About a decade ago we published a book called Ganterbury Tales, now it's out of print we thought we’d publish some of its content online…
Do you remember Persil tickets? If you saved up enough vouchers from the top of the Persil boxes, you could get two train tickets for the price of one. A fine marketing ploy by the manufacturers and one which ensured the cleanliness of all travelling football fans at the time. One of the many times we took advantage of this offer was to travel to Bristol Rovers in April ’80. Sensible as ever, we arrived early lunchtime and I deposited an eight-pack of Double Maxim in a left luggage locker at Temple Meads – this would ensure no dehydration on the homeward journey, and it was (as it is today) a sight cheaper than buying drink on the train. Cocktails were taken in the city centre as we revelled in the culture of the cosmopolitan South-West, and then the local constabulary marched the Red and White Army en masse to Eastville.
This stroll took us through the St Paul’s district, which was soon to gain notoriety thanks to what were described at the time as riots or civil disobedience. I think we’d call them war these days. Let’s just say it was building up nicely towards them on the occasion of our visit – you could feel tension and unrest in the air. Anyhow, our procession was viewed by the locals as the equivalent of marching down the Scotswood Road wearing a Sunderland top. Muscle-bound monsters armed with baseball bats lined our route, and hurled obscenities at our every step. Mind you, their husbands looked pretty rough as well. My nervous bowel just about held out until we reached the sanctuary that was Eastville – a right tip, but a welcome sight nevertheless.
That particular part of the South West had never been a happy hunting ground for us, as we’d won just the one league game and the one League Cup game at the time, although we managed a couple of wins (league and Checkatrade semi-final) in 2018-19 before ending our hopes of anything the following season with the most dismal of dismal defeats. Mind, they’ve hardly ever won at our place either, so that just about evened things up.
Anyway, we were cruising nicely towards a table-topping finish to the season, but it being Sunderland, we were well aware that slip-ups were always waiting around every corner. Just under ten thousand were crammed into what was left of the crumbling Eastville, and those in our end (and Wearsiders scattered around the rest of the ground, as usual) were up for a win to keep promotion on track. Whitworth, Hinnigan, Hindmarch, and Jeff Clarke had the job of protecting Turner, while Mick Buckley, Arnott, Barry Dunn, and Stan Cummins were there to provide for Alan Brown and Pop Robson up front. In all honesty, the game provided far less entertainment and much less tension than the walk from the station, and the terraces were a sea of gloom when we went in at the break 2-1 down despite Pop giving us a fourth minute lead. Goals from ex-Mag Stewart Barrowclough, who was reminded of his stay on Tyneside every time he touched the ball, and Chic Bates knocked the stuffing out of us midway through the half and had us begging for the break.
A quick inspirational rallying speech from the most eloquent of us set away a feeling of optimism that spread across the away end, and we shouted the Lads on to snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat. Champion. A goal from Barry Dunn just before the hour secured another vital point on the road to eventual promotion from second place, with a home win over Watford, a draw at Cardiff, and that 2-0 win over West Ham being enough to get us to the very top. The Dunn goal was a bit special, not in terms of quality (not that it was a bad one), but in terms of rarity, being one of only two he scored for us in his 25 appearances – both away from home, both in draws. We had a soft spot for the lad, as he’d done Northern League time with Tow Law, Bishop, and Blue Star, from whom we signed him. He might have since beaten me at pool, but I refuse to hold that against him because he still follows the Lads, often in the company of Mr Rowell. Neither side used their lone substitute, the home side’s being a certain Tony Pulis – and no, he wasn’t wearing a baseball cap – and ours being Gordon Chisholm. A good defender, but not the game-changing midfielder of forward who might have swung things our way for a win. Perhaps a sign of the nature of the match was that referee Darryl Reeves didn’t see fit to book anyone.
After the match, as we waited the customary fifteen minutes (specifically designed to allow the local thugs to set their ambushes in the surrounding streets) in the away end, the police made the announcement I was dreading. The train home would be making an unscheduled stop at a nearby halt to pick us up, meaning that we did not have to walk all the way back to the city centre. They probably thought that they were doing us a favour, and you have to admit it was a rare attack of common sense on their behalf. But from our point of view, it was nothing less than blind panic. I explained to a policeman that I had some personal items – not precious, but of enormous sentimental value to myself – secured in a left luggage locker at Temple Meads. I held the vain hope that he might agree to an armoured convoy taking our party back through St Paul’s to retrieve them, but his answer was what I expected rather than what I hoped for.
“Tough” he said, and with that, all hopes of a night on the Maxim evaporated into the evening air. No “lamp oil” for me. It was only eight cans of Maxim, but just think what they’ll be worth now – in their original Vaux cans, a veritable collector’s item. I hope some bright spark at Temple Meads had the sense to open the locker when I’d not been to claim my belongings after the prescribed time, and enjoyed a little bit of Wearside at their summer barbecue in the South West.
Luckily, one of our party was of a generous disposition that day, as he must have backed our goalscorer, or found a pound note (remember them?), and let me share his beer – probably to stop me crying. We were lucky, in that the train stopped at Birmingham, allowing us to replenish our stock of liquid refreshment. We performed the usual post-match train home antics of drinking and singing, until we had to change at York. This gave the best laugh of the day, as one of our party decided to ignore the advice of the station staff, and try to board the train that was just leaving, instead of waiting half an hour for the next one. The train of his choice was already moving down the platform when our hero decided that he would get aboard, despite all of the doors being shut. He had spied an open window, and he was going to go for it, whatever we said. Now, let’s not name this person, but he knows who he is. Let’s also say that he is of the big-boned variety of football supporter, and that he propelled himself through the air with surprising grace, immediately getting a good proportion of his person through the window at the first attempt. Using his unique upper body shape and weight as a counterbalance, he teased his bottom half through the protesting opening, despite catching various items of clothing on the frame.
My everlasting vision is of a pair of flailing legs protruding from the train now departing platform one, revealing a steadily increasing amount of arse as his belt snagged on the window frame, and his body slithered into the carriage with a plop that could be heard back in Bristol.