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Stokoe, Sunderland and '73

Rating:

The FA Cup has thrown up plenty of shocks over the years. In the 1988 final, Wimbledon overcame the odds to beat the might of Liverpool; in 1992, lowly Wrexham - bottom of the football league at the time - beat reigning First Division champions Arsenal in the third round and, in this year's competition, League Two side Stevenage knocked out Newcastle United.

Upsets may have become increasingly rare in recent years as the gulf between those in the upper echelons of the Premier League and the rest widens, but the surprise results of years gone by have nonetheless contributed to the FA Cup's rich tapestry.

Of those results, there has surely been none more shocking than Sunderland's magnificent victory over Leeds United in the 1973 final, when Ian Porterfield's strike gave the Second Division outfit a truly unlikely 1-0 triumph against Don Revie's fearsome reigning FA Cup holders.

In Stokoe, Sunderland and '73, author Lance Hardy does a superb job of setting the scene from a social and footballing standpoint, meticulously detailing the history of the club and their charismatic manager Bob Stokoe, whose connections to Newcastle - he played for the Magpies for ten years - make up just one fascinating subplot.

As someone who loves the FA Cup, reading about the competition's revitalising effect on a club stuck in the Second Division doldrums sees my smile widen with each page that is turned - the book perfectly captures the magic of the cup and its ability to lift fans and players to new heights.

For a book that oozes such exceptional attention to detail, the overarching theme of the Sunderland fairytale is never lost and by the time you get to the actual day of the 1973 final, reliving the match itself is made more special because the reader has been privy to the highs and lows of the club for the previous half-century.

From Porterfield's goal to Jim Montgomery's memorable double save, Stokoe, Sunderland and '73 makes you feel as though you are experiencing the final for the first time - the first-person accounts from the players and fans adding the sort of delightful colour that distinguishes the story from those reports and books that only document the day from what unfolded on television.

For a Sunderland fan, this is quite simply a must-read - it is a book that paints a picture of vivid red and white, and finding an account of the most memorable day in the Wearsiders' history to match this will be a difficult task indeed. Even for the non-Sunderland fan, Stokoe, Sunderland and '73 represents a handbook of sorts for football in the 1960s and '70s, providing an absorbing insight into life behind the scenes, which takes in two decades of backstabbing and backslapping.

The Damned United may have captured the imagination of film and football lovers alike in recent memory but, while the story of Brian Clough's ill-fated Leeds United tenure fits into the mould of gritty Brit flick, the David-and-Goliath story of Stokoe, Sunderland and '73 would certainly be more at home alongside those Hollywood classics that make those who watch, as Hardy writes at the very start of his book, "dare to dream".

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