January 31, 2023



My favourite game: Sunderland v Chelsea, 1992 FA Cup replay | Jonathan Wilson | Football

3 min read

What stands out still is the silences. After every line of every chant, the silence was complete: everybody was joining in, nobody shuffling or muttering, 26,000 people united. We’d heard the stories, of course. We knew about the Roker Roar. We thought we’d heard it – but we hadn’t, not till then, not till the night Sunderland beat Chelsea to reach the 1992 FA Cup semi-final.

The sense that something extraordinary might be happening came with a 3-2 win at West Ham in a fifth-round replay. We were second division, hopeless. Denis Smith had been sacked at Christmas and his assistant Malcolm Crosby, who looked like Robin Williams playing the wacky manager of a toy shop in an oversized prosthetic nose, took over on a caretaker basis. Then we nicked a draw at Chelsea with a late John Byrne header. None of this made any sense. We clearly weren’t any good but somehow, in the Cup, fortune seemed with us.

Then suddenly we were good. On a blustery night, Sunderland had much the better of the first half and took the lead through Peter Davenport, tucking in the rebound after Dave Beasant had saved from Byrne. But in the second half, Sunderland’s legs went. Chelsea battered us. Tony Norman made save after save. Paul Bracewell twice cleared off the line. Tony Cascarino headed against the woodwork. Second by agonising second the clock ticked down. When a Dennis Wise header somehow deflected over the bar off Norman’s chest, that most treacherous of thoughts began to creep in: it’s our night.

Chelsea’s Andy Townsend gets in a shot.

Chelsea’s Andy Townsend gets in a shot. Photograph: Raoul Dixon/NNP

And then, with six minutes to go, Wise equalised. My thought then was that it would be best to get it done, lose before extra time, when, exhausted, we might easily lose by three or four – and we didn’t deserve that. But then Byrne swept a long diagonal into the box, David Rush slipped and Frank Sinclair conceded a needless corner.

Brian Atkinson slung it in. Gordon Armstrong, with his great shiny forehead, met it. I was at the other end of the ground, almost 150 yards away. The ball hung. For an eternity it hung. I could see Beasant dive but the perspective was wrong. It hung for ever, largely because it hadn’t been apparent that Armstrong was 15 yards out when he met the cross. Then the Roker End, given up that night entirely to Chelsea fans (my dad, annoyed at being kicked out of his usual spot, refused to go as a consequence), slumped in unison and we knew it was in.

Joyous Sunderland fans flood on to the Roker Park pitch following their team's 2-1 win over Chelsea in their 1992 FA Cup quarter-final replay.

Joyous Sunderland fans flood on to the Roker Park pitch. Photograph: BBC Sport

There was pandemonium. There were still three or four minutes to be played but nobody saw much of it. I remember John Kay nailing Vinnie Jones and giving away a free-kick in a dangerous position to make some hardman-on-hardman point.

Then it was over, and there was a pitch invasion which, looking at the video, featured a surprising amount of turquoise. A huge red-and-white striped banner was passed down from the back of the Fulwell End and out on to the pitch, to which somebody struck up a chant of “Malcolm Crosby’s red-and-white hankie”. And for the first time in my experience, there was a profound sense that we mattered, that the country would be watching us.

Sunderland went on to beat Norwich in the semi-final and so we got our day out against Liverpool at Wembley, by which time Crosby had been given the job full-time. Sunderland were barely in the game and lost 2-0. But the quarter-final replay lives on, my generation’s equivalent of the 3-1 fifth-round replay win over Manchester City in 1973, our night.

My favourite game

As I walked home – alone, thanks to my dad’s ludicrous cussedness – there were people celebrating: in pubs, in the streets, in their gardens. And they’d see your scarf and they’d ask if you’d been there and you could say you were, as if you’d had some part in it, and at the time it seemed the most important thing in the world.

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