Nigel Porterhouse. That was the name Sammy, an ageing workmate of my Dad’s, gave to our F.A. Cup Final match-winner and I also occasionally heard him called Goldenboot in a derisory manner when a pass of his went astray but in September 2007 Ian Porterfield was very much in the thoughts of Sunderland fans all over the world because of his sad and early death at the age of sixty-one. I was unable to go to the home game against Reading which was attended by some of his team-mates from 1973 as well as his wife Glenda and his daughter, but I joined in the applause for Ian as I listened to it via the internet. I enjoy the rituals of football and they help to bind us together as a tribe even though we may as individuals have little in common with each other. Probably like many I was surprised to learn that Ian had been based in Bagshot, Surrey and as I lived in London and had a week off work, I thought I’d attend his funeral service there.
I don’t know why I wanted to go really but the ’73 Final had meant a great deal to me, partly because that cup run had taken place during my first year in London as a young guy, and the tremendous pride and inspiration it bestowed on all of us helped me through a difficult time. I felt that I’d missed something by not attending Bob Stokoe’s service in 2004. I was also sure that I wouldn’t be the only Sunderland fan present who had no association with Ian’s family and the prospect of sharing a beer or two with a few fellow fans appealed to me. Every death also brings home to us the fears we have about our own mortality and the desire to swarm with fellow travellers is a basic source of comfort at such times.
I left home in Ladbroke Grove at midday and after getting a couple of tubes to Richmond and then a couple of trains I arrived in Bagshot around 1.45. I’d been looking around for fellow Sunderland fans but none were visible, though on the leafy walk from the station round to London Road the well-dressed guy in front of me holding a rolled-up brolly reminded me of Ian Todd, president of the London Branch of the SAFC Supporters Association but I hadn't seen him for years and wasn't sure. We were the only two in the street and I was close behind him; so close that I think I was giving him a bit of the heebie-jeebies. If I had mugged him, a description of a grey-haired guy wearing a SUNDERLAND WEMBLEY 1973 rosette would surely have brought about my speedy arrest.
I’d managed to get there earlier than expected and I knew the service wasn’t due to begin till 2.30 so of course a quick tipple was in order. I could see the steeple of St Anne’s Church over the road on my right and I crossed and went in a Harvester Pub; any port in a storm. A swift Strongbow later I was feeling ready to roll so I headed out and turned immediately right into Church Road. It was a very pleasant leafy road and was comprised of semi-detached, terrace-style brick houses and as I walked along a couple of young women all dressed in black and obviously heading for the same place as me got out of a car and smiled when they spotted my rosette. I could see some cameramen waiting outside the church as I got nearer as well as a guy about the same age as me, fifty-three, wearing a Sunderland shirt; we exchanged an “All right, mate” as I passed and sought a spot in the forecourt.
A bloke came over and asked if I’d come down from Sunderland and we chatted a little, he was from Derby but was affiliated to a Sunderland woman. Then the vicar came across to greet everyone. He was a jovial guy with maybe a Yorkshire accent and he said to me, “If any Chelsea fans turn up, don’t start any punch-ups… but I suppose they’ve got other things to think about today.” Chelsea F.C and Jose Mourinho had parted company earlier in the day.
I’d spotted Niall Quinn as soon as I arrived and as I got my bearings and studied those around him, various faces emerged from the past. Older readers will know exactly what I mean but for you younger folks there will come a time when you ring the doorbell of someone you haven’t seen for a long time and when they answer it, they won’t know who the bloody hell you are. Anyway, from the 1973 team I identified Bobby Kerr, Dennis Tueart, Dick Malone, Vic Halom, Davie Young and maybe Mick Horswill. There were a lot of other ageing-footballer type faces around but I didn’t know who they were. A piper paraded up and down outside the church and I loved that, though you could see it must be quite an effort to play that instrument. I noticed two dark-skinned guys next to me speaking a language I couldn’t recognise and suspected that they were from Armenia, whose national side Ian had managed immediately before his death.
Just before half-two the cortege arrived and I followed the bulk of those outside into the church before the family entered; there must have been around a hundred and fifty people there. I took an order of service booklet, which was entitled A Celebration of the Life of Ian John Porterfield 11th February 1946-11th September 2007 and took a seat at the end of a row near the back on the right. It was one of those cloudy-showery days with sunny patches, but the interior of the church was bright. I hadn’t expected to get very emotionally involved but when the family entered and walked down the aisle as a recording of Josh Groban singing ‘You Raise Me Up’ played, a lot of them were tearful and this got me welling up a bit so that I had to dab my eyes with the one bit of bog-roll I had in my pocket. I’d wondered why Monty wasn’t there, but he turned out to be one of the pallbearers. I felt glad to have Monty there.
The Reverend Canon David Holt was conducting the service and he said he’d known Ian for a long time after he’d moved there in 1988 and had baptised two of his daughters as well as Ian himself. Apparently before Ian was allowed to take up his post as coach of the Saudi national team he had to produce a valid baptism certificate. He’d also employed one of Ian’s sons as church gardener for a year. He mentioned the triumphs and tragedies of Ian’s life but stressed that he was known throughout Bagshot for being a nice guy. At this a large man in front of me nodded vigorously.
