About a decade ago we published a book called Ganterbury Tales, now that all this madness is going on we thought we’d publish some of its content online…
I expect most of us could write a book about awaydays in Blackpool, mainly due to the nature of the town, the fact that you could call in before or after matches anywhere in the Lancashire area, and in football terms it’s not that far away. Does anyone else remember the Sunderland supporter who was discovered with a hacksaw in a back room beneath the tower, trying desperately to “cut the bugger down”? Or being asked by the management not to climb on the tables in the Tower Ballroom, only to spot, minutes later, a member of their bus party sitting astride the moose’s head on the wall, leading the singing? Or losing two from the bus and then finding them hitching the last few miles from West Auckland with no idea how they’d got there? There was also the time we were too young for the pub and got a bit of a pasting on the seafront when ambushed by some locals, but we’ll leave that one.
We had a good laugh at Tommer when he jumped onto what he thought was a pile of straw at the bottom of the steps onto the beach. It turned out to be debris on top of a four foot deep puddle, and Tommer had to change into his 1970s disco gear, that we’d taken for a night on the razz, to go to the match. The rest of us changed in a pub toilet after the match and boogied the night away in that nightclub next to the ground with loads of other Mackems. On the field (well, almost) we’d seen the peanut man dancing like a maniac behind the goal as he successfully put off Billy Hughes as he took a penalty to ensure a 3-2 home victory. One of our more eventful trips came in May 1976, when we assembled a small convoy of cars at Rushyford, and so the cream of the youth of Bishop, Shildon, and Aycliffe, dressed in the agreed uniform of the day (granddad shirts, waistcoats, and flat caps) set off in high spirits.
We arrived ridiculously early, and as the pubs were not yet open in those pre-Wetherspoon days, began the day with a plodge and a game of footy on the beach in glorious sunshine. We impressed locals and visitors alike with our silky skills, but I’ll bet that none of them would have thought that, a mere six years later, one of our number would be playing in the World Cup Finals. OK, it might only have been for New Zealand, and they might have lost all three games and let in twelve goals in the process, scoring twice – against Scotland – but in was the World Cup Finals. Anyhow, knackered from our exhibition match, we toured the Pleasure Beach and the Funhouse until eleven bells sounded, and the bars were open. We decided to take in some of the local culture, and duly entered a club owned by boxer Brian London. We were told by the management that they wouldn’t tolerate any “bovver”, to which we readily agreed, and we tossed the football behind the bar for them to look after. At 50p for a pint of Double Diamond, it was the least they could do.
The star performer was a professional pie-eater masquerading as an exotic dancer, working a dance-floor the size of a small dining table, surrounded by a dozen slavvering teenagers. It was testament to her skills as a performer that she was heckling the crowd, mostly with gestures involving the waving of a curved little finger in the direction of anyone who made reference to her physical attributes, accompanied by an offer to take the gobby ones outside to see if they knew what to do with it.
Our thirst for culture satisfied, we headed back into the sunlight, and, searching for fellow supporters, eventually spotted a group of fifty or so youths chanting what we thought was “Wearsiders, Wearsiders” at the other side of the promenade near the North Pier. Naturally we ran to join forces, waving our scarves from our belts and wrists as we went. Only when we were amongst them did we hear clearly what they were chanting. “Seasiders, Seasiders.” Oh bugger, why does tangerine look so much like red from a distance? Perhaps watching exotic dancers really does make you both blind and deaf. We did a swift about turn, and eventually managed to shake them off with a second, unscheduled, visit to the Pleasure Beach.
The football was a bit of a let-down to say the least, although we were heading for certain promotion anyway, with this being the penultimate game. Trevor Swinburne was in for Monty, and Micky Henderson for Tricky Dicky Malone – and young Mick didn’t disappoint, trying to out-Joe left back Joe Bolton, by in lifting as many opponents as possible. Moncur and Jacky Ashurst completed the defence which kept the home side out on all but the one vital occasion, while Towers, Ray Train, Gary Rowell – making his fourth appearance and third start - and Billy Hughes made up a midfield that possessed enough attacking power to win the game, but didn’t.
