Worshipping SAFC In Other Churches

I don't think it's a big secret that I like an awayday. I usually buzz more off being in the minority of fans watching us at a game, instead of the majority. Not always the case I know, as Accrington proved last season, but you get my drift.

So, when the fixtures are released on Thursday morning, those of us who enjoy worshipping Sunderland in other churches will have a keen eye out for a decent trip.

The teams who have made the step up into League One will likely catch the eye. Lincoln will appeal, as we've not played there in the league for nearly 50 years - but as I somehow ended up there the day after Kieron Brady took West Ham apart in one of the best games Roker saw in its later life (another long story I won't bother with), I won't get too excited about heading to Sincil Bank, even if it has changed a bit since Maidstone rolled them over.

Although it's dubious anyone looks forward to going to Milton Keynes, their new ground looks canny and our trip to the hockey stadium 15 years ago proved to be a fun jaunt as we beat the franchise formerly known as Wimbledon 2-1.

I will get misty-eyed at the prospect of a return to Bury, scene of our 1999 promotion, when I got home and sprayed a bottle of decent champagne my other half had been given for starring at work all around the living room, before hiding the evidence in the washing machine and going to bed. She wasn't impressed when she found the evidence the next day and as shit stone-cold sober ideas go, this wasn't far behind single-handedly helping the Mags get more than 10k for a game in the early 90s. More of that another day, I still get emotional about it.

One place only the brave will be looking forward to going is Tranmere. We've got a shocking record there, with eight defeats in nine games and another visit when we didn't lose but still got massively pissed off.

In 1993, before mobiles, we rocked up at Prenton Park to discover our second-tier game there was postponed because of a waterlogged pitch. To say it was a surprise was an understatement, the forecast was fine, there was no rain on the journey down and the Wirral was dry enough. Plenty of us who travelled made the connection that the reason the floods might have been up were because their talisman, John Aldridge, had supposedly picked up an injury on midweek international duty with the Republic of Ireland. Without him they were pretty ordinary. Skulduggery was suspected.

Without a game, most of our lot headed for nearby Everton to support Norwich and extend the friendship which started in the League Cup final eight years previously. Being a bit random, our carload fancied a new ground so picked Sealand Road and the delights of Chester v Hull. The hosts were three up in 10 minutes and the Hull end was a grim old place, although not for the four of us who gave not a single fuck about their plight. We were in trouble near the bottom at the time, so this one was a timely reminder that misery at football is not exclusive to Sunderland fans. More memorable than the game itself was Pete getting all excited when he ordered a 'Meat Pot' off the board at half-time, only to get the hump when the anticipated Betty Turpin special turned out to be an altogether less impressive meat and potato pie. Made us laugh anyway.

The rearranged trip to Tranmere ended in defeat, and we were humped 4-1 when we went back the following year, with a Don Goodman goal the only bright spot on what to this day remains one of my most dismal away trips. 1995 brought another loss there, as did 1996, when they ended our long-unbeaten record in the final match of the season. We took 10k plus that day and there was a party atmosphere in the sunshine though, helped by the Mags completing their title capitulation. Yes, we didn't half "love it", Kev.

Steve Simonsen kept us out as they beat us there in the FA Cup in 1998, although we finally got some long overdue joy there when we went back in the league a few months later. SuperKev and Summerbee did the honours early on for a packed away end. It got too much for one of their stewards, who had a sly dig at one of our lot and wished he hadn't when he realised hundreds of us had seen it. He spent the rest of the evening trying to be nice to old people and kids in our end, in a bid to keep his job and Wearside fists away from his mush after the game. I don't know if he succeeded, I bloody hope he didn't.

Normal service was resumed with a Boxing Day defeat 21 years ago and the last time we were there was early 2000 and another FA Cup defeat, when Tranmere defender Clint Hill was sent off near the end but gaffer Aldridge sneakily made a substitution which kept 11 of their players on the pitch for the closing stages. They should have been turfed out of the cup for it, considering how little leeway is given when an ineligible player features in the competition, but nope. The FA referred to the usual TTS law (tough titty Sunderland) and let the hosts stay in the competition. Shocking.

The glorious Half Man Half Biscuit, who firmly nailed their colours to Tranmere's mast years ago, are the main reason why I can't let any irrational hatred of Rovers to develop. But for a supposedly inoffensive club they've got under our skin enough times. We're definitely overdue a few breaks there and I'd like to be there to see them. Although I'm still struggling for enthusiasm after what we've all been put through, it's certainly a game I'm looking forward to, so bring on the fixtures and let’s do the job properly this time and win the league…