SAFC v Man United, 1964; Roker Park’s 100,000 crowd?


Sunderland promotion players training at Roker Park, 1963/64 season

Crossan, Harvey, Ashurst, Sharkey, Irwin, Herd, Usher, Mulhall, Montgomery, Hurley, Elliott, Jones

Sunderland AFC 2 v 2 Manchester United 

Roker Park, Sunderland, FA Cup 6th Round, 4 March 1964

Sunderland must be wondering what they have to do to beat Manchester United in this 6th round marathon. United, having twice trailed by 2 goals in the first game forced another replay with a Charlton goal 2 minutes from the end of extra time. There was no doubt that Sunderland deserved to win as they went into the lead just before half time and then virtually gave United an equaliser, went into the lead again immediately after the start of extra time and held the advantage until the 188th minute. With the crowd at fever pitch it was a game packed with incident throughout but as at Old Trafford if possibly not to the same extent Sunderland were in commend. Their defence was magnificent with Irwin and Ashurst in tremendous form while up front all five forwards fought with courage and none more so that little George Herd and Usher.

There was an electric start for Usher near his own penalty area as he collected the ball and it travelled via Irwin, Herd and Crossan to Mulhall who met the centre first time, who sent it just wide. Ashurst then stormed up the left wing before transferring to Sharkey who flicked it on to Mulhall and when the wingers low shot came into the goalmouth Gaskell just collected. A minute later Manchester launched their first attack. A Charlton shot was blocked and from Best’s long pass Law shot wide. There was little in the match.

A corner to United was cleared by Harvey and from Sunderland’s first corner in the 15th minute Hurley met Usher’s kick to head over. Crossan was fouled by Best and Harvey slammed Irwin’s kick over the bar. There was a let off for United in the 22nd minute when Dunne under pressure from Usher passed back. The ball went straight to Sharkey who fired the ball across the goal but nobody had followed up. The visitors were lucky again 3 minutes later when Usher moved over to the left and put in a centre which Crossan headed across goal but wide of an upright. Usher was again in action, this time on the right but he was cleverly beaten by Charlton who then rounded Irwin but Montgomery made a great diving save to cut out the cross.

In the 43rd minute Sunderland went ahead. Elliott took a throw in level with the penalty area, Sharkey back headed and turned in time to collect a Foulkes header and sent a first time shot past Gaskell into the net.

There was no slacking of pace in the second half. Ashurst took a free kick to Hurley whose first time effort swerved wide. A Crossan interception sent Mulhall away and the winger put the ball through Brennan’s legs before crossing a low centre which was booted away for a corner. A melee in the United goalmouth saw a shot by Crossan blocked and though a linesman flagged apparently for hands the referee did not see the signal.

Sunderland should have been two up in the 54rth minute when Foulkes under pressure passed back to the unmarked Crossan. Attempting to make sure, instead of shooting, the inside left was crowded out before he could get a second chance. On the hour there was a let off for Sunderland. Hurley failed to intercept a through ball and Best raced away in to the centre forward position and passed the ball to Charlton but Irwin, racing back, managed to turn his goalward flick for a corner.  Two minutes later United got a gift goal. Montgomery landed a goal kick straight at the feet of Law 20 yards out, he dribbled forward and shot into the net as the keeper tried to regain his ground.

Though shaken Sunderland hit straight back and within a minute had a great chance but Sharkey shot straight at Gaskell. Sunderland mounted attack after attack and with 15 minutes to go it was anyone’s game. It looked as if the pace was telling on Sunderland as Charlton missed a glorious chance when he shot over after Best had got the better in a goalmouth scramble. As the minutes ticked away it became a battle of nerves and at 90 minutes the score remained at 1 v 1.

Sunderland regained the lead within seconds of the start of extra time. Harvey forced his way through the middle before passing to Sharkey who shot from the edge of the penalty area. In attempting to hook the ball clear Setters succeeded in it wide of Gaskell into the net.

The next 15 minutes were as thrilling as what had gone before with Sunderland twice going close to increasing their lead. Then 2 minutes after the second change over, 107 minutes, Law slashed at a pass from Best and with Montgomery beaten the ball came off the crossbar. All tiredness left Sunderland and they had to fight tooth and nail in the last 10 minutes. They tackled like Terriers never allowing Manchester to settle.

