Roker Reflections: Promotion target date now advanced

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SUNDERLAND’S eagerly awaited appearance in the FA Cup Final on May 5, their prospects of carrying off the trophy for a second time, and the heart-breaking hunt for tickets by those who feel entitled to be there... these are thee all-embracing topics of the moment on Wearside.

It is a mixture of elation and disappointment, with the blow to unlucky ticket-seekers softened a little by the fact that they can capture some of the atmosphere by following the game through full length “live” television coverage.

Despite the fact that there are League tasks to be undertaken before the big game comes along, the Cup atmosphere dominates within the club, too, with the administrative staff, between an unending steam of telephone inquiries, working round the clock on all factions of an enormous task.

But those whose task it is to keep the cup commitment in context in the major undertaking of putting Sunderland back in the big-time are not losing sight of the need to gather up resources, for the drive back to the First Division.

Five months ago Chairman Keith Collings and his board had ideas on how long it might take to order finances and playing strength to mount a promotion drive on an adequate scale. There was, at that time, some reserve about whether next season would not be too soon for such a project through it was not entirely discounted.

Events since then, however, have brought a quickening of the pulse and the conviction that this is the time to harness the returning goodwill and flow of financial support at the turnstiles and stake everything of mounting an all-out drive for promotion next season.

Manager Bob Stokoe, who said a week ago that he would be taking the opportunity to do a little scouting over the Easter weekend, knows exactly what he needs to step up the strength of his first team squad for an exhausting 42-game battle. And when he is ready to move he will find that the backing for a close season signing spree will be available, so that he can broaden the scope of the challenge for a place in the First Division.

Supporters have declared themselves behind the team in no uncertain fashion in recent week, with attendances rocketing to 281,931 for seven League and Cup games since February 27 for an average of 40,275. That is a tremendous surge in support and though no attempt is made to hide the fact that much of it springs from the exciting Cup run it is also true that waiting lists point to an enormous increase in the sale of season tickets for next season.

With so much going for them among the paying customers, who, after all, have the last word on which prosperity is indeed rushing back to Roker Park, this has to be the time for Sunderland’s planners to keep them happy with an evident attempt to bring the promotion target within reach oat the earliest possible moment.

The waves of enthusiasm are still building up. Nothing could be better designed to keep them going than by setting out the stall for next season. It has been proved that supporters will flock back when they are attracted. And the way things have gone in the last few months has created in the mind of a lot of people the feeling that next season cannot come round soon enough.

Meanwhile, there is still a minor target left for the club this season that is to crack home enough goals in their remaining games to qualify them for a place in the lucrative Watney Cup next season.

Although it would be easier to feel that only the FA Cup matters now, Mr Stokoe and his staff still know that every point and every goal is important. That was how they played in a niggling game against Burnley on Monday night, when they refused to hold back in a game in which risks had to be taken to stay competitive.

They can expect similar challenges in the next four games which will be played before the Final and, as Mr Stokoe can still say at this point, “The mood is good.”

Despite the fact that they have had to play through the same crowded programme as the senior side, Sunderland’s reserve and young strings have made excellent progress towards retaining the North Midlands League and Northern Intermediate League titles which they won last season.

Both are leading their leagues at the moment and, in addition, the Reserves are through to the semi-final of the League Cup, in which they meet Grimsby Town, and the young team are through to the final of their league cup, in which they have still to play the second leg against Middlesbrough.

So for all three teams it has been a season of great achievement, even though the destination of awards has still to be decided.

Story taken from the Football Echo on April 21 1973.