I have long held a theory that Reading FC don’t particularly ‘belong’ in any division.
Despite spending most of my lifetime in the Championship, if we aren’t in the same league as them, I wouldn’t bat an eyelid if you told me they were in the Premier League, but equally I wouldn’t be shocked if you told me they were a League Two side.
Arsenal v Reading, Reading v Coventry, Reading v Oxford, Stockport v Reading and Reading v Wrexham all sound like plausible league fixtures and this, in my mind, makes them the most beige club going.
Therefore, it is somewhat difficult to remember significant or exciting games against this Saturday’s opponents.
For a game with sufficient narrative and excitement I have selected a game which took place, 50 years ago, when we welcomed the Berkshire side to Roker Park in the FA Cup Fourth Round.
This hardly sounds like a glamour tie and would probably be scarcely recalled on Wearside if it was not part of the ultimately victorious 1973 FA Cup campaign, but there are a number of factors that make this game significant in the history of Sunderland AFC.
Times were hard in the region, of course, we have long since been on the receiving end of economic hardship but 1973 was a particularly difficult year.
The excellent Lance Hardy book, Stokoe, Sunderland and ‘73 talks at length about unemployment levels, the struggles of industrial life in the north east and the fortunes of the football club seeming to match the grim economic reality of everyday life.
In November 1972, we sat fourth bottom of the old Second Division and were regularly attracting crowds of less than 15,000 at Roker Park.
Imagine, in the modern, social media age if the solution to this problem was to appoint a former Newcastle United FA Cup winning centre half, who had stood over the injured Brian Clough telling him to get up and insisting to the referee that the Sunderland striker was ‘codding.’
But this is what we did, and it proved to be something of a masterstroke, results steadily picked up and attendances soon pushed over the 20,000 mark.
In the cup, Sunderland had already made hard work of navigating a tie with Notts County, only a late Dave Watson equaliser had prevented an exit at the first hurdle before we comfortably won the replay 2-0 at Roker Park.
The Fourth Round tie against Reading was played out in front of over 33,000 and had the added significance of Sunderland’s ‘player of the century’ Charlie Hurley in the Reading dugout.
On his return Hurley said: “What a reception I got; it was, ‘Charlie-Charlie-Charlie-Charlie’ all around the ground, all of the people stood up. It was quite a strange day for me of course.”
Just 15 minutes in, the Fourth Division side took a shock lead when Chappell headed in a corner from Gordon Cummings.
Sunderland threw everything at the visitors in pursuit of an equaliser, but found the 5’7″ goalkeeper, Steve Death in inspired form.
Fortunately for us, his lack of height was called into play seven minutes before half-time when he fumbled a Bobby Kerr cross to the back post and Dennis Tueart was there to squeeze the ball home.
In the second half Sunderland failed to break down their gallant opponents and had to settle for a replay which they would go on to win 3-1.
Unlike 1973, there will be no prize of the FA Cup waiting for us at the end of the season, but with the golden anniversary of our most famous day approaching, we’ll be able to revel in the memories of a special time to be a Sunderland fan.