Steve Bruce's boys bidding to match heroes of '68

Sunderland haven't won at Old Trafford since day of decisive drama 43 years ago

As Old Trafford prepares the prawn sandwiches and champagne for Sir Alex Ferguson's 25th anniversary celebration this afternoon, Sunderland are getting ready for the role of afterthought guests. The Black Cats have been this way before.

Some people thought it was all over before they were even on the pitch at the Theatre of Dreams on the afternoon of 11 May, 1968. Kenneth Wolstenholme, for one. "Sunderland, playing in white shirts, realise today they're almost here to make up the numbers," the man behind the Match of the Day microphone said before the two teams emerged.

It was the final day of the 1967-68 season and D-day for the two Manchesters at the top of the First Division. City and United were level on 56 points. City had a better "goal average," as the determining factor was known in those days, but they were away to Newcastle United and under pressure to win. United, as Wolstenholme suggested, were expected to make light work of a Sunderland side that had spent most of the season fighting the threat of relegation.

"Never in League history can a season have moved towards such a breathtaking close, " Ken Jones wrote in that morning's Daily Mirror. "The championship will stay in Manchester. Only the name on the trophy may have to be changed."

United were the reigning champions. They were the kings-elect of Europe: 1-0 up from the home leg of their European Cup semi-final against Real Madrid with the trip to the Bernabeu to come. The previous week they had spanked Newcastle 6-0 at home, George Best scoring a hat-trick to celebrate his naming as Footballer of the Year.

"Georgie! Georgie!" the swaying hordes on the Stretford End chanted as the teams ran out. As it happened, Georgie was not the best man on the day. That turned out to be the boy of 19 highlighted by Wolstenholme before the kick off. "Colin Suggett," he said, as the camera focused on Sunderland's No 10, "a former schoolboy and youth international, an extraordinarily promising young gentleman."

Just how promising became clear after 14 minutes when Bruce Stuckey whipped a low right-wing cross into the six-yard box. Suggett flashed a first-time shot past Alex Stepney into the Stretford End goal.

"Suggett's goal bore the hallmark of Jimmy Greaves in his deadliest mood," Bob Cass wrote in the Newcastle Journal. "One unerring swoop on a cross from Stuckey and the ball was in the net in a flash, drowning the roars of 'We are the champions' into muffled silence."

Suggett was not finished. After 32 minutes he delivered a beautifully measured cross from the right for George Mulhall to head the party-poopers into a 2-0 lead.

Best pulled a goal back in first-half injury time but Sunderland held out for what remains their most recent victory at Old Trafford. City won 4-3 at Newcastle to claim what remains their most recent title success.

Suggett was given a 10 out of 10 for his efforts at Old Trafford in the merit marks in the Newcastle Journal. Now 62, he lives in Sunderland and works as a scout for Glasgow Rangers. "Forty-three years!" he exclaims. "Blinking heck. How can it be that long since Sunderland won there?"

For historical reference, it was the month in between the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. The BBC1 schedule that night included The Dick Van Dyke Show and the Man From U.N.C.L.E.

"It was the only time I think I ever won at Old Trafford," Suggett continues. "Usually United tore us apart. We used to kick off there and watch. And kick off again and watch. And kick off and watch.

"They were very good at the time: Bestie and Denis Law and Bobby Charlton and all the rest. But on that day they were very nervous. I think a little bit of fear was in them about the result. Everything was on the game – the championship – and they froze a bit.

"I think we were so relaxed we got at them – and, to be fair, we were the best team on the day. It all came right for us. We kept counter-attacking them. I had a little bit of pace, and so did George Mulhall and Bruce Stuckey. We turned them around a bit."

Suggett was a supremely talented inside forward with the natural speed of a former Durham county schools 220 yards champion. The first player to be sold by a North-east club for a six-figure fee, when he moved from Sunderland to West Bromwich Albion for £100,000 in 1969, his fleetness of foot famously got him into a glaringly offside position at Elland Road in April, 1971.

In doing so, he inadvertently caused another end of season title upset. The linesman raised his flag and the Leeds players stopped in their tracks but referee Ray Tinkler ruled that Suggett was not interfering with play. Jeff Astle proceeded to score a winner for West Bromwich, and Leeds lost the title to Arsenal by a point.

Suggett went on to play for Norwich and Newcastle before making his name unearthing and developing young talent. At Ipswich he discovered Darren Bent. "I got him out of a Sunday league team in Cambridge," Suggett recalls. "One of my scouts from Newmarket alerted me to him."

The striker was sold by Sunderland for £24m in January. He opened the scoring for Suggett's old club two years ago when, as in May 1968, the Black Cats led 2-1 at Old Trafford with 90 minutes on the clock. The trouble was there were four minutes of injury time to play. In the last of them Anton Ferdinand scored an own goal.

Thus, as well as a 25th anniversary party to poop, there are 43 years of hurt for Steve Bruce and his side to erase when they enter the Theatre of Broken Dreams today.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
film
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
News
peopleWarning - contains a lot of swearing
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project