About a decade ago we published a book called Ganterbury Tales, now that all this madness is going on we thought we’d publish some of its content online…
Turf Moor was a hole in the ground back in the 70s, and the natives were most certainly not of the friendly variety. On our visit on New Year’s Eve 1977, we travelled down in style, in Tubby’s new(ish) Escort. Our first New Year’s Eve drink was in Accrington, and if ever a town’s fortunes mirrored the fortunes of football team, this was it. The whole place looked like it had gone bust in the early sixties and not bothered to do anything about it – much like a lot of our country today, expect that the empty shops looked older. Even the Vauxhall Viva behind us at the traffic lights burst into flames, and we watched the driver frantically beating at the blazing engine with his jacket, instead of following our example and getting the hell away from it. The Rolls Royce (must have been a stranger), behind him, which as we all know carried a full fire-fighting kit, pulled alongside as if to render assistance, and then zoomed off down the street and left the Vauxhall Conflagration to burn itself out.
Our pint in the town was enlivened by Stubber’s usual success on the fruit machine– he managed to get all of the lights on it flashing frantically, but didn’t have a clue what to do next, as he, like the rest of us, didn’t speak Lancashire. As we stood in a small circle around this impressive, but baffling, 1970s equivalent of a laser disco, the barman leapt over the counter, and pressed another four buttons on the machine with a flourish. “There you go, lads” he proclaimed proudly, as he stood back, arms folded and with a beaming smile, to await the fruits of his labours. As we waited for the inevitable torrent of coins, the bandit flashed a slightly different sequence of lights, made some whirring noises, and plopped a solitary ten pence piece into the tray. The barman looked suitably impressed, and went back to work. Stubber collected his winnings, bought two bags of crisps between the three of us by way of celebration, and we left. It just about summed up Accrington in 1977 – think small and you won’t be disappointed.
On to Burnley, which is only a slightly upmarket version of Accrington – is that part of Lancashire permanently stuck in the 1950s? - and to the football. Having parked where we thought safest – down a dead-end back lane, so nobody could see the car – we secreted our colours and headed for Turf Moor. Once in the ground the New Year Spirit arrived early, in the form of a half bottle of Bell’s hitting me in the chest, still with a couple of shots left in it. The locals continued in this festive vein throughout the first half, spending most of the time throwing bottles and bricks over the fence at us. This fence ran down the middle of the side terraces, and the polis decided it was sufficient to keep the Burnley fans on the appropriate side, and duly positioned themselves between us and the fence. It kept the locals on the appropriate side right enough, but it didn’t stop them the from pulling the metal posts out of the fence and poking them at us, before launching them into the air above us, reminiscent of a scene from Zulu. Madness.
Jimmy Adamson had seemingly decided that the twelfth position we occupied after playing the Bs (Bristol Rovers, Blackpool, and Blackburn – were they just doing things alphabetically?) was as good as we’d get that season, and sent out a decidedly toothless side. I mean, Gary Rowell always had goals in him, but needed a bit more alongside him that Roy Greenwood whose strike-rate of an eventual nine goals in 61 games was hardly the stuff of legend. Our midfield of Docherty, back at his, and manager Jimmy Adamson’s, old club, Kerr, Rostron, and Arnott seemed well put together, and the defence looked solid enough. Siddall, Henderson, Bolton, Jackie Ashurst, and Jeff Clarke were never going to give much away, even if our fullbacks didn’t get quite as involved as they would at the famous Battle of Turf Moor the following campaign, when both were sent off in the first half, but we still won. Burnley, managed by Hetton’s Harry Potts – who’d been one of the first of a long line of north-easterners to head to Burnley to play football – had some forward threat. Steve Kindon might have been in his second spell at Turf Moor after a swashbuckling few years at Wolves, but had lost none of his aggression. Think Vic Halon with a bad attitude – no, that’s unfair. He just got stuck in, and with the bullets coming in from the wings, he was a constant threat. Providing those bullets were Terry Cochrane, who’d later join Boro and be on the receiving end of a Joe Bolton greeting at Ayresome Park a few years later, and Tony Morley, on his way to domestic and European glory with Villa. Those two gave Joe and Micky a hard time, but we held firm, and it looked like we might threaten more when Bob Lee replaced Greenwood just before the break. Peter Noble, once of Consett, was also a threat with his positive midfield play, but we kept him at bay.
We did, but to no avail, and ended up with another Lancashire draw, this time of the goalless variety, so we decided to leg it back to the car as fast as our little legs would carry us. It was New Year’s Eve, and we had to see in 1978 in style. Unfortunately, we had parked facing into a dead end back street, so that a hasty exit was extremely difficult. A quick exit would have been handy, as my distinctive headgear had been noted by the prowling Burnley boys. I thought that a nice big Homburg was just the fashion statement that the travelling Roker fans should consider at the time, and would look great at away games. A focal point, if you like. It was, the Burnley fans had spotted it in the away section, and they didn’t like. This was therefore its first and last outing - it was back to the tried and tested, multi-cultural, flat cap for me – as it was quickly removed and stuffed up my jacket. After a few body-swerves and doubling-back manoeuvres, we got into the car and reversed out of our hidey-hole – which had been a real bugger to re-locate – and away to safety.
We listened to Lynyrd Skynyrd all the way home (strange what you remember, isn’t it?), and flew along the A66 as I lay across the back seat belting out Freebird and displaying a masterly command of the air guitar. We arrived home in plenty of time for Tubby to park up in Shildon, get down to Bishop, and claim our seats in the Station to see in the New Year. We celebrated the strokes of midnight by cheering loudly as Stubber kindly ensured our anonymity at future away games by putting a match to my Homburg. I’m not sure the landlord was too impressed, but he’d no doubt seen dafter things happen on New Year’s Eve.
BOOK INFO: Starting out as a nostalgic look back at following Sunderland AFC far and wide over quiet pint, Ganterbury Tales is a ridiculously detailed recollection of the halcyon days when watching the Lads away from home was usually a step into the unknown. Authors Sobs and Pos bring together a daft story for almost every away game and ground and their experiences will re-ignite long lost memories for those hardy pilgrims who have braved planes, trains, automobiles and coaches to follow our famous club through thick and thin over the years.