My First Game
16th September 1986
Full Members Cup
Sunderland A.F.C. 1-1 Barnsley F.C.
(AET, SAFC win 8-7 on penalties)
I was quite late to this football lark. My parents separated when I was young and as my Sunderland-supporting father headed off to the bright lights of the capital (Well, Neasden to be precise), I had no real interest in the beautiful game until I got to the end of my time at Primary School.
I had begun to attempt play football with the other kids who lived near me. The usual ‘jumpers for goalposts’, 20-a-side affairs with the inevitable call of ‘next goal’s the winner’ about half an hour after we’d all been called in for tea.
After one such game, some of the older SAFC supporting lads were discussing their next visit to Roker Park, and I asked if I could join them. Not a problem, the more the merrier. Only trouble being this was a night match, and as I was only 10 years old, I knew my mam would need some persuading that this was as great an idea as I had already convinced myself.
I remember going over and over this with her, the discussions with the parents of the older lads and eventually the news being delivered back to me that they could be trusted, and I would be ok to attend.
This night match in question, was a far from glamorous tie against Barnsley in the now extinct Full Members Cup, with less than 7,000 fans in attendance. Not that it mattered one bit.
We got the Bus from Jarrow to South Shields, then another to Sunderland. I remember walking up to the ground for the first time, seeing the huge floodlights peering over the corners of the stands, manically scanning every inch of my surroundings. “What’s this, which one is our turnstile, where do the best fans go, what will the team be, will we win...?” I no doubt annoyed the hell out of my match day chaperones.
We took our spot on the Fulwell End terrace, and I spent the whole of the match just staring around me. People-watching and listening to what other fans were saying.
For 90 mins I was laughing when others laughed, shouting when others shouted, and singing when others sung. I didn’t have a clue what the words were coming out of my mouth, but I didn’t want to stand out as a new boy.
I celebrated in the second half as Alan Kennedy put the Lads 1-0 in the lead, but was brought immediately back down to earth when Stuart Gray equalised for The Tykes within a minute. “Typical Sunderland” I heard for the first of many, many times in my life.
The match finished 1- 1. Extra Time
“What? But my Mam....”
The wrath of my mother would have to wait, as another half hour brought nothing of note, and my first ever game would be decided by (in the words of the great Barry Davies) “the lottery of a Penalty Competition.”
The shootout swayed one way, then the other - I remember Iain Hesford making a save, then my confusion as it was retaken and saved again - before we went home elated as George Burley scored to make it 8-7 to Lawrie McMenemy’s side.
My first game had it all, but any celebrations were put on hold due to my overwhelming thoughts of my furious parent awaiting my arrival back home.
I needn’t have worried, she’d been round to the houses of the other lads and had discovered that the match had went into Extra Time, and we should all still be together.
She wasn’t angry at all. Not like the time a few years later, when I bunked off school and headed off for a night match at Stamford Bridge.
But that one’s for another day.
Hesford, Burley, Kennedy, Armstrong, Saddington, Bennett, Lemon, Atkinson, Swindlehurst, Gray, Buchanan. Subs. Corner, Gates.