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…
Hull can’t be left out – it has been such an important part of the footballing education of my generation. The place was just like Blackpool – only two hours away, a crappy old ground, always a big travelling support, and a great night out. OK, I lied about the night out – apparently that’s now changed, and it is a good place for a night out - and (as the song went) it smells of fish, but there is always Northallerton or York for refreshment on the return journey. They might have a shiny new ground now, and you still get the chance for a nice stop-off in York or Beverley on the way down, but I’m sure there’s still a pervading piscine odour. So many things have happened on Hull trips over the years - Gary Rowell’s first league goal, courtesy of a slow, slow dive by Geoff Wealands in the “pussycats” goal, or 3,000 people with hangovers on New Year’s Day 1990, courtesy of an 11am start. There were stupid kick-off times then as well – can there have been any reason to start a New Year game at that ridiculous hour other than to catch “morning after” drink drivers? No, I don’t think there was, and as far as I know they didn’t catch anybody, so yah boo sucks to the Polis for that one.
Anyhow, back to November 3rd 1973, when we travelled on the “beer bus”. Come to think of it, all football buses probably all called themselves that back then, as they all had beer on board. Presumably the famous Wingate Branch kept all of their beer on one side of the bus, resulting in its famous permanent tilt. A combination of a mobile bar that opened at Scotch Corner and our relative drinking inexperience meant that one pint of Brew Ten in a rugby scrum of a boozer in Hull ensured that Boothferry Park was the first ground I ever saw in stereo. The 17,000 crowd was 10,000 up on their average, and most of those extra folks were supporting the boys in red and white. If the day had started well, with a few beers and an enjoyable chat with Laurel & Hardy, the two Polis who always seemed to be on away coach duty when we came to town, then it was downhill all the way to the final whistle. The team Sunderland announced would probably have cost us a fine had we been in danger of actually winning anything that season – yes, they did fine you if they thought you’d picked an under-strength team to save your regulars in those days before the squad became king. Bob Stokoe obviously had an eye on our game the following Wednesday – away to Sporting Lisbon. Having won the home leg the previous week, but at the cost of an away goal that would ultimately prevent certain European glory, the team of Monty, SuperDick, Bolton, Watson, Horswill, Young, Lathan, McGiven, Belfitt, Guthrie (in midfield, I ask you), and Bobby Mitchell (making his solitary first team start) didn’t exactly set our pulses racing for the right reason. At least we had Ray Ellison on the bench –‘nuff said! Hull didn’t enter into the spirit of things, including future Sunderland signings Roy Greenwood and John East Hawley (still an amateur), and duly stuffed us 2-0. Future Man Utd star Stuart Pearson opened the scoring just before the break, and John Hawley closed it in the dying minutes.
Hull had a novel early 70s method of keeping the opposing fans apart, consisting of a large piece of plywood across the corner of the ground. We occupied the whole of the side with the railway out the back, and various other secret spots, but there was, as ever, hell on where the two sets of fans were closest. The rules were that the home fans could abuse, taunt, and fling missiles at, visiting fans, but a scowl in the opposite direction meant immediate intervention by the law. Hull also had a typical early 70s fan, a fat lad with a Northern Soul jumper – you remember the type, black with a big yellow star on the front - and when their second goal went in, he went crackers. The lad obviously lived under the stairs six days a week, and was taken on a leader to the match on a Saturday. He was later to star as Mungo in the Mel Brooks classic Blazing Saddles, and warmed up for his role by pointing at us and screaming something unintelligible while he leapt around like a maniac. We responded in the time-honoured fashion, and were immediately pounced on by the waiting Polis, who informed us that any more pointing at Hull fans would result in summary execution. As there were only two minutes left when the goal went in, most of us weren’t that bothered about possible ejection anyway, as long as they didn’t really execute us.
As we trudged back to the bus, a dispute between the two sets of fans attracted the mounted police, who duly galloped straight over our feet. The response of some young Hull lads brought a similar response to that which had attracted the law inside the ground, and we found ourselves once again under the threat of arrest. We eventually hobbled back onto the bus and set off for Northallerton and a quiet night out. The over 20s headed for the WMC, and the younger set shot into the first quiet pub we could find. Recognising our accent and miserable faces, the landlady revealed that her husband was a Sunderland supporter. “Has he got back from Hull yet?” we enquired. “He couldn’t go,” she replied “he flew to Portugal this morning for the match.” What a hero! We left in awe, to find solace at the Young Farmers’ Disco in the Town Hall, where, to our delight, every young woman in the area had congregated, intent on finding a bloke. Unfortunately, they wanted a bloke with a big farm, and our city-slicker charm only worked on a few of the less fussy. I eventually found myself in the clutches of a particularly attractive daughter of the soil, and was just explaining the crop rotation method I favoured on my smallholding, when our shop doorway clinch was interrupted by her brother threatening to take a shotgun to me. He looked the part, with his sensible brogues, screw-on flat cap, checked waistcoat, and tweed jacket – straight out of the Fast Show. As I couldn’t produce the deeds to a farm, and was wearing a red and white football jumper, he deemed me unsuitable breeding-stock (the fact I wasn’t related to his sister probably had a bearing as well), and the suspicious shotgun-shaped bulge in his jacket was all the proof I needed that farming and his sister were not for me.
We had barely stumbled back onto the bus when most of North Yorkshire Constabulary boarded, and announced that we were all under arrest, courtesy of the disappearance of a sheepskin coat from the club. Searching the luggage racks, they found, among the sleeping bodies, the coat in question, which, we reckoned, must have been thrown in through an open roof-light by the thief when making his escape. Realising the impossibility of identifying and extracting the guilty party, the law sent us on our way. No sooner had they got off than one of the lads dropped his keks to reveal a pair of tights. “I don’t know how they got there” he protested, and I doubt if the original owner was likely to complain to the police that she’d allowed a Sunderland fan to remove her tights and then put them on himself. Whatever turns you on, I suppose. Safely back on the A19, we found a couple of crates of Maxim to speed up the last leg of our homeward journey – the perfect end to a perfectly normal day.
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.