With the seconds ticking away Montgomery saved from Charlton with confidence but in the next attack the man from Ashington headed home a Herd centre.

Sunderland: Montgomery, Irwin, Ashurst, Harvey, Hurley, Elliott, Usher, Herd, Sharkey, Crossan, Mulhall

Manchester United: Gaskell, Brennan, Dunne, Crerand, Foulkes, Setters, Herd, Chisnall, Charlton, Law, Best

Referee: Crawford, Doncaster         (Official) Attendance: 46.727


Sunderland players and officials celebrate promotion in 1964


Post war and this is one of the most famous games in Sunderland AFC’s history. It was subsequently estimated that approximately 100,000 people were in and around the Roker Park Stadium on the night of the match trying to gain admission. It was featured on a subsequent film about the life and times of George Best. Although the official attendance was given above as just under 47,000 eye witness spectator accounts estimated that there could have been as many as 80,000 inside Roker Park at kick off time.

The following eye witness accounts including club officials, never before published, who were present that night, bear testimony to the chaos of the evening’s events.


J & T Parker Limited, St Oswald’s House, Commercial Road, Sunderland

Report On Damage To Roker Park Ground, Sunderland v Manchester United – Night Match 7.30

Wednesday 4 March 1964, Roker Stand

Iron brackets and barbed wire at top of boundary wall were pulled down and wire cut in several places.

One of the sliding iron framed gates was forced off the handing rail, breaking one of the gate pulleys and with what must have been tremendous pressure the gate was bent to the shape of a letter U.

The expanded metal sheeting fixed above boundary wall and concrete pillars of stand was cut in several places (presumably with wire cutters) and damaged beyond repair. This will have to be renewed entirely.

The wood gate at the corner of the Roker stand and Clock Stand was damaged but not forced open.


The wire guards protecting the glass were pulled off and glass broken. These have had to be renewed.

Fulwell End

All the iron brackets on top of the boundary wall were distorted and damaged and the barbed wire cut in several places.

These brackets have had to be taken down, repaired by a blacksmith and refixed and approximately 100 yards of barbed wire renewed.


Sunderland v Manchester United, FA Cup 6th Round Replay, Roker Park, Wednesday 4 March 1964, Kick Off 7.30pm

Observations On Reports Re Incidents In Roker Baths Road

When Mr Marshall was making the arrangements for the game, he asked if he should order 70 Police to be on duty, and I agreed. I also asked him to discuss this with Chief Inspector Heslop and to inform him that if he thought we should have more, then he was to make the necessary arrangements. Mr Marshall informed me that he had made this arrangement.

From 4.30pm to approximately 5.45pm on Wednesday 4 March I was attending a Meeting of Directors in the board Room and after the meeting I was engaged in other duties in the office.

At this time (5.45pm) the spectators were entering the ground in an orderly manner and I told Mr Marshall and Mr Connor that I did not want any incidents inside the ground and if for any reason they thought it necessary they had to close the gates and I would not complain if there were only 60,000 spectators in the ground. At the commencement of the game it is my opinion that there were approximately 58,000 in the ground. Shortly before the start of the game a number of children, perhaps 1,500, came over the railings on to the track round the playing pitch and at this time I did not see any Policemen on duty on the track otherwise it would not have happened and I could see no reason for it. Apart from this there were no incidents in the ground at all and there was certainly no overcrowding in any of the stands.

I have been informed by Mr Marshall that when the exit gate in Roker Baths Road was forced open the turnstiles were still open and spectators were being admitted. At 5.45pm the Police told the gatemen on turnstile number 6 to close and when he objected the gate was forcibly closed by a Police Sergeant. I can see no reason for this particular turnstile being closed, except perhaps that this is a children’s turnstile.

I have had a report that Mr Ralph Dawson of Cramlington Road, Hylton Castle Estate, Sunderland saw boys forcing open the exit gate in Roker Baths Road and I passed on this information to the Police. I understand the Police have signed statements from people who saw similar incidents.

In connection with Mr Marshall’s report, in addition to the 6 Checkers on duty, there were also 6 Exitmen on duty, a Security Officer and Mr Marshall, making a total of 14 on duty inside the ground.

