Football:City's master of coincidence

Simon Turnbull finds Dennis Tueart hoping history moves in a 25- year cycle
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IT WAS Len Shackleton who famously left blank the chapter in his autobiography devoted to "The average director's knowledge of football". Dennis Tueart laughed at the reminder, and at the irony. A Football League club director for six weeks now, he was one of Shackleton's successors in the No 11 shirt of Sunderland. It would take considerably more than a blank page to cover what the new man on the Manchester City board knows about football.

He won six caps for England. He was bought, by New York Cosmos, to replace the irreplaceable: Pele. He was a member of the Sunderland team who caused the greatest FA Cup final upset of all time, as Second Division slayers of the mighty Leeds in 1973. And it was Tueart, lest it ever be forgotten on Moss Side or elsewhere, who was directly responsible for depositing the last major exhibit in Maine Road's trophy cabinet. The bicycle kick he executed against his home-town club, Newcastle United, was the winning shot in the 1976 League Cup final.

"It's totally different to how it was in Len Shackleton's day," Tueart said. "It is normal now for ex-pros to be involved in the running of football clubs. At City there's myself and Francis Lee. And if you look to Europe there's Franz Beckenbauer and Uli Hoeness at Bayern Munich, Roberto Bettega at Juventus, Dino Zoff at Lazio and Michel Platini's on the organising committee for the World Cup. I think it's good for the game because you know football from both sides: the adventure and passion from the playing side and the financial aspect from being a director."

Tueart could not be better placed to appreciate both the kudos and the cash at stake when City meet West Ham in the fourth round of the FA Cup at Maine Road this afternoon. As a director and successful businessman - he runs a travel agency, a property company and a business promotions company - he knows the value of a cup run. And, of course, he knows all about the romance of the FA Cup.

This year, in fact, marks the 25th anniversary of Sunderland's fairytale success. A quarter of a century ago this very weekend Tueart scored the equaliser that earned Bob Stokoe's side a fourth-round replay at Reading. Tueart scored again at Elm Park and he and his colleagues proceeded to sweep aside all before them - Manchester City, Luton Town, Arsenal and Leeds United - as Sunderland completed the most unlikely success in the history of the FA Cup.

"No, I don't think there has been another cup win quite like it," Tueart said. "No one has come from where we did to win it. We were 19th in the Second Division when Bob Stokoe took over as manager in the November. I don't think we appreciated at the time just what we had done. I certainly didn't. It's funny. Micky Horswill came down when we played Sunderland and we got talking about the fifth- round tie we played at Maine Road and about the rest of the cup run. I think it made us realise the depth of what we achieved."

Tueart moved to City with Horswill 10 months after Sunderland's Wembley win and he has remained a true Mancunian blue ever since. "It's a fantastic club," he said. "I can still remember the date I signed: 11 March 1974, nearly 24 years ago. It's fabulous to be a director now. I've got my companies to run but I've always enjoyed being a busy animal. I love my football and there has always been a great passion about City."

That passion is likely to be evident on Moss Side this afternoon, though not since 1981 has such ardour been aroused with any justification. Twice in five days City could see the FA Cup glinting from the top of Wembley's 39 steps. But it was Steve Perryman, not Paul Power, who got to lift the old tin pot at the end of the replayed final with Spurs. "I played as a substitute in the second game," Tueart recalled. "I was warming up to come on when Ricky Villa scored that goal."

City's stock has been falling ever since, of course. They stand 21st in the First Division table, in danger of dropping into the third tier of English football for the first time in their 104-year history. It might be more of a coincidence than an omen but Maine Road's latest boardroom recruit has been in the same position before. And the odds against Sunderland lifting the cup 25 years ago were as great as they are against Manchester City doing so this season.

"What we did in 1973 was a fantastic achievement," Tueart said, "but I wouldn't say the same kind of thing won't happen again. You never say never." You never know; the Citizens of Manchester might still be dreaming of Never Never Land tonight.