About a decade ago we published a book called Ganterbury Tales, now it's out of print we thought we’d publish some of its content online…
I think of Bradford for two main reasons. Firstly, it is always really cramped even since the redevelopment that followed the awful events of 1985, and secondly, Bradford has been a happy hunting ground for me – I’ve been there many times, and we’ve won a good proportion of those games. Four times I’ve seen us score four goals there (with only one in return in those games, incidentally), and our Ian loves the place because of Julio’s ridiculous chipped goal and Chris Maguire laughing in the face of an opposition player he’d just put on his arse. Add to that the fact that it’s just down the road (in Sunderland terms) and Stubber lives there, so I get the chance to stay over and discuss the finer points of our victories in the company of some dead cheap Sam Smith’s beer. I remember my first victory being courtesy of a bit of magic from Kieron Brady, after Denis Smith had been quoted in the press that week as saying that Brady was extremely talented, but had to realise that he couldn’t expect to beat four men and score in the Football League. Kieron chose the Bradford game to beat at least seven men and score in front of the visiting fans. That was the start of a run of lovely wins.
However, despite the undoubted drama of the visit when Quinny elevated himself to the status of everlasting hero by scoring the only goal of the game, then replacing the injured Sorensen in goal and keeping a clean sheet to win us the game – what he was to do in the future should have come as no surprise to us after that - it is the previous visit which I remember most fondly. Stubber and I share the same birthday, and it happens to be September 5th, so an obvious birthday treat in 1997 would be an away victory on that date. Boy, did we get a present to remember! On a Friday night, for some reason, we had front row seats above Lionel, and kept the noise at top level rattling the advertisement hoardings for ninety minutes, as you do when you reach the landmark age of forty one. We’d struggled to get to those seats, as what passes for a concourse in that part of the Pulse FM at Valley Parade, or whatever they were calling it then, is suitable for no more than a dozen folks. To quote the steward’s reply over his walkie-talkie when asked how the queues for the toilets were looking “A chuffin’ entry and exit sign wouldn’t go amiss.” When the wind blew from the correct quarter, you could get wet from both the front and the back in the upstairs seats. All part of West Yorkshire’s rich tapestry.
Good old Lionel kept a clean sheet, which wasn’t that difficult when the opposition had about as much bite as Barbara Cartland with her teeth out. Makin, Scott, Ord, and Melville kept the hapless homesters at bay, while Lee Clark (boo hiss), Johnston, Bally, and Mickey Gray fed the bullets to Superkev and the Martin Smith. For all the undoubted magic in the boots of the front two, it was Micky Gray who set us on our way after only five minutes, and we had to wait until the half hour before Lee Clark doubled our lead. It was ridiculously comfortable, and there was barely time to draw breath before SKP got his inevitable goal. That breath had barely been drawn when Magic Johnston made it four, and the birthday celebrations were well and truly under way in the seats.
On the pitch, I’ve not seen an away game where players were as close to laughter as this. 4-0 flattered Bradford, to be honest, and they must have been dreading the second half. As it was, we understandably took our foot off the gas, and gave Bracewell and Mullin a few minutes exercise in place of Clark and the Son of Pele. Four was the final score, and that made the perfect excuse for a night out on the town, as long as that town was Yeadon. After the match, Pos took the kids home to Bishop (as he didn’t have a pass-out from she-who-must-be-obeyed), allowing Stubber and me to change our shirts and hit the Emmott Arms in Yeadon, near the airport, and handily just across the field from his house. If you’ve ever been on a night out around Bradford, you’ll know a couple of things: firstly, you don’t see too many Bradford supporters in the pubs away from the city centre, and secondly, Sunderland colours are not the most popular in the Leeds area. Apparently, their memories of 1973 are just as vivid as ours, but entirely opposite.
For the second of the above reasons, it is advisable to be subtle in your display of red and white in the pubs, despite the fact that there are a surprisingly large number of Sunderland regulars around Yeadon. At Stubber’s promotion party the day after Barnsley in 1999, for instance, there was a house full of them, and I was talking to a South Shields exile by the name of Bees whose scarf had been on Top Of The Pops in 1973. Apparently this was because the guitarist in the group Geordie was a Mackem, and had borrowed the scarf to show his true colours. A little bit of rock’n’roll trivia for you.
So, we ordered a double round of the famously cheap Sam’s, sat down amongst the Leeds fans to wistfully celebrate the passing of yet another year, and gleefully relived the exhilaration of the match. We had sensibly chosen to display our Wearside allegiance by means of understated shirts which subtly bore the club crest. No football shirts for us sensible sorts. We’d managed half an hour or so of quiet giggling, optimistically planning how to celebrate promotion the following May, and noisily whacking back the Sam’s when we became aware of a pair of eyes staring at us. The guy looked quite sane and sensible, in his late forties, but fit looking – in a PE teacher sort of way. He saw us glance up at him, and moved across, pint in hand. We braced ourselves to talk our way out of whatever was imminent, and he joined us at our table, “Excuse me lads, but I couldn’t help noticing your accents. Are you Sunderland supporters?” “Yes,” we replied “Oh good,” he said “I used to play for the youth team a while ago.” “A canny long while,” we thought, and entered into a lengthy and fascinating conversation about life as an apprentice at SAFC in the mid to late Sixties. This bloke turned out to have gone to school with Colin Suggett, and remained close friends with him to this day. Our new pal had joined Sunderland at the same time as Suggett and Todd, but had sustained what was, in those days, a career-ending leg injury. Modern surgical techniques would probably have ensured his football future, but he decided to go into teaching, and went to a Physical Education college near Bradford. He’d been nearby ever since. The people you meet, eh? We forgot to ask his name, so that we could look him up in the reference books, but we were on our birthday night out, and didn’t want to be too anorakish. (Real word? Who cares!)
It made our night, really – a 4-0 win away from home on our birthday, and meeting someone who had turned out in the red and white. We stayed at the Emmott as long as they kept serving us, then continued our celebrations at Stubber’s house in true Bradford fashion – “let’s all have a curry” we had sung at the match, so we ordered in a great big hot one with all the trimmings, and washed it down with lashings of Mr Boddington’s foamy canned stuff, talking football nonsense until it was way past our anniversary. Train home the next day, still grinning like an idiot, and leaving Stubber to sort out the empty cans as I shared my carriage with a load of rugby types who boarded at York in the middle of a stag weekend, and provided a most un-PC commentary of Lady/Princess Di’s funeral, which was taking place as they squirted more and more cans of Guinness down their necks. I’m nee royalist, mind, but a bit of respect would have been nice.