Sunderland Preview: Another Eight Goals?

Geoff Hurst’s on fire, the Sunderland defence was terrified.

Sunderland HurstWhen we set off for Upton Park on October 19 1968 I am not sure we knew what to expect that afternoon. When we were travelling from home to the game, on those Saturdays when we weren’t playing football for Barking Abbey School in the morning, we caught the British Rail train from Rainham to Barking, then met others for the two-stop trip on the District Line to Upton Park. Last season I made the same trip to a game, visiting memory lane (and Ferry Lane), and have to confess that not much has changed in the intervening forty-eight years. The overground trains now have automatic doors and are quieter, but Rainham Station, Barking Station, the District Line, Upton Park Station and Green Street all looked and smelt just the same as they did when we were young teenagers.

In mid-October 1968, fourteen games of the season had been played and we sat in sixth place in Division One. For younger readers that was the top division, equivalent to the Premier League today. The amazing thing about our league position was that we had not won a league game since August. In August itself we were on fire, although that was not an expression we used in the 1960s. There were seven league games in the first month of the season, and we won five of them, drew one, but lost heavily 4-1 to Everton on a warm Monday evening. In those seven games we had scored sixteen goals and conceded six, so apart from the Everton game we were scoring goals and defending well.

As September began, we had briefly topped the league, and we then thrashed Bolton 7-2 in the League Cup. What we didn’t know was that throughout the rest of September, and the first half of October we would play seven league games without winning a single one (although we did draw five of them), and also get dumped out of the League Cup by Coventry after a replay.

So we weren’t expecting anything particularly special that Saturday afternoon when Sunderland were the visitors, and as Autumn days were getting colder, less than 25,000 turned up, which was to be one of the lowest crowds of the season. As the half hour point of the match approached we still hadn’t seen anything special, although we were on top. Martin Peters crossed the ball and Geoff Hurst punched the ball into the net. From our position on the North Bank (at the other end of the ground) we thought he had handled the ball, but there were no protests from the visitors, the referee didn’t spot it, and we were 1-0 up.

Bobby Moore then smashed home a free kick to double the lead, Brooking crossed for Hurst to head home the third goal, and then a Harry Redknapp corner was turned in by Hurst shortly before half-time to make it 4-0. The hat-trick goal is shown in the photograph. Fifteen minutes before we hadn’t seen it coming, but here we were at half-time, a Hurst hat-trick, and 4-0 up.

We turned on the style in the second half. We were hoping that the first half goals would not be the end of the story, and that we would witness more of the same at our end of the ground. We were not disappointed. Two further goals from Hurst were followed by a netbuster from Brooking, before a Redknapp cross was finished by Hurst to make it 8-0, and a double hat-trick from the best centre-forward I have ever seen wearing a claret and blue shirt. I had never seen anybody score six goals in a game, and I am not sure that it has ever been done in the top division of English football since that day. Three years earlier I had witnessed Brian Dear scoring five goals in a game for us, but Geoff Hurst had gone one better.

We are meeting Sunderland this weekend almost 48 years to the day since that memorable game in 1968. We were both in the top half of the table when we met all those years ago, but this time the opposite is the case, and we both desperately need the points. If the game is still goalless as the half hour approaches don’t despair. There is still time for us to rattle in eight goals before the final whistle!