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…
It was at Leeds where my then wife-to-be, at her third and last, away game, asked why we were kept back so long after the final whistle. When the car-park began to rain down on us in brick-sized pieces, she said “Oh, I understand now”, and that just about sums up what a visit to Elland Road usually entailed. Since that early 80’s game, I enjoyed (maybe the wrong word) several freebies thanks to a mate working for a company who had season tickets, but had to forgo that dubious pleasure on one occasion to take the kids. You could get into the so-called family section on the cheap if you had kids, so Nige became my brother in law for the day, I made the necessary phone call, and four cheap seats were duly obtained. This family section contained three Sunderland families, and was right next to the nutters who normally occupy the seats nearest the away fans. These nutters were in a bad mood because the size of our support meant that they had to be shifted. “Security” (bouncers, as opposed to match day stewards) told us in no uncertain terms that they wouldn’t get involved if we got jumped, so we’d better shut up and hide our colours. Me and Nige complied, but my two kids wouldn’t, causing me 90 minutes of twitchy bottom. My other visits might have been courtesy of corporate hospitality and thus requiring the wearing of a suit and tie over the red and white shirt, but you get free drinks and sometimes meet the players.
My first such corporate visit blew my theory that people in the posh seats would be polite. There we were, in the best seats in the house, just behind locals who threatened violence on fellow supporters who refused to call their own coloured players “black bastards”. I’d been around football a long time even then, but that one did surprise me.
Anyway, back to one of the few bright spots to illuminate the lunatic reign of Mr Terence Butcher, as the Lads took a 2-1 first leg lead to Yorkshire in the “anybody, please sponsor me-Cup” in ’93. We arrived in plenty of time, a very smart car-load of three Mackems and two Leeds (well, that’s where the tickets came from). We signed into the Captains Bar, where we mixed with the local business community over a couple of Tetley’s, then Pos pointed out the odds offered against Big Bad Don getting the first goal. “6-1. I’ll have a piece of that”. Using my now legendary powers of persuasion (reference the same odds against Johhny Byrne at Oxford in the ’92 FA cup tie, when I’d persuaded Stubber that he would be wasting his money. I got that one wrong as well), I coaxed the cash back into his wallet. Financially reassured, he led the way to our seats, above the corner flag in the end opposite the rest of our fans.
Once seated, Pos swore solemnly that he would remain calm, quiet, and remain in his seat in the event of a Sunderland goal. We watched the Lads assume the standard 4-4-2 formation, with a square peg in every square hole but one. Chamberlain in goal, but Martin Gray at right back? Martin was a tenacious character who worked his socks off in midfield, but we had doubts about having him in the defence. His partner was Dickie Ord, yet to convert to centre half, and with Melville and Benno at the heart of that defence. Midfield was straightforward, with Bally to win his namesake and give it to Derek Ferguson, who’d either spray it wide to Owers or Armstrong, or thread it through to Goodman or Phil Gray. Simple, but, as it turned out, effective.
Bally got a bit over-enthusiastic and was booked after only ten minutes or so, then five minutes after that things went from good to brilliant. Right on cue, Owers curled in a free kick from directly below us, and the Don powered in a near-post header. I immediately turned to give Pos a manly, but restrained, hug, just in time to see his feet fly up through my outstretched arms, and have my ears assaulted by a one-man Roker Roar. On landing, he straightened his tie, and, as he turned to offer his thoughts on my skills as a tipster, we became aware of a phenomenon known as “Mackems in suits”. About two-thirds of our section of the ground were punching the air, hugging each other, and generally going ballistic - in a refined, business-man like way. You can see this at virtually every away game – just look in the boxes and posh seats when we score. We’ll get in where a draught couldn’t if there is a Sunderland game to be watched.
Now that we had established the loyalties of most of our neighbours, and that we were safely separated from the rest of the ground, we could happily repeat the celebrations when Phil Gray charged down a clearance from Mark Beeney in the home goal for 2-0. Leeds, with players like Dorigo, Strachan, Speed, McAllister (boo!) and Braine Deane, were not allowed to play as we harried them all over the field and were well worth our lead at the break. The Captains Bar at half time was a sea of grinning faces, trying their best to remain calm amongst their more serious Yorkshire colleagues.
Leeds pulled one back after an hour, but we held on for a famous win despite Gary Bennett leaving the field on a stretcher. He was replaced by Mickey Gray, meaning that we had three of that name on the field, and he took Dickie Ord’s place with Murton’s finest moving to the centre. We gave Lee Howey a five minute run-out just to terrify Leeds into submission, and whistled our way through the added couple of minutes to victory.
We decided on a couple of celebratory pints before leaving the ground, as this would give the traffic time to disperse, and us time to mock the Leeds fans in our party. As we eventually left the ground, the players were also on their way out, so we joined the throngs asking for autographs. As I was chatting to Benno, a bloke in a Leeds shirt leant towards him and asked, in deadly seriousness, “What happened to the black lad who got carried off?”. “Oh, I think he’s OK” replied Benno, with a smile.
One of our Leeds pals was getting panic attacks, as he’d never seen real footballers up close before, and like any 35 year-old, was going for as many autographs as possible, so he asked me to help him out. Always one to help out a true fan, I leaned through the crowd around David O’Leary, and eventually caught his eye. As I handed over the programme and pen, I said “ Thanks David – can you nip over and get Gary Bennett’s autograph, please?” He didn’t reply, but if ever a look said “pogue mahone”, that one did.
A couple more pints in the usual meeting-place, the Wellington on the outskirts of Leeds, with the Red and White army, who wolf-whistled our suits, was a perfect ending to a perfect evening, and left only one question to answer – why did Terry Butcher travel back in shorts? Suggested answer – he was barking mad, but you already knew that. It had been his finest hour and a half as Sunderland manager, so we’ll allow him that piece of sartorial aberration.
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.