Micky Walsh’s early strike wasn’t a patch on his Goal Of The Season the previous year, but it did the trick for them. Our attack of Holden and Pop couldn’t find a way through the home defence, and we stumbled to a 1-0 defeat that was thankfully just a blip on the way to promotion, with only a home game against Portsmouth to go. A typical Sunderland late-season hiccup on the way to the Championship, a typical response to a nice day in the sun. We had arranged to meet up in the pub right next to the bus station after the match, and, as we gathered, it became apparent that was not the best idea in the world. The pub quickly transformed itself from a happy Blackpool boozer, containing a few tourists, into the Alamo. It was packed with Sunderland boys with the same plan as us, but surrounded by every boot-boy in Blackpool.
We counted up and realised we were a man short. Where was Big Harrier? Our question was soon answered by the sight of the aforementioned Big Harrier, looking like a red and white Christmas tree, wading through the tangerine hordes towards the sanctuary of the pub, as if they were no more than pensioners on a shopping trip. I should perhaps explain that Harrier did not carry the prefix “big” just for fun. He was, and still is, six foot four, built like something from behind your grandma’s house, and played rugby for London Scottish for years. All of which goes some way to explaining his survival of Blackpool Bus Station.
After several abortive escape attempts by the lads, the boys in blue eventually turned up and dispersed the crowd outside. Unfortunately, they didn’t disperse them very far, and our escape party was soon fragmented by a couple of guerrilla attacks between the pub and the cars. Myself, Dunny, and Chris crept though a series of back streets towards the motors, armed only with a table leg and sock with a brick in it – for self-defence only, yer honour – thankfully having to fend off only the one more ambush. Come to think of it, if Dunny hadn’t hurled abuse at the bloke with the Blackpool scarf in the doorway of a pub, they wouldn’t have thought it necessary to ambush us. The ignorance of youth, I suppose.
Back at the convoy of cars, we managed to assemble all but two of our party, and were about to leave them behind according to the usual Blackpool trip rules – collateral damage, so to speak, and not a bad casualty rate – when a familiar figure came sprinting up the road. He explained how he had just escaped from yet another besieged pub, and that our last man was in the protective custody of the landlord thereof. We quickly formulated a plan. I was driving my mam’s Mini Traveller, which, for the benefit of our younger readers, was basically a van with windows, so the idea was as simple as it was surprisingly effective.
I simply drove past the pub with the back doors open and the horn blaring, and on my second pass, our last man burst out of the pub door, through the crowd outside, and leapt through the back doors of the Mini. We sped down the road with him hanging onto the back seat, legs trailing behind us, and the Blackpool nutters chasing after in a scene reminiscent of a Keystone Cops comedy. When we got a safe distance from our impromptu pick-up point, I slowed down sufficiently for him to climb aboard and change his pants.
The convoy reassembled as arranged, outside the last pub before the motorway, where we swapped stories of chases and escapes, and got everybody back into the cars they’d arrived in. No serious injuries, nobody nicked by the law, and most importantly no scarves lost. When I got home, mam asked if the car had been OK. I said that it had been fine apart from the back doors coming open as we drove through the streets of Blackpool. Luckily, I had got rid of the table leg and the sock with the brick in it as we drove through Barnard Castle. It was as near to the truth as I was prepared to take her, as there was promotion on the horizon and thus the possibility of the car being needed for trips to even more exotic places the following season.
BOOK INFO: Starting out as a nostalgic look back at following Sunderland AFC far and wide over quiet pint, Ganterbury Tales is a ridiculously detailed recollection of the halcyon days when watching the Lads away from home was usually a step into the unknown. Authors Sobs and Pos bring together a daft story for almost every away game and ground and their experiences will re-ignite long lost memories for those hardy pilgrims who have braved planes, trains, automobiles and coaches to follow our famous club through thick and thin over the years.