George Crow, (Sunderland AFC) Secretary

Sunderland v Manchester United, FA Cup 6th Round Replay, Roker Park, Wednesday 4 March 1964, Kick Off 7.30pm

Report From E Marshall (SAFC Assistant Secretary)

At two  minutes to 5pm a Police Inspector came up to the office and asked what time the gates would be opened. I told him that the first ones would be open in two or three minutes. At 5pm I handed over to B Connor and stood by for approximately 20 minutes to ensure that all available staff were on duty. Checkers were detailed to take turnstile readings as in previous big games:

Roker End                   B Connor

Clock Stand                T Nichols

Fulwell End                T Chrsitie and A Holland

Fulwell Paddock        S Hetherington

Roker Paddock           J Hetherington

At approximately 6.45pm I was informed that an exit gate at the junction of the Roker End and Clock stand had been burst open and I immediately made my way to that point. I found that the gate had been closed and shored up and Police were standing by.

Whilst there I was told by an Exitman that another wooden gate in the Clock Stand was in danger of giving way. I examined this gate and was satisfied that it was shored up and that a Policeman and one of our stewards were watching it.

On returning via the Roker End shortly before 7pm I saw an onrush of people coming through where a big exit gate had been burst open (near turnstiles 1 to 5). Police were rushed to this point to stem the stampede and set up a temporary barrier. At this time I told all gatemen at the Roker End to stop further admission and shortly afterwards B Connor went round to close all other gates in the ground.

Report From BP Connor On Events Before The Manchester United Cup Tie On Wednesday 4 March

I arrived at the ground at 5pm prompt and at this time there were 35 Gatemen present. I immediately gave instructions to these Gatemen to report to the various gates around the ground and 10 of these direct to the Roker End. In my opinion the first gates were opened at 5.05pm and 35 gates would be opened by approximately 5.10pm. further Gatemen continued to arrive at the ground and by 5.15pm 48 gates were open. The Gatemen for the last 3 gates at the Roker End left the Counting House at 5.15pm and therefore I am confident that all gates at the Roker End were open by 5.20pm. Gatemen continued to arrive up to 5.25pm when the last 2 gates were opened but I would stress that these were ticket gates on the Grandstand side of the ground.

From 5.30pm onwards I and 5 other members of staff continued to check different turnstiles at various parts of the ground. Everything inside the ground was in order and the spectators were gaining admission at a steady rate and when I passed through the Roker End at 6.35pm all was in order.

At 6.45pm I was bust checking turnstiles numbered 51, 52 and 53 in the Roker Paddock and I heard a lot of shouts and disturbance at the Roker End. I immediately went to the Roker End and saw that the main exit gate had been burst open and the crowds were streaming into the ground and there was quite a lot of chaos. A few Policemen were endeavouring to stem the tide but with little success.

It was now approximately 6.50pm and I immediately instructed the 5 Gatemen at turnstiles numbered 1 to 5 to refuse further admission and this instruction was carried out. However in view of the pressure of the crowds it was not possible for the Gatemen to close their doors and dozens of spectators were climbing over the turnstiles.

I then went to the West of the Roker End where I found turnstiles 6, 7 and 8 already closed and I therefore gave instructions to the remaining Gatemen at turnstiles 9 to 13 to refuse further admission. This instruction was immediately carried out.

However the same situation arose here as at Turnstiles 1 to 5 and I could only see one Policeman at this corner of the ground. I then returned to the East of the Roker End where the Police had managed to form a barrier across the exit gate and were stemming the tide but not stopping it.

This situation continued until 7.05pm when the Police did manage to block the exit. I then asked a Police Inspector for 2 constables and with the help of these I managed to get the gates at all turnstiles closed by 7.15pm. By this time all the crowd that had come in through the exit gate had gone up the staircase and all gangways were clear. In my opinion we could have admitted a further 2,000 to 3,000 to the Roker End but as the crowds outside were not orderly and not in any queues I thought it unwise to re-open any turnstiles.

May I say that I found the limited number of Police to be most helpful and co-operative and I think they did everything possible within their powers but they were simply outnumbered.

BP Connor



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