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Updated: Jul 17

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…

Now that Bolton play at one of the better new grounds – better in the sense that it’s a little bit different from most of the flatpack kit jobs that have sprung up over the last twenty five years or so, although it is in a retail park with a motorway nearby – many folks will have forgotten that they used to have a real ground, in the town, next to shops, houses, and pubs. I remember Burnden Park before its last incarnation, when it was a proper ground, without a supermarket in the middle of the away end. Finance, or the lack of it, necessitated the Wanderers doing something to appease the bank manager, but the outcome looked bloody ridiculous after this monstrosity was inserted. OK, so it did give you the chance to buy out of date Easter eggs for dinner on our visit in 1995, when the visitors were housed not in the huge open terracing behind the goal – the Supermarket End? –but the paddock, and me and our Ian were subjected to a close up of Brett Angell’s close control. Well, if you controlled your bladder with the skill Brett exhibited that day, you’d be standing in a puddle. Two decades earlier, during the 75-76 season, almost 100,000 people watched the two games between SAFC and Bolton, and we were in the crowd at Burnden for the away game. They seem to have lost the interest for football since those heady days – just having a club seems to be enough in their current financial plight. Which, indirectly, gave us Phil Parkinson.

As always seems the case in these tales, it was December 27th, and we travelled in style to this one – Lino borrowed the Simca 1100 van from work. If you’ve never seen one of these, you’re not alone – they weren’t a very popular vehicle, the details of which have probably been expunged from all Ladybird Books of Cars, Observers’ Book of Cars, and Haynes manuals. It was a horrible, vicious, little thing, but we couldn’t really say so at the time, for fear of offending the driver and not getting a lift. This van had two front seats, and a coarse mesh between them and the cargo bay where most of us sat. Lino’s driving at the time can probably be best described as adventurous, and it often resulted in us in the back making like spacemen in an anti-gravity chamber. We were tossed about at every corner, and frequently came out of the van with the imprint of the coarse mesh stamped on our faces, making us look like waffles. We used to exact revenge by scrawling obscenities on the interior of the van with a felt pen, in the hope that he would get into trouble at work.

Anyhow, Lino offered to drive us to Bolton. In fact, he offered to drive most of South West Durham to Bolton, but we didn’t complain, as he had a claim to fame. His granddad, Harold Archer Brown, had played centre forward for Sunderland in the 1920s, he said. Subsequent checking of records revealed that the ancestor in question signed from his hometown club Shildon – which we from Bishop refused to hold against him, we were bigger than that - at the end of 1921, played six times, and scored on his debut as we beat Man Utd at Roker. Sadly, he didn’t trouble the scorekeepers in his next five games, none of which we won, and by the end of February 1922 was away – to the football hotspots of Leadgate, Chilton, Shildon, and QPR. Six games for a transfer fee of £650 was a pretty big investment back then, so we reckoned that Lino should repay the Sunderland fans by providing lifts whenever he could. Harry’s grandson and I probably spent more time on the Roker Park turf celebrating goals than Harry ever did playing football, but a red and white granddad is still a claim to fame.

There were no seats in the back of this van, but we were packed so tightly it didn’t really matter. Big Harrier got the front seat, as usual, and for obvious reasons, and with the crate of beer beneath his legs, passing bottles over or under the mesh whenever thirst got the better of those in cattle class, which was quite often. I don’t know whether there were three, four, of five of us in the back that day, but, when we got to Tebay, the van stopped. Ah, time for a run-off, as Shakespeare would have said – but we were wrong. Lino had decided to play the good Samaritan, and pick up two hitch hikers, complete with mountaineering–sized rucksacks. Oh joy!

We made the rest of the journey pass quickly by singing, drinking, sitting on top of each other, drawing on the walls, and generally frightening the poop out of our two new friends. We also found that we could open the tailgate from inside by pulling on a wire, but the expressions on the faces of the motorists following down the M6 persuaded us that this was not the best idea in the world. That, and the very real possibility of falling out and/or spilling our beer, so we went back to graffiti and drink.

As mentioned earlier, there was a big, big crowd – forty-odd thousand, to be less than precise –and we only just made the kick-off, high up at the back of the open end, pre-supermarket. These were two of the division’s big guns, and this was officially going to be a big match. Gary Rowell, a debutant from the bench as we beat Oxford at home a fortnight earlier, was on the bench again, with the remnants of the Boys of ’73 starting the game. Monty, SuperDick Malone, Joe Bolton, Jeff Clarke and Jackie Ashurst at the back, and a midfield of…well, a strange midfield. Kerr and Towers, fair enough, we knew all about those two, and Tom Finney of Northern Ireland, whose best midfield berth I could never work out, but he could play wide, he could play an attacking central role, and, most frequently, he could warm the bench. He was named as substitute 26 times but only actually got on the field on 21 of those occasions. Today he was in central midfield, but, supposedly to add some bite, making up the quartet was Micky Henderson. If you’ve any memory at all of Micky, it will be of a no-nonsense (rough as bull’s lugs, hard as nails, helping to fashion a mould in which John Kay would be forged – you get the picture) full-back and not as a midfielder.

But there he was, and he was there to back up our front two of Pop Robson and Mel “Rules the Skies” Holden. The match, for once in the “big match” circumstances, actually lived up to expectations, even if the result was all wrong from our point of view. Right at the end of a closely-fought first half, It looked like it was going our way when ex-Man U defender Tony Dunne put away a Bobby Kerr cross for a superb OG – past Barry Siddall no less - right in front of us visiting fans, and we were already planning our post-match celebrations back in Bishop, but we showed true SAFC generosity and let Peter Reid dominate proceedings in the second half. We were only five minutes in when Sam Allardyce equalised, and any hopes of hanging on for a point went out of the window when John Bryom scored with twenty to go. No points at all.

Never mind, we remained top, and it was one of only ten games we lost all season – all away from home, so there’s more typical Sunderland behaviour for you – as we dropped only two points at Roker and took the Championship of the Second Division. Bolton, incidentally, finished on fourth place, a single point behind both Bristol City and West Brom. We endured a dry trip home on this occasion, as we were typically rubbish at pacing ourselves and saving a bottle or two for the return journey, and being of that certain age when we had no money left for an off-licence stop. We watched in surprise as hitchikers hid behind bushes and ditches as we passed – word sharp gets around, eh? – and Lino’s van got decorated some more. Some of it was pretty obscene, to be honest, but he never let on whether or not he got into trouble at work or not. Mind, knowing him, he’ll have talked his way out of it. He had more neck than a giraffe when it came to excuses.


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.