-minute first-half hat-trick, adding further goals in 52 and 82 minutes and also having an effort disallowed.

The islanders missed a penalty.

Back on the mainland, Sunderland had to fight hard in a gruelling battle in Melbourne to preserve their unbeaten record in a 0-0 draw against Australia’s national team, Robson and Greenwood both had efforts brilliantly saved, but the Aussies went closest when John Nyskohus headed against the bar.

Sunderland regained their touch in front of goal in Adelaide two days later, sinking South Australia 4-0.

Robson’s fierce drive opened the scoring, with Holden, Hughes, from Train’s cross, and Longhorn, following a Robson knockdown, completing the rout.

Sunderland signed off in Australia, edging a 2-1 success against Western Australia in Perth.

MacFarlane reckoned: “This was the best state team we have played.”

Holden broke the deadlock, picking up a clearance and outpacing a defender before slamming home a low shot.

Kerr surged past three defenders before brilliantly chipping keeper Witschge before McMillan beat Jimmy Montgomery to cut the deficit.

Starting for home, Sunderland stopped off in Singapore for the last game of the tour, and they needed a superb Robson double to rescue the unbeaten record.

The tour’s biggest crowd, 36,000, saw the Singapore national team go two up in 18 minutes with a double from Doliah Kassim.

But Robson headed home Hughes’s cross then fired in a ferocious 20-yarder to level matters two minutes from time, ensuring a positive end to the longest of seasons, one which had begun with a friendly success at Scottish club Hamilton on July 20, almost 11 months earlier.