Obituaries on Bob Stokoe retold for the thousandth time the tale of Sunderland's remarkable victory over Leeds United in the 1973 FA Cup final barely six months after 10 straight defeats threatened them with relegation from the old Second Division. Chances are they set some readers to musing on the changes that 30 years have wrought in the game of football. Perhaps others read the stories and thought: "It couldn't happen now."
They would be right in that anyway. The uncomplicated influence Stokoe brought to bear on a club that was stumbling towards possible extinction when he was appointed manager late in 1972 brought about one of the game's enduring romances, and in these pressured times are probably beyond emulation.
Besides his devotion to football, another quality that stood out in personal memories of Stokoe when news of his death reached me this week was his unswerving honesty. It is linked to the great satisfaction he took from the 1973 success over and above a triumph against the odds and one of the then most powerful clubs in Europe.
When Stokoe was cutting his teeth in football management at Bury he fell out with Don Revie, who was beginning to shape an outstanding career at Leeds. Facing up to the bleak prospect of relegation, Revie offered Stokoe a sum of money to take things easy in a match at Gigg Lane. Revie was told what he could do with the bribe, and the two men never spoke again. "I'd heard of such things happening but I couldn't believe it was being put to me," Stokoe said one night in the long ago.
The incident was embedded so deep in Stokoe's mind that a number of years later, as manager of Blackpool, he was reluctant to agree a deal with Leeds for a talented Scottish international inside-forward Tony Green, who eventually joined Newcastle United. "I tried to get Liverpool interested," he told me. "When Bill Shankly asked me why I was set against the offer from Leeds I told him about the thing with Revie at Bury. Bill went silent. I don't think he ever again saw Revie in the same light."
I could only take Stokoe's word for this but matters moved on when allegations of bribery, mainly involving a match against Wolverhampton Wanderers, were levelled at Leeds in 1973, leading to a probe by the Daily Mirror whose hard-bitten investigative team sought my assistance on the basis of what they assumed to be a friendship with Revie. As an employee of the Sunday Mirror I was obliged to give the investigators some time but I chose not to pass on things I had been told. One of their questions concerned Stokoe's feelings about Revie, another the 4-0 victory Leeds suspiciously gained at Sunderland a few days after failing to enlist his co-operation at Bury.
Revie successfully brought a legal action against the Mirror and none of the Leeds players of that time have ever given any credence to the notion that their manager was involved in match-fixing. Whether Stokoe helped to instigate suspicions about Revie has never been clear. At least, it isn't something to which he ever publicly admitted.
In many ways, the very best of ways, Stokoe was an old-fashioned football man who trod the line between toughness and sentimentality. A Newcastle player between 1947 and 1961, their centre-half in the 1955 FA Cup success against Manchester City (Revie was in direct opposition), he managed six different clubs, including Charlton Athletic, Blackpool, Rochdale and Carlisle United. At Charlton he missed a game due to the death of his dog. Along with poor results, it led to his dismissal immediately after a defeat at Crystal Palace. "The business with the dog was bound to work against you," I remember saying. "It's the way I am," he replied.
One of the most revealing things about Stokoe was his competitive nature. Essentially a private man who strove, and not always successfully, to keep his emotions in check, he hated losing. Contemporaries at Newcastle recalled occasional outbursts of volcanic temper. He is famous, of course for sprinting across the pitch at Wembley, a trilby on his head, raincoat flapping to embrace Sunderland's goalkeeper Jim Montgomery, whose sensational double-save had broken Leeds's spirit.
In becoming one of a handful to win the FA Cup as both a player and manager, in making a fairy tale come true, Stokoe had established himself in the lore of the game. It was fashioned out of those faded sentiments, honesty, loyalty and pride.Reuse content