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’ve never understood why, when it’s spelt the way it is, they get referred to as The Boro. Why not The Brough, pronounced Bruh as it is in the whole version of the name? And while we’re on the subject, why do those that insist on Boro also insist on Middles-broe?

Because it’s a strange place, that’s why, built from agricultural roots into a chemical and steel town, with not much happening there before those industries came to the fore. As it is actually closer to my hometown than Sunderland is, it should not provide much in the way of adventure when it comes to travelling there. Well, you should try getting to the place on public transport from Bishop if you think that’s the case. Nowadays, I use an organised bus, which takes away the uncertainty, but means a lengthy hold up in a lay-by on the A19, the services at Wolviston, or the car-park at the Wynyard industrial park (for which John Hall probably charges us a fee). There is a direct train, but that’s a no-no due to guaranteed fun and games at Boro station. I’ve even driven a few times – twice to Ayresome, which was great fun if you like pretending to drive at Boro Boys after the match, and once to their new place, when I had to park miles away. Back in the day, it was public transport. In all the years I’ve been going there, I’ve seen us win three times, and I had to wait twenty seven years for the first of those, when Darren Williams headed home Chris Waddle’s cross to relegate the Teessiders, again in September 2005, when Tommy Miller shinned one home in the first minute and Arca wrapped things up in the second half. It’s just a shame that we were relegated at the end of both those seasons, but at least we stayed up in 2012 after Sessegnon’s extra-time winner in the 2-1 victory in the FA Cup.

Six months into my apprenticeship as a regular Sunderland follower, it was Easter 1971. Being 1971, when men were men and footballers played as many games a day as possible without fear of either injury or getting a bit tired, we’d played Orient at Roker on Good Friday, April 9th, and seen Dick Malone cement his place in the hearts of Sunderland fans by winning the game with a second half strike of such ferocity that, had not the net got in the way, the back of the Roker would have been knocked down several years before it actually was, and several Roker Enders would probably have been blasted into oblivion with the ball firmly lodged in their collective midriff. Up to the end of March, we had not won in eight outings, a run that ended with a 5-2 win over Swindon the week before Easter, and were consequently below mid-table. What we needed after those two wins was another, and the derby (as they called it) on Teesside was where we had to get it. Games against the Boro always seemed to be quite passionate affairs back then – in the first ninety years of playing them, there had been two sendings-off, and that was Raich Carter and Ted Davis in the 6-0 defeat at Ayresome in 1936, a couple of months before we were crowned Division One Champions, proving that it is, indeed, a funny old game. In the fifty-odd years I’ve been watching, there have been six –Kerr, Tueart, Bolton (ah, that Terry Cochrane moment!), Hardyman, Ord, and Makin – so you could usually guarantee a well-contested game.

So, barely eighteen hours after we’d got off the OK after the Orient game, we set of for darkest Cleveland. Our little party of six or seven, with an average age hovering around the thirteen and a bit mark, was hardly what you could call worldly-wise when it came to travelling away, but what we did know was that Boro station was off limits. If you went there as an away fan, you could expect to have to fight your way out of the place and all the way to Ayresome Park. There was no organised bus from Bishop that we knew of, so we congregated in Doggart’s Café and waited for Pos to make the first leg of his circuitous route from Aycliffe to Ayresome. As we shared sausage rolls and bacon sarnies, and loosened the tops on the salt and pepper (as was our wont of a Saturday in those days) we decided that, as the train was a definite no-go until we started at least looking a bit harder than we really were, it was the number one to Darlo then all change for Teesside. An hour later, we were charging from one upstairs front bus seat to another as we made our connection to Middlesbrough. I had a distant relative who lived somewhere on Teesside, and visits to the Reid’s house were my only previous forays into that part of the world. By the time we arrived in the town centre, we realised that none of had a clue where the ground was in relation to the bus station. Following the time-honoured football adage of following the crowd, we worked out which way to go, reckoning that it was safe to display our colours, as this was in the days before our return to black shorts at the behest of Bob Stokoe. So red and white it was, despite the fact that more than a couple of us had customised our scarves by stitching on the names of the players – we were versatile in those days, embroidery was no shame for us lads. Pitt was a particular favourite as there were only four letters, as was Kerr, and as Todd had been until his departure a few months earlier.

