With very little going on right now, we thought it would be nice for folk to look back on their time supporting the lads and name their favourite game, ground and player as well as remembering their first time watching the lads… Feel free to contribute yours to firstname.lastname@example.org FIRST MATCH
I was born just off Newcastle’s Westgate Road, “within the sound of Armstrong’s hooter”, the definition of a true Geordie evidently. My mother and all her family were Mags, but my dad, a season ticket holder at Roker Park, made sure I was brought up Sunderland through and through. I started going to Roker Park in the 59/60 season, when my dad finally agreed to buy me a season ticket to stand with him in the Clock Stand. However, the first match I went to was in the previous season at St James’ Park. Yes, the first match I saw was a Newcastle game. Not with my dad (he visited every ground in the old first and second divisions except one, St James’ Park which he refused to ever enter, yes, my dad was one of those). I went to the Newcastle game with my dad’s mate Bobby Hedley who took me and his own son, John. For years I wondered why we went to that game, but in 2008, when the fiftieth anniversary of the Munich air crash was commemorated, I realised why. All I remembered of the game was that the ground was so full I had to sit at the side of the pitch right behind a corner flag, and that stepping back to take a corner, Bobby Charlton kicked me, turned round and said “Sorry, kid” (which of course I lived off for years in the playground). The reason we were there along with most of the rest of the 60000 crowd was that this was the first visit of Man Utd to the North East since the Munich crash, so everyone wanted to turn out to honour the Busby babes.
My dad’s generosity didn’t extend to letting me accompany him to away games (I guess he had to be allowed to get away and have a pint or few every other week). However, one away game we did go to together was the FA Cup game at Old Trafford in 1964. The greatest excitement I have ever experienced outside of a bedroom was when Johnny Crossan danced across the edge of the penalty area beating three United defenders and put the ball in the top corner, putting us 3-1 up. OK, I know it finished 3-3 and we were well beat in the second replay, and that Crossan goal only exists in my mind’s eye because I have never seen (and don’t want to) a film of it. But to me it will always remain the greatest goal ever scored, ever, in the whole history of football.
I have had great individual player moments, such as getting kicked by Bobby Charlton (see above) or watching Jim Baxter in ’66 in the Waterloo Hotel (RIP) teach the Russian squad to drink rum and blackcurrant. But my favourite overall player has to be Johnny Crossan. Modern day commentators talk of the “number 10 role”. Well, Crossan wore 10 on his back, and was the archetypal inside forward: skilful, intricate, intelligent, and hard. Also, and this also might only exist in my mind’s eye (and if it does, I apologise Johnny), he used to come out of the tunnel with a cigarette in his mouth.
For a favourite ground I have to look at somewhere where I have only good memories, and, obviously I have experienced many fantastic moments at both Roker and the SoL. At Roker Park, being part of the Roker Roar, or watching Kevin Arnott controlling games from the centre circle, like a master squash player never moving from the T, or Cloughie laughing as he picked up the ball just inside the opposition half with only the Boro goalkeeper in front of him, or the shoes scattered across the Fulwell End terraces after the epic replay against Man Utd in 64, or the raucous journeys every other Saturday from the Brewers Arms in Durham to The Derby in my mates’ sit up and beg old Ford (and never forgetting the lads who used to sell raffle tickets in The Derby, going into the bar and shouting “it was won in the lounge” then going into the lounge and shouting “it was won in the bar”).
At the SoL the whole Peter Reid magical era, or an epic individual midfield battle when Gavin McCann upped his game to go toe to toe for 90 minutes with Patrick Vieira, or the spontaneous standing ovation given to Thierry Henry when he was substituted, leaving our pitch for the last time.
But at both grounds there have been too many heartbreaks for either ground to be considered my favourite. Cloughie’s career being ended by the Bury goalkeeper. Tommy Harmer’s knee ruining the promotion party atmosphere. The so bad you had to laugh experience of watching us score three own goals against Charlton. Following Sunderland means that most grounds you visit will provide painful memories.
The only ground I can think of where all my experiences were good is St James’ Park. Apart from getting an apology from Bobby Charlton, I was also there to see Gary Rowell’s hat trick, Blyth Spartan’s battle in the mud against Wrexham, not to mention seeing The Stones and Bob Dylan there. So, strangely, I guess St James’ Park is my favourite ground.