Football and music seem to have a connection, both are able to inspire emotion in hardened men. The FA Cup Final song was a thing of tradition as was the World Cup song. Nessun Dorma still brings a lump to my throat when I hear it, not because of the song itself but because of the memory of Italia 90. Here I look back on five memorable games and put a soundtrack to them.
My first full season as a Sunderland fan was a relegation season. That should have been the point I realised what my football supporting life would be. It wasn’t, I still have hope. That season was a key season in my view. Investment of a significant amount would have seen us not only stay up but possibly challenge in a league which, compared to the current Premier League, was of a pretty poor standard. On the final day we travelled to Manchester City. Thousands of us. 15,000 is the best estimate although many had no tickets and were just going for the day. We had salvation in our hands and this would probably have been one of our greatest escapes. With four games left we were five points behind Luton, but a win on their plastic pitch and an unlucky televised match against Arsenal, where we drew 0-0 and Jimmy Greaves commented on live TV that him and Saint were sat on top of the clock stand “like a couple of dickheads” while Sunderland fans in the Main Stand Paddock swung their shirts around their heads in the rain. We went into the City game level on points and goal difference with Luton. Sunderland fought bravely against Man City but ultimately lost 3-2 while Luton won. We were relegated. It was the first time I had felt that sickening heart break.
“You lock yourself in your room
You keep the curtains closed to help seal in the gloom”
This was very difficult to take. My Man Utd and Liverpool supporting friends at school couldn’t wait to mock me. I don’t think I had felt sadness this deeply before. I’m slightly more accustomed to it now. In picking a song for this one it could only be a breakup song. A song for when you feel like your soul has been ripped from you. When everything is “difficult to watch. Hard not to care when it means so much.” Hard to Bear by The Futureheads.
The fog was thick in the North East on the morning of 17th November 1991. It would lift of course but not until later and when your kick-off has been brought forward to beat the pub opening hours that doesn’t really help. Not that pub opening hours meant all that much if you knew the right people. It was derby day. The biggest of all occasions. For me it was huge. It was my first derby match ever and followed on from me finding my first love of Sunderland AFC in a relegation season. Brought up with indoctrinated hatred of everything black and white this was my first chance to see the whites of their eyes. The fog merely added atmosphere. In musical terms I was still working my way through the Depeche Mode back catalogue but developing an interest in Ska. The bleakness of urban electric rock was being replaced by the combination of Caribbean rhythms speeded up and undertowed by inner city British lyrics. The Specials crept into my library and Bad Manners were getting the feet tapping. The match itself was pretty non-eventful. I stood in the Main Stand Paddocks in very close proximity to the fans who I had grown to know as evil. A scourge on football. The very people that epitomised everything that was wrong with both football and society on a wider scale. Superdav scored for us. Somebody scored for them. The crowd were the interesting part of the day for me; the crackle of danger going into the match with an atmospheric fog. A bit like a proper old Ska gig. My father had gone in with confidence. Their real danger man, Micky Quinn was injured and wouldn’t be able to taunt us with his typical wind ups; we had just been playing in the top-flight. It finished 1-1 and there was satisfaction in the monochrome section of Roker Park that day. At the final whistle Micky Quinn came on to the pitch and waved his crutches at the main stand in jubilation. The soundtrack to that match could only be one really, Lip up fatty by Bad Manners.
2-0 down at home to Grimsby is not a great space to be in. Especially with the club in absolute turmoil at the time. Staring the possibility of relegation in the face, protests and murmurs of discontent from the supporters. Even the bright news of signings had been darkened by the famous car crash before the season began. And now we were 2-0 down at home to Grimsby. Don Goodman managed to pull us back into the game and the cage in the Fulwell started to bounce a little. Then the ball comes out to our left back. “THUNDER na na na na na na na na”. Dicky Ord knocks the ball a couple of yards on front of him and breaks into a sprint on the halfway line. “THUNDER na na na na na na na na”. Ord takes a couple of strides about 35 yards from goal. “THUNDER na na na na na na na na”. His left leg swings and strikes and absolute rocket past the Grimsby keeper. “You’ve been Thunderstruck!” A fair few limbs went ballistic in the cage. We ended up on the floor in a heap of bodies my mate got chucked out and who needs Cantona became my favourite player song. Thunderstruck by AC/DC.
Anyone who has seen Football Factory will be familiar with the song Swastika Eyes. A pulsing, adrenaline filled aggro song. Perfect to soundtrack a film centred around a match between Millwall and Chelsea. The New Den is an intimidating place entry into it from South Bermondsey station is via a walkway with spiked railings to a large pen at the back of the away end. There’s even a reinforced Perspex tunnel leading into the station to protect fans from the platform above you. It’s full of suggested menace. All a bit daft really because despite golf balls bouncing around the empty bottom tier the biggest threat to my safety was from an overzealous policeman trying to slow the march of over 1,000 Sunderland fans to the station to get their trains. We lost the match 2-1 despite leading. One of the goals summing up exactly why no one likes Millwall and demonstrating perfectly that they don’t care. I don’t know whether Kevin Muscat had a whistle on him or can do a fine impression of a referee’s whistle, but it fooled Jody Craddock. Millwall ran through a static Sunderland defence and scored. We got back to London Bridge station to be greeted by a row of police and barking dogs. Despite me needing to get on a different tube line to everyone else I was forced to go to Kings Cross. A while later we played them at Old Trafford and as I parked my micra, a minibus full of skinheads with blue scarves pulled up to park as well. I got out cautiously. They rolled out. The biggest one walked up to me “I bet you facking shit yourself” before shaking my hand and saying he hoped I enjoyed the match. There’s something about reputation that affects the masses without always having a basis. Swastika Eyes: Primal Scream.
My father went to his last ever Sunderland game against Rochdale last season. He gave me the gift of Sunderland football club for which I have often cursed him. We have travelled the country and been through highs and lows with the club together. Rochdale at home. Days by Kirsty MacColl.