48 years ago today, I was in my usual place in the Fulwell, where the majority of South West Durham’s fit young men gathered, listening as ever to the unofficial commentary from the big lad with the curly hair who stood amongst us. Naturally enough, we, who he referred to as his apprentices, dubbed him “The Commentator”, as he voiced his opinions ceaselessly until the final whistle and beyond, seemingly without drawing breath. Jimmy “Chico” Hamilton scored a debut winner from the bench that day, in a 4-3 win over Preston, becoming our youngest outfield player, and thus goalscorer, in the process. Sixteen years and 103 days, if you’re asking. Sadly, he only started nine games and came off the bench eight times in the next four years, scoring twice, before heading off to Plymouth, Bristol Rovers, Carlisle, Morton, and Australia. Kids, eh? Even more sadly, I heard the other day that The Commentator, better known as Peter Fearon, had passed away, and the source of comments such as “couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a handful of gravel” is no more. Another old-school Sunderland fan gone. RIP, Peter.
Bramall Lane has been the scene of a few happy memories, such as Michael Bridges ending Steve Bruce’s playing career by turning him inside out several times as we scored four, and the failed air guitar world record which they followed up by playing Hey Jude, thus giving rise to the Keano song. Of course, there have been less happy visits, but let’s forget Alex Sabella and the Mackems who thought it OK to punch me in the face because I had a red and white scarf. Let’s concentrate on a rearranged team repeating the heroics of Turf Moor in the last round and seeing Lynch and de Bock prove their worth.
…and they did. Another South Yorkshire happy memory. After checking in at a particularly cheap but surprisingly smart hotel and having decided that a chilly morning in Bishop warranted the Big Coat, we were in Sheffield market and sweating profusely by mid-afternoon. The Big Coat was left in the room, the Beer Engine was found, then we were into the ground. “I thought there’d be more Sunderland fans tonight” said a local. “We’re in disguise” said I.
As expected, there were changes.
McLaughlin Flanagan Lynch De Bock
Power McGeouch O’Nien Embleton
In our smart blue kit, we kicked away from the impressive and noisy 2,000 or so visitors, and the first incident of note was Lynch, presumably by way of acknowledging an old mate from QPR, put his boot straight through his former marra. “Mind, he’s a big bugger, that Lynch”, was the general consensus.
With Maguire chasing back and holding the ball up on one side, Embleton doing likewise on the other, and O’Nien buzzing around like an angry wasp in the middle, we aimed the ball at Wyke to try and force a knock-down. Not in any haphazard, hoof-it-up way, but cleverly through Power and McGeouch and the wide men, on the deck. Burge got down well to push away a low shot from the home side’s first attack, then had to be sharp off his line when Flanagan made a mess of a pass. A bit too much action in front of us, Lads, let’s get it down yon end….and we did. Maguire hit his corner deep, O’Nien got it back to Power, and Lee shifted his feet, leaving his marker on the wrong foot, and smashed a beaut into the top corner. Cracking goal from the King of Ping, according to our Ian, against the weird backdrop of a completely empty Kop end.
That seemed to knock the stuffing out of the Blades, and we piled forward, with Embleton bursting down the left and having a good effort well saved. We played like men possessed, perhaps something to do with the pressures of being a big fish in a small League One pond being absent, and the chance to show our teeth against a half-strength Prem side, and ended the half in the ascendency and well worth our lead after a single added minute. It was a happy half-time, as you’d expect.
Embleton, who’d been holding his hamstring (oo-err, missus) towards the end of the first half, was replaced by Hume in a clever piece of substituting. Denver sat in front of the much more defensively-minded De (de?) Bock, and made the most of having not to worry about the ball getting past him. Six minutes into the half his pass took out the home defence and found O’Nien, but Luke’s effort was into the netting the wrong side of the post. With us showing no fear, and Burge drawing roars of “Lee Burge” as he comfortably took every cross or shot that came his way, we almost doubled our advantage with 25 to go. Maguire, making the home defence work their socks off, clipped in a ball from the right, and O’Nien produced one of those overhead jobbies, but it shaved the side of the near post. So close.
The home side tried to bludgeon their way back into the game by bringing on Clarke and McBurnie, the latter looking like a Scottish forester who’d been robbed of his bagpipes and hoyed an ill-fitting football kit instead. All whiskers and saggy socks, he ran at our defence and bounced, thankfully, off Flan and Lynch, drew a save or two out of Burge, and found McGeouch in his way at a crucial moment. It got a bit frantic at the back for us, but we stood up, were counted, and found to be big enough and strong enough, although sub Clarke, with only Burge in his way, somehow missed the target. Burge would probably have saved it anyway, the way he was playing. Maguire was blowing like a marathon runner, which wasn’t a surprise considering the effort he’s put in and was replaced by our George as four or five (it began with an “f”) minutes were announced. George ran about like a demented thing, which is exactly what we needed as opposition legs wobbled, and we stemmed the home tide and got the ball up in front of the happy visiting fans.
The whistle blew, ma’s were informed that lades wouldn’t be home for tea, and backs were slapped all over the H.E.Barnes Lower Bramall Lane Stand. The players took a well-deserved ovation as they thanked the travellers for their support, and we drifted off into the night to our buses and cars, or in the case of a lucky few (self included) into the town for a celebratory bevvy. Mind, it was hot, so we needed some fluid intake.
Man of the Match? Great debut from Lynch, all muscles and no compromise, and de (De?) Bock was simply defensive, while McLaughlin played a similarly effective game while adding some forward thrust. Power’s goal was magnificent, and McGeouch ran, tackled, and held effectively. Embleton had a fine first half before injury buggered up his evening, and O’Nien was all energy and irritation. Burge stopped everything he had to, pleasing the fans, who are still getting used to the idea of one efficient keeper, never mind tow, a great deal. Wyke was Wyke, doing well to hold up the ball and play in Maguire and the rest, while Flanagan, as captain, generally did well in the air and on the ground. Hume played his part well, but for me it was Maguire, who very obviously had his head in the right place and did the right things at the right time. Oh, and a special mention for the ref, who ran an excellent show – firm, no inclination to flourish cards like a demented Strictly judge and let the game flow whenever he could. Well done, sir.
Bring on Oxford