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…
Rotherham is just an optimistic couple of hours down the road from Wearside and has generally been good to us results-wise. We only played them for the first time in 1958 when we had dropped a division a couple of years earlier and they had come up. At Millmoor, Kichenbrand with a hat-trick, and Revie scored as we made up for a goal-free first half and won 4-1. Perhaps the only game in which two players called Don have scored for us. They held us at Roker, and even did the double over us the following season, but for the next few seasons we won four and drew three of the eight games. After 1964, thanks to us getting promoted and relegated about a dozen times, and Rotherham just getting relegated, we had seventeen years apart. In the early eighties we beat them in the League and FA Cup, then we were back in the same division after we forgot to get promoted after a relegation and dropped to the third. They must have hated us, as not only did we win 4-1 at their place at the end of the season, but hit them for seven at our place in the Sherpa Vans Trophy, with Keith Berstschin getting two, and only a month later watched Gatesy scare all three without reply. After that, it was another ten years to the FA Cup tie in January 1998.
TallPaul had been desperate to give Rotherham a try for some reason, so we hopped on the Durham Bus and headed down the A1. Rather than heads into town, as we’d heard it was a bit scruffy, we decided just to walk up the road from the ground and try that. We duly wandered up to the junction, looked to our left and didn’t see anything that resembled a pub, and therefore turned right. There were several places that passed for pubs, but we picked what the landlord happily described as the roughest pub in town. Apparently it got smashed up on a regular basis, but that didn’t seem to bother mine host because, as he told us, the culprits simply came back and fixed it the next morning. Who were we to argue with logic like that? Happy that we’d not be murdered or kidnapped, we popped out ten pence in the pool table and set about enjoying ourselves. While the beer was strictly of “matchday only” quality, it was remarkably cheap, and thankfully there were none of the locals who made the place so rough in that day. In fact, I don’t remember a pub in the proximity of a football ground being so quiet on a matchday. Apart from ourselves, there were two miserable looking old lads at the bar, smoking Woodbines, seeing who could pull their flat cap the closest to their eyes, and not uttering a word for the whole of our stay. After our fourth game, a lad of about twelve wandered in carrying a pool cue in a case, and dropped his ten pence on the edge of the table. Ah, we thought, the local hustler trying to win some money for sweets. Cool as you like, he popped another ten pence in the machine on the wall that dispensed mints in a plastic container in the shape of a crocodile, and waited for the end of our game. “On you go son” said TallPaul, and the youth racked them up like a pro. He chalked his cue and proceeded to produce a display of such hopeless ineptitude that we wondered if he understood any of the rules, never mind how to hold a cue and strike a ball. After the first game, it became apparent that this was the best that he could do, and that he couldn’t hustle a smile from his grandma, so we tried to let him pot a few by leaving one of his colours over the pocket. All to no avail, and I suspect that if we’d waited until he won a game, not only would we have missed the football, but we’d have been to his wedding and been made godparents to his first two children as well.
Filled with cheap beer and dreams of Wembley, we hit Millmoor (though not very hard, otherwise it would have fallen down) and followed our ticket instructions to what I believe was called the Railway End. If you ever feel like criticising your home-town, take a look at Rotherham, which has had no money whatsoever spent on it since 1952. From the varied collection of scrap yards to the very disused cabin cruiser parked on the railway line next to the away end, it was an open-air museum of industrial decay. The walls bore signs which read “walk slowly and carefully” – presumably so that the “guard dogs on patrol” could catch you.
The alley down the side of the stand was barely wide enough for a car to pass through, and yet that was where the buses parked, meaning that the first one in was naturally the last one out. It was packed solid with Sunderland fans marvelling at the number of scrap yards on the left, and the rickety state of the stand to the right. The old lad on the turnstile had obviously never seen so many visitors in many a year, and he managed to keep my part of the ticket and give me the stub back. The lights hanging from the roof were like those you used to see in hospitals, just the one bulb on a long wire, in a wide conical shade, and only about half of them worked. The South Yorkshire annex of the Museum of Football Stadia through the ages, Millmoor followed the Watford theme with a selection of hotch-potch constructions randomly arranged around a piece grass, although it has to be said that was a nice piece of grass. They put seats in the Railway end a few years later, and fisticuffs almost ensued when I was accused of pushing my seat into the legs of the bloke behind me. He obviously hadn’t noticed that there was only a foot or so between the front of his seat and the back of mine – it was terraces with seats rather than part if the ground designed to accommodate seats.
They also got themselves a mascot, Dusty Dumpling, who must be the cheapest mascot in the professional game. Maybe his mam made the costume when she’d had a drink or two, but I hope they kept him on when they moved to the Don Valley Stadium on the other side of the M1 – Sheffield – and thence to the nice new New York stadium.
To say it was overcrowded was understating it a bit, as 11,5000 must have been about capacity, and those travellers lucky enough to have tickets at the end of the side (if that makes sense) had a good laugh as those of us in the end swayed about uncontrollably – if one of us moved, we all moved, bringing back FA Cup memories of a packed Fulwell End. Anyway, we were up for the Cup on the back of what had become a barnstorming season. We were massive favourites to win it (the game, not the Cup), as we were very much the Big Boys from up the road, and Rotherham were very much the Minnows on this occasion. We had our settled defence of Lionel, Holloway, Mickey Gray, Craddock, and Darren Williams. We had our settled midfield of Clark, Rae, Summerbee, and Johnson, and we had the forward line that was the envy of every team in the land, Premier League included – Quinn and Phillips.
For the first forty five minutes, it was a case of Rotherham playing like demons and us taking a lot of decent attacking play by them in our stride, but Phillips tucked away a penalty at the far end to settle our nerves. Our one goal lead at the break made us hope that the Millers would run out of steam in the second half. As the players were no doubt being sworn at by Reidy and Saxton, we attempted to go to the toilet, but you only went if everybody around you wanted to go as well. Let’s just say that the tide was well and truly in when we got there, and a lot of tiptoeing ensued. Ten minutes into the second half, and little Kev was there again, right in front of us, to raise our spirits. Ten minutes after that, Garner, who’d been the energetic heart of most of Rotherham’s football, scored on the break, and it was a nervous couple of minutes until we realised that they were knackered. SKP scored twice in five minutes, Mad Alex terrorised their midfield, and that Clark popped the ball out wide to Buzza and Magic. Quinny netted the fifth with five left, and TallPaul reckoned that we could have doubled our score if we’d really put our minds to it. 5-1 against anybody, especially away from home, and with your main man getting four, is a result that we were very happy with. As we celebrated, the home fans breathed a sigh of relief that it was all over, with a brave performance, but class telling in the end.
That was the good bit over, now it was time to try to get out. The WPC by the gate tried her best to keep the exiting throng moving to where she wanted them to go, but some needed to paddle again, and her partner whispered something in her ear which must have gone along the lines of “I’d just let them leave of their own accord if I were you. There’s nowhere they can go but into that alley.” So we sort of flowed out of Millmoor, swept left, and surged along the alley, past the scrap yards and back to the buses with many of the shorter members of the Red and White Army managing it without their feet touching the ground. Having got stuck at the wrong side of the alley, we were three buses past ours before we managed to work our way over to the other side and go against the flow to climb aboard.
Back on the bus for the first in, last out wait for the crowd to thin out enough for us to move without killing a few dozen, and a couple of uneventful hours later we were back home and planning the next phase of our FA Cup travels.
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.