Not long now until thousands of Sunderland supporters set off for Wembley.
Back in 1973, some fans were already on their way a week before the game. The ‘Great Trek’ as the Echo called it, began with Brian Lipton and his 11-year-old son Philip starting a 6,000 mile journey to London from British Columbia in Canada.
It’s just fantastic. To look at them, you would think Sunderland had already won the Cup. I don’t know what it will be like if they doJames Carling, British Rail manager watching fans leave Sunderland station for Wembley on Thursday, May 3, 1973
Meanwhile back home, John Hodgson, 86, was getting ready to watch his third Sunderland cup final. He’d seen them lose to Aston Villa 1-0 in 19193 and beat Preston North End 3-1 in 1937.
And over at Hepworths clothing factory, staff had painted it all red and white inside to get into the cup spirit. There were rosettes, photographs of the team, scarves and banners to add to the occasion.
There was a big sigh of relief late on Tuesday, May 1 when Sunderland played a 1-1 draw away to Orient but more importantly, none of the players were injured. It was all systems go for Wembley.
Shops announced they would be shutting early for the match. Hintons supermarket was closing at 1.45pm. Autosave at Grangetown was shutting for four hours from 2pm and then re-opening from 6pm to 10pm.
Grimshaw and Leather car dealers was closing all Saturday. And 31 branches of Gus Carters betting shops closed from 3pm to 6pm. They planned to re-open at 6.30pm to pay out to winning punters.
Football also stopped play at the Empire Theatre in Sunderland where the Saturday matinee show of Agatha Christie’s Fiddler’s Three was put back from 2.30pm to 5.45pm so the audience could watch the match.
Star of the show Peggy Mount told the Echo: “I’ve never known anything like this before.”
But when she heard the reason behind the delay, she added: “I hope Sunderland wins now.”
Local businesses were right behind the SAFC players as well.
Sunderland Car Sales, on the Barnes roundabout, offered £100 to any player who scored or saved a penalty against Leeds.
The youngest children in town were giving their support to The Lads. Tots at the Redby pre-school playgroup made rosettes for their mams and dads to wear.
If you still had time to get to the shops, you could get cup final T-shirts from Liverpool House for 75 pence, or leather footies from Binns for £3.75.
Details were revealed of a 3,000 metres race to be held at Wembley on cup final day. Dave Bedford, Ian Stewart, Emile Puttemans and Bronislaw Malinowski were all due to compete.
On Thursday, May 3, the Echo was filled with coverage of 25,000 Mackems beginning the journey to London. Fourteen special British Rail trains were expected to arrive in London King’s Cross station throughout the night.
At Sunderland station, British Rail area manager James Carling said: “It’s just fantastic. To look at them, you would think Sunderland had already won the Cup. I don’t know what it will be like if they do.”
Sixty United coaches set off from Sunderland and two chartered Viscount aeroplanes headed south as well.
Also on Thursday, BBC1 had a half hour documentary called Sunderland’s Pride and Passion.
News came through that hundreds of street parties were being planned for Saturday afternoon in Sunderland. Shops were doing a roaring trade in anything red and white, from carnations to dish cloths.
The Echo caught up with Bob Stokoe. He couldn’t remember an atmosphere like it ‘even when Newcastle won the cup’, he said.
By the Friday, Sunderland was heaving – with people doing their weekend shopping a day early.
By the Saturday, the capital was taken over by Wearsiders. One Londonder said they had not seen enthusiasm like it for years.
As the match kicked off, one Wearside resident back home – Ann Elliott – went into labour. Her baby was born as Ian Porterfield put Sunderland ahead. She called the child Ian.
Tomorrow; Fan’s memories of the journey to London.