As it had been two hours since our Doggart’s sausage rolls and bacon sarnies, the appearance of a baker’s shop precipitated an impromptu food stop. We asked for pasties, the lass behind the counter asked if we wanted short-crust or puff, and a gang of young teenagers fell about laughing. We might have learned the useful stuff like stitching from Domestic Science and our grandmothers, but nobody had ever mentioned puff pastry before. Despite her bewilderment, she managed to work out that we’d probably prefer short-crust, and off we went, following the crowd to Ayresome and arriving about one. Obviously, that was way too early to be arriving at an away ground, but as we were way too young to be in the pub, and had set off early because we didn’t know where we were going, we had little choice. There were, of course, no tickets, and no attempt by the law to direct visiting fans in any particular direction, probably because the law fully expected heads to get broken, and their policy seemed to be to let those that want to fight get on with it and only nick those daft enough to engage in a bout of fisticuffs right under their noses. We sort of followed the jungle telegraph, and some of the big lads who we recognised from the Fulwell, and ended up crammed onto a street corner at the junction of the main stand and the Holgate. Naturally, the gates at the other side of the Holgate were opened first, allowing the Boro boys to get in and lob a load of stones, bottles, and various pieces of scrap over the wall at us, taking a heavy toll on house and car windows as well as few cracking a Wearside heads. I particularly remember a great big padlock which went through a car window next to me, prompting the car’s owner to burst out of the house to scream abuse at us. Not our fault, mate.

Our little band were amongst the first wave inside when our gates did open, so we spent the first few minutes sheltering in the turnstiles as the Teesside Artillery continued its bombardment. Had Saving Private Ryan been made thirty years earlier, we’d have made comparisons to the opening scenes, but it hadn’t, so we just thought “bugger, this isn’t much of a laugh.” Once there were a suitable number of big lads in, a semi-organised charge took place, with us, as young apprentices, filling our rightful roles of jumping about behind the big lads and making a lot of noise.

So it was that we witnessed first-hand the phenomenon known as taking the home end, and we stayed about fifty-fifty for the entire game, with the odd skirmish taking place when the crowd surged or someone took a particular dislike to someone on the other side of the front-line. There were 26,000 or so in there, as opposed to 42,617 for the home game – and that’s not a statistic I ever have to look up, as, for some obscure reason, that Roker crowd is one that has stuck with me ever since. One day, I might forget it, but I don’t think so. I can see myself sitting in my rocking chair failing to remember my grandchild’s name, but telling him or her that what the crowd was on Boxing Day 1970 at Roker. Anyway, Monty was in goal, as he was for every competitive game that season, with SuperDick, our new goal machine, and Cec switching to left back in front of him. A little and large central partnership of Pitt and Martin Harvey completed the defence, while Porterfield, Kerr, and Gordon Banger Harris made up the midfield. Up front was Dave Watson, yet to be informed that he would turn out to be one of our best central defenders of all time, alongside Billy Hughes and Paddy Lowery. The first half was just like the Boxing Day game at our place, all attacking, open play and loads of commitment, and it ended level after Hughes and Watson had put us ahead. Another 45 minutes of that would have been great, but the majority of the action after the break was in the centre of the Holgate as the Boro boys tried to claim their terraces back and we stood our ground. “Stand, Sunderland” was the cry, and it was the first time I’d heard that rallying call – and not the last, especially in subsequent games at the Boro. Twinkle-toed Bobby Park replaced Porterfield, but there were no more goals, and we had to turn our attention from football to survival. Scampering along the terraces that surrounded Ayresome, we somehow managed to retrace our steps, past the comedy puff pastry baker’s shop, and onto the Darlo bus without mishap, then repeated the trick for the relatively safe second leg on the number one.

There it was, our first away game, reached under our own steam with nobody over the age of fourteen involved in the organisation, or lack of it. Thinking back, we were more than a bit lucky not to have got caught up in some of the front-line stuff, or been on the receiving end of a piece of Ayresome masonry, but we got a point, we’d been there with the big lads, we’d got home in one piece, and we were ready to carry on our Sunderland apprenticeships.

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.