Away, last match of the 80-81 season, at Anfield - just the place to go needing a win to stay up, as they had just won the league for the umpteenth time, and we had been rubbish for most of the season. Sound familiar?
A big enough problem in itself, but nothing to what faced me (or so I thought). The economic climate prevalent in Thatcher’s Britain meant that I was working in Peterhead (400 miles away from Liverpool) but I needed to be at that game. I couldn’t very well come home for the weekend only to disappear to Liverpool for the match – well, not without the best legal advice that money could buy, and I couldn’t afford. How was I to appease my then football –hating (i.e. born in Newcastle) wife, and still give the Lads my much-needed support?
“Daffodil” I ventured (always a safe bet) over the ‘phone “I’ll be home this weekend, and we’re going out for the day” “Oh lovely” she replied “where?”
We caught the 8 o’clock from Darlo, two among a horde of already well-fuelled Red and Whites. By York, our carriage was a chicken run for females going to and from the toilet, as they were cordially invited to display their charms for the lads. Her majesty was bursting for the relief of British Rail’s finest mobile rest rooms, but steadfastly refused to move from her seat and risk attracting any attention.
Two hours later she staggered, cross-eyed and knock-kneed, into the ladies’ at Liverpool Lime Street Station, the not-so-happy holder of the new world record for bladder control.
We travelled across to Anfield by service bus, with my wife loudly asking, to the amusement of the scousers filling all of the other seats, why I had stuffed my scarf up my shirt, as it was the same colour, but for the black bits, as those worn by the Liverpool fans. Into Anfield, and we took our places amongst the tightly packed Roker army, ready to roar on God’s children to another season in the top flight. Before the kick-off, former Bishop Auckland player Bob Paisley received the Manager Of The Year award, to rapturous applause from all around, not least the away end. We hoped that he would return the compliment by instructing his players to perform like a bunch of complete tossers, and ensure we got the couple of points necessary, after all, they didn’t need them.
Five to three, all ready for the biggest kick-off of the season, and the good lady decided that she needed the toilet again. A disgusted scowl spread across my face but sensing another world record attempt could seriously damage her health, I pointed at a light some twenty feet above us. “Look for that on your way back” I said “I’ll be standing straight under it”. She duly left for her ablutions, and returned safe, having missed only Howard “hamstring” Gayle rattling our crossbar and well just before Ferryhill’s finest, Stan Cummins, did the necessary on the half hour.
In the inevitable surge and crush that followed Stan’s match-winner, as usual when celebrating a goal from a standing start, the wire part of the lovely Linda’s bra was forced through her clothing, hooking itself on the jumper of the bloke in front. This resulted in the subsequent sway catapulting her down the terracing and temporarily out of sight, firmly attached to the back of a rather puzzled Mackem, who thought that his birthday and Christmas had come at once. By the time I’d completed her rescue and warned off the bloke with the hole in his jumper, it was nigh on half-time. Please, not another trip to the lavvy, pet.
It was nothing short of a miracle that we were still level when you looked at the teams, as they were bristling with internationals from ‘keeper to the subs bench. Well, apart from Money, Irwin, Russell, and Howie Gayle, but eight’s not bad and we had exactly none. Clemence, Neal, Hansen, Ray Kennedy, Lee, Rush, McDermott, Souness, scary stuff. Well, maybe not Sammy Lee, even if he did win more England caps than Raich Carter, but you get the picture. Barry Siddall saw plenty of action, but to be fair, those in front of him worked their socks off to keep the reds as far away from shooting positions as possible. With Hinnigan and Bolton at fullback, we had Elliott, Chisholm, and Rob Hindmarch across the middle. I suppose either Chis or Elliott may have been ostensibly a midfielder for the day, but their defensive qualities certainly didn’t go amiss at Anfield. Rowell, Mick Buckley, and Stan Cummins finished of the midfield, but with a front two of Alan Brown and Tom Ritchie, we could have been excused for expecting little. We didn’t, we expected more, we roared for more in typical last-game-of-the-season fashion, and we got more.
The rest of the game went exactly to plan, with the second half following the same pattern as the first, and we fought as if our very lives depended on it, which, in football, terms at least, they actually did. Perhaps Liverpool were already on the beach, as they say, celebrating their Championship, but we gave it a proper go as we tried our best option, which was to hit them on the break like little Stan had done.
We brought on Big Sam Allardyce for Chis to keep the Scousers at bay for the last few minutes, then the whistle went, and the Lads had once again saved themselves at the final hurdle. Bob Paisley allegedly sent a case of celebratory champagne into the Sunderland dressing room, how true that is I don’t know, but being from Hetton, he knew that our rightful place was in the top division. Anyway, for us the game was over, and we trooped joyfully out of Anfield, survival ensured, bra and contents intact, and Linda’s voice ringing in my ear as she vowed never to set foot in a football ground again.