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…
As a town, you can well understand where the “Grim” bit came from – a bit like Scunthorpe, but more politely stated. Our trip here was during the glorious charge towards the Premiership in 1999, when winning away from home was a regular, happy occurrence. It was also a family affair – two blokes, teaching their three sons the ways of the travelling Mackem, like the apprentices we were back in the 70s. Our first lesson to them was what to do if you lost your ticket - never a problem in the 70s, as all away matches were pay at the gate jobs. Anyway, a nameless adult member of our party (choose any one from two, and it wasn’t me) managed to lose the important half of his ticket, so our first port of call was the ticket office. While one of us had a discussion in the car park with Gatesy, centred on the perils of trying to outshout the bingo caller in the Working Men’s Club in Shields, the other managed to negotiate a free replacement ticket with no hassle at all. Full marks to Grimsby ticket office for that one.
Once that little problem was solved, we headed over the railway and, on reaching the sea, turned right for Cleethorpes (some of the Shildon lads turned left, and found Grimsby harbour not too picturesque). We voted the promenade the most dog-turded place in the world – our bracing stroll along the seafront passed through a mile-long doggy-jobby minefield. There was also a mad dog that barked at and chased every passing train – what would it do if it caught one? We headed for the big wheel, guessing that the shows would be near the town centre. This big wheel, however, got smaller as we got closer to it, and turned out to be no more than ten feet high. In fact, the whole fairground was in miniature. The ghost train was a man shouting “boo!” at puzzled three-year-olds in a go-cart. Cleggy itself was a trip back in time – stand-up comedians in purple velvet jackets were on every corner, gaining inspiration for their next seaside landlady gag.
We passed up a pint in the shocking pink Barcelona tavern, well out of place adjacent to the Victorian railway station, and found the Irish pub to be the chosen meeting place of our battalion of the Red and White army. Prices forced our second pint to be in the Buccaneer (cue terrible Captain Morgan jokes) across the road, before we passed the mad dog on our hopscotch back up the prom to the ground. If Cleggy was possibly a timewarp, then Blundell Park certainly was. The “garden shed” song could have been written specifically for it – it actually looks like one from the visitors’ turnstiles. They’d built a temporary stand – at least I hope it was temporary – to house the less fortunate visitors, but we were lucky and had seats in the proper part of the ground, behind the goal. Andy Marriott made his debut, as Tommy Sorenson was still a bit dizzy after his concussion at Bradford a few days earlier, but the rest of the dream team was intact – Makin, Gray, Melville, Butler, Summerbee, Ball, Clark, ,Johnston, Quinn, and Phillips. Just listing those names makes you feel good. Well, it works for me.
Handy Andy kept us in the game long enough to get our act together, prompting a rendition of “swing low, sweet Marriott”, then the second half came, and the Lads were kicking toward our end of the ground. Goals from some ex-mag and SuperKev prompted some weird celebrations, in the form of a number of soft toys being lobbed onto the pitch. This bemused the stewards to such an extent that they allowed the perpetrators of this crazy event to walk onto the pitch and collect Sooty and co. Twice. It was also one of those games where we knew that if we were patient, we would win, simple as that, and that knowledge makes for a happy and humorous away following. It was the day when “we’re on our way”, which had been bumbling around the terraces at away games for a few weeks, really took off, but the best songs came from some 70s throwbacks. They gave us timeless classics like “you’ll never take the Fulwell”, “from the banks of the river Wear”, and of course, the Vic Halom song, before moving into the 90s with “you’re shite, and you stink of fish”. Which was nice – and true. I’ve always had a thing about Hull and Grimsby smelling of fish, and even after the alleged regeneration of these places, there’s still a bit of an odour about them. Some of the locals admit that this is the case, others get quite defensive when the subject comes up. With ten to go, we let Quinn and Phillips go and get the beers on, replacing them with Bridges and Dichio, and the we got just about the most comfortable 2-0 win you’ll ever see. Game over
I later came across Grimsby fans at their defeat at Burton Albion in 2010 which ensured their relegation from the league (we had a spare Saturday before our game at Wolves, and we were staying in Nottingham, in case you’re worried about my loyalty) when they were in less than jubilant mood. Some gallows humour was on show that day, but most memorable was the scariest-looking skinhead I’ve ever seen. Apart from doing a Paul Hogan trick with a particularly noisy police dog by pointing at its eyes and saying “calm down”, which, to the amazement of the dog-handler, worked, he wore a T-shirt with the slogan “we piss on your fish”. Which makes you think – do they?
This was no way to build character in our young apprentices. Watching the Lads wasn’t supposed to be that easy, there was supposed to be misery and heartache at every turn before any success and enjoyment came along, especially away from home. That’s what made us the fair-minded folk that we are today. We did show them where to get chips on the way back, though. As usual, Wetherby was awash with Sunderland boys stopping off for chips, a quick pint, and the chance to nip into the offy. The kids looked on in amazement as lads filled lemonade and coke bottles with vodka to bypass the “no drinking on this coach” rule. We didn’t have to worry about that one in our apprentice days, when a trip to Humberside would have been at least a ten–crater, with a couple of those crates being of Lamp Oil in case of emergency. Emergencies seemed to happen after every match, in that some of us got a thirst on before we stopped for a night out in Northallerton. We explained to the kids that it wouldn’t always be that much fun, but it was perfectly within our rights to take every bit of good fortune – and good football - that comes our way.
As an aside, the Grimsby keeper that day was Aidan Davison, a South West Durham lad, and a chance meeting gave the chance to ask him about SuperKev’s goal. “I saw what he was going to do, but he hit it that quickly I never had the chance to set myself.” Happy days.
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.