Roker Reflections: Bob Stokoe happy to face this challenge

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THE task of carrying through the next stage of Sunderland’s recovery programme will be tackled by Mr Bob Stokoe, manager of Blackpool, to whom he has already brought success in the form of a challenging position in the promotion race and a place in the quarter-final of the Football League Cup.

After an amicable meeting on Thursday, the chairman and vice-chairman of both clubs agreed that Mr Stokoe would be released to take up his new appointment immediately after Blackpool have played their League replay against Wolves at Bloomfield Road on Tuesday night.

The outcome of the meeting is eminently satisfactory to the Sunderland board, who were anxious to find a top-class man at the earliest possible moment to fill the vacancy created by the departure of Mr Alan Brown.

Mr Stokoe’s well-known desire to apply his managerial talents in his native North-East means that he, too, is a happy partner in the arrangement, because it brings him back to the area where he played most of his football and where he has first-hand knowledge of club and crowd attitudes to the game.

Blackpool, understandably, are not so happy. The battle against relegation was virtually lost when they obtained his release from Carlisle United to take over as their manager two years ago, but the progress which they have made under his direction since then has been greatly appreciated.

Blackpool chairman Mr Frank Dickinson has made no attempt to conceal his disappointment, though it was an implied tribute to Mr Stokoe’s sense of responsibility when he concluded his official announcement of the decision by saying “It was Bob’s idea to stay with the players to see them through Tuesday’s cup replay before joining Sunderland.”

Sunderland would have wished to be giving Mr Stokoe a better starting point in terms of league position. There is the popular belief that on known ability they are out of place in the Second Division basement, but the fact remains that before this afternoon’s game against Bristol City they were only two points above a relegation spot .... and coming up next week is the formidable task of entertaining promotion pace-setters and favourites, Burnley.

A mid-season take-over is a tricky task for a manager at any time and the way Sunderland are situated at the moment must add to the problems.

Much has been said about Mr Stokoe’s attitude and dedication to the game and the type of side and tactical approach which are his ideals. His record of achievement, often from limited resources, speak for themselves during his tours of duty with Bury, Charlton Athletic, Rochdale, Carlisle United and, finally, Blackpool. The prospect that he will be able to add substantially to that record with Sunderland is pleasing indeed.

But no one has yet been able to coax from Mr Stokoe any comment on how he sees the task which will confront him when he takes up the challenge from Wednesday. He saw Sunderland at their best in a goal-less draw with Blackpool at Bloomfield Road in August and was generous enough to be complimentary about their performance.

I read him as a thoroughly professional administrator, ambitious to succeed and able to transmit that ambition to his players.

He comes to the club searching desperately for success, both on the field of play and in winning back the crowds which used to grace the Roker scene, Sunderland supporters everywhere will wish him well in his exacting task.

Story taken from the Football Echo on November 25 1972.