The first hymn was ‘The Lord is My Shepherd’ and after that we had a number of tributes. This is an aspect of funerals that I like as it gives the chance for those close to the deceased to talk about what they meant to them which, to me, is much better than just a formula of hymns and prayers. First up was Tom Scott from Sunderland, who’d known Ian for forty-two years. He spoke of how Ian had been like a brother to him after the death of his own brother and how he’d always kept in touch throughout his many travels to far-flung corners of the world. As he approached the end of his delivery he started to get very emotional as he bade his friend goodbye, and who could blame him?
Next came a recording of Boyzone singing ‘No Matter What’, a song that Ian had often sung down the phone to his future wife Glenda. He was very fond of singing, it seemed. After that a former colleague from Rotherham, Sheffield, Aberdeen and Chelsea – Graham Brown – made a speech and he spoke of all the great times they’d had together both in football and socializing. He told us that his son was an undertaker and was taking care of business that day. He got very upset and had to stop a number of times, but he managed to make it to the end after reading a poem which I presume he’d written himself. After that Ian’s grandson Cameron read a short tribute to his granddad, which was marred a bit because the microphone wasn’t adjusted properly but it was touching and the little lad was remarkably composed. Then Ian’s beautiful daughter Rachel read a long poem about their dad that she and her sister Claire had composed.
Bette Midler sang ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ and then Niall gave his tribute. He was the only one who spoke unscripted but wow, how that man can speak. He placed the importance of what Ian had contributed to Sunderland A.F.C. in the context of the period from 1939 to 2007, some sixty-eight years. In 1939 we were known as the Bank of England Club and were the big spenders of the day enjoying the profits of local coal-mines and shipping companies, but the war changed everything and by the mid-Fifties we were on the slide. Ian’s single goalscoring act in 1973, exactly half-way through this period, was the highlight of almost three-quarters of a century in the history of our club. Niall recalled seeing that goal on the telly when he was six and found it an inspiration for his own career. I was very impressed.
The final tribute was from former colleague Dick Malone and he too spoke well, telling of Ian’s skill and modesty as well as the great team spirit he and the others had enjoyed in their glory days. He said that he’d visited Ian about five or six weeks ago and was surprised to see him ordering a four-course meal. He related that Ian had said to him, “I just had a guy offering me four sides of venison but I told him to get lost because it was too deer.” This brought a fair few tittles from the congregation but Dick said he hadn’t got the joke at the time. He also mentioned that Ian had liked the Beatles song ‘Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da’, which contains the words “Life goes on”, which were very pertinent to proceedings, and he also had to stop a few times to compose himself and even apologised for this. I felt like shouting, “Take your time, Dickie son!” but mercifully didn’t and I’m sure that nobody in that building thought he had anything to apologise for. Afterwards we had the Scottish hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ followed by several prayers, a reading from John 14 and the ‘Cup Final Hymn’ ‘Abide With Me’. There was a blessing and the coffin was carried out to the accompaniment of Elvis singing ‘My Way’. Elvis had to compete with the piper, who’d got a full head of steam up as the coffin emerged. Everyone was very polite and allowed the pews in front to empty before they exited. We’d been informed that there were bowls at the back of the church for those who wished to make a donation to Great Ormond Street Hospital and they were brimming with £20 notes.
Family and friends were heading off to a private service at a crematorium in Woking and I waited a while before ending up walking side by side with the hearse down Church Road with the undertaker and the piper in front. Rather niftily the piper came to a suitable pause as he approached his own car and then he got into it and the cortege moved off onto the main road at normal speed.
It had been mentioned during the service that Ian had been fond of a pub called The Fighting Cocks whose manager was also at the service. I’d spotted this pub as I’d emerged from the Harvester earlier, so I decided to have a bev in there. I’d only seen two other guys at the church sporting Sunderland colours but hoped to have some chat with whoever arrived. I was just about to order a pint of Addlestone’s, a beautiful cider in case you don’t know it, when Ian Todd came in and greeted me, confirming that it had indeed been him. I noticed he was wearing a very smart SAFC tie. He agreed with me that it had been a very moving occasion. We shot the breeze about football and had good crack with the barmaid Liz and the manager himself who soon arrived. He was rather like Terry Venables to look at and very pally. He said he supported whichever team was winning, mainly to wind his punters up. Ian Todd had to go after a couple of beers but I stayed a bit longer and was invited along to the wake, which apparently was taking place at a golf club a mile or so up the road. A taxi duly turned up and I was again invited to come along but I politely declined. I would have felt like an intruder really and there was also the feint possibility that I might have transformed into Ciderman and ended up with my arm round Niall saying, “Niall yer me best fuckin’ mate, yer fucker yer,” or something equally horrible.
When I got back to Bagshot Station, the sun was shining, pretty young women were returning home from work, wood-pigeons were flapping around and scrapping in a big tree opposite and the whole gamut of life was flowing on just as it will after you, me and everyone else we know has passed away. Ian Porterfield achieved some great things in his life and how many of us will be lucky enough to bring as much pleasure to so many people as he did? Thanks again, Ian.