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…
As young apprentices in October ‘73, we took the Red Lion bus and watched in glee as the mobile bar opened at Barney. That’s Barnard Castle to you, now a part of a North East euphemism “ref, man woman man, how could you not see that? You need to go to Barnard Castle” and that’s where the bar opened when we were heading to the North West – it was Scotch Corner if we were heading south, as you’d expect. After terrifying the residents and shopkeepers of Kirkby Stephen (they really should have been used to us by then), we parked up in Preston. We entered our first – and only, as it turned out – pub with the usual teenager’s sense of wonder. Wonder if we’ll get served. Not this time. This time it was different, as my gaze fixed on the game of dominoes in progress in the corner. A sight completely new to my young eyes – nine spot doms. How could you hold enough to play a game? How could you remember more than 28 combinations of spots? We immediately decided that this strange Lancastrian phenomenon should be shared with the rest of the civilised world. Sensing a business opportunity not to be missed, Pos reckoned that, with the right marketing, he could revolutionise the world of dominoes back in County Durham. We agreed that there was so much more potential here than with those funny little dartboards with no doubles or trebles that they have in Oldham. Straight away, we formed a business plan – we could nick a set, and return to the North East victorious, bearing treasure from strange, faraway lands, like some latter-day Walter Raleigh.
A half of beer later, and with the future of British sport carefully secreted up Pos’s jumper, we left the pub. He decided to nip back to the bus and leave the booty there, for fear of in-ground piracy. We hadn’t got fifty yards when he was invited by the polis to accompany them to the station. Maybe the lump in his canary-yellow jumper (this was 1973, remember) had given the game away, or perhaps some vindictive representative of BBC Sport tipped them off. Either way, it was an easy collar for them – none of this “Yeah sure I did it and I tell ya I’m glad I did it” Jimmy Cagney routine. He went straight for the pathetic Frank Spencer approach, sang like a canary, and with the obligatory clout round the lug for being a daft kid, was sent on his way. The copper who lifted Pos even gave him a lift back to Deepdale, chatting about the merits of Dave Watson, and Pos eagerly agreeing with his every word. Mind you, he was that relieved to be going to the match that he would have agreed that Malcolm McDonald was a decent turn and not the cockney gobshite that he was (and still is).
So, with our aspirations of being the nine-spot domino impresarios of North East clubland cruelly thwarted by the long arm of the law, he thanked his new uniformed friend and his turned our attention to the match. Into the ground long before kick-off, he found the rest of us quite easily, as they were the group hysterical with laughter, pointing at me and shouting “jailbird”. As there was not much in the way of organized pre-match entertainment (no sign of the Dagenham girl pipers here), Shildon’s answer to Frank Zappa decided that the home end looked much more appealing than our end, and walked across the pitch to have a look. A brigade of young red and white foot-soldiers followed, but we decided to stay put, now that we had a recognised felon in our midst. This was no charge across the field, so typical of the era, but more of a leisurely stroll. Five minutes later, after a relatively bloodless coup, the moustachioed one decided that our end wasn’t so bad after all, and led his flock, clutching a few blue and white souvenirs, back to their very own version of the promised land.
As it turned out, Dave Watson was injured and didn’t play. Neither did Richie Pitt, whose career had ended in a heap in front of the Fulwell during the home defeat by Luton three weeks earlier. So it was Dave Young and Wacky Jacky Ashurst in central defence, with the rest of the cup-winning team, and John Lathan on the bench. Easy win, we thought. Wrong, said Preston, managed by Bobby Charlton, with the still vicious Nobby Stilespatrolling midfield, and a certain Jimmy McNab behind him. Jimmy McNab, man! He of the McNab, Hurley, and Harvey half-back line – playing against us! Even we kids knew who Jimmy was, and the players soon discovered that he was still a teak-tough defensive force to be reckoned with.
That was the season that every team saw us as the team to beat, simply because we were the FA Cup holders and therefore a big scalp. Perfectly understandable, I suppose, but of little consolation. We held out for the first half, but succumbed to the only goal of the game after the break when we conceded an early penalty that was put away by Neil Young, proving that he didn’t have the heart of gold he’d been mining for. The Lancastrian half of the near 22,000 crowd left happy with a 1-0, the red and white half grumbled their way back onto the buses. Preston were eventually deducted a point that season for fielding an ineligible player, and relegated three points short of safety, so even if Dave Carrick’s transfer from Witton Albion had been fully ratified before his debut from the bench in November ’73, they’d still have been knackered.
As was virtually compulsory back then, post-match Blackpool was next on our itinerary, but the place was absolute chaos. October, the lights were on, it was full of the usual Blackpool tourists, and fans from every fixture north of the M62 - including Scotland. So it was colours away, and the Bierkeller, the Foxhall, the Manchester, and the Pleasure Beach, in that order. We were ambushed by some Liverpool Scallies outside the shows, and I received a belt in the mouth from one of those walking sticks full of Blackpool rock. Others were less fortunate than I, and bear the scars of that attack by the Rose Garden to this day. As we sat licking our wounds and arming ourselves with pop bottles should our assailants return, an old dear offered us aspirin as if it would make broken teeth return and broken noses miraculously straighten themselves. Nice thought, though. Some Rangers fans had seen the end of the incident, and said they’d watch our backs for the rest of the night, which was a bit of a surprise, but a welcome one. We took refuge in the New Brunswick club, watching the “turns” in the deep end. Perhaps tame by Blackpool standards, but at least no-one tried to thump us in there.
Back to the bus, and we fought off (ineffectively) a very persistent pair of Liver Birds in “kiss me quick” hats, one smelling like an ashtray and the other of vodka and lime, as we waited for everyone to turn up. We eventually departed only one man down, which is not a bad score for a Blackpool trip. Somewhere out on the Pennines we stopped for a run-off, next to some roadworks, as the flashing orange lights provided a bit of visibility for the bladder-emptiers. Fresh turnips were plucked from the field for sustenance, and as the bus pulled way, several orange flashing lights appeared from beneath jackets. As this was years before “let’s all have a disco”, no blame can be retrospectively attached to Terry Butcher, which is a shame, as he has a lot to answer for. So it was a darkened coach, except for our mobile light show, that rattled over the moors, with “Ballroom Blitz” crackling from the speakers, drowning out the sound of our teeth crunching into freshly-picked snaggers.
At our first drop-off, in West Auckland, we found the missing passenger standing by the road, hitching a lift. He had no idea how he’d got there, or even that “there” was only three miles from home. A fitting end to an eventful day, and all we had to show for it was a fat lip, courtesy of too much Blackpool rock, and a 9-6 domino, courtesy of the secret pocket in my scarf. Perhaps the future of entertainment in the pubs and clubs of the North East was in for a change after all.
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.