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…
The trip for the penultimate match of the ultimately disastrous 76-77 season was one of the first for which we hired our own coach, with Pos the man with his name on the documents. After playing like puddings until March we looked dead and buried, until a draw at Highbury, when Bobby Kerr kissed Pat Rice, and the introduction of the unholy trinity of Elliott, Arnott, and Rowell brought us back to life. We were on a bit of a high, as we’d been scoring shedloads of goals at home, and it looked like we could even stage the 1970s version of the Great Escape and stay up.
My day began at about 5am, with a scheduled pickup by Pos Travel at six in Bishop Market place. We walked the streets, growing in number as we knocked up the lads on our way. All went to plan until our last port of call, where Mally was still fast asleep. As Mally often overslept, there was a large bamboo pole secreted down the side of his house, so that he could be roused without disturbing his mam. We duly battered his window until he poked his head out and asked where he was supposed to be going. Ten minutes later, and the second laugh of the day as our coach rolled into view, emblazoned with the logo “Seagull Travel, Blackpool” – a sub-contract job, as it turned out. Once convinced that it was indeed heading for Norwich and not the Golden Mile, we climbed aboard. It quickly became apparent that this was one of the first travelling casinos in Britain – apart from the usual games of brag and pontoon, and the domino cards, Mick ran sweeps on: • The distance to Norwich • The last digit on the speedometer when we got to Norwich • As above, but for both the return journey and the total mileage for the complete journey • The time we would get to Norwich • Who would escape with the match ball • The time of the first goal • ….and the age of the driver, to the nearest six months
This was also during those halcyon, civilised days, when you could drink beer on coaches without fear of arrest – in fact, if you were going to the match, it was virtually compulsory. One of the problems associated with drinking on buses in those days was that none of them had toilets, so you either needed an eight pint bladder, a very understanding driver, or something to pee into. The old trick of lifting up the floor panel and wetting the driveshaft was both upsetting to the driver and dangerous, as well as likely to give you an unwanted shower, so we’d given that one up, and brought some plastic bottles. Not very efficient, or sanitary, but better than wetting yourself or holding your tackle in a vice-like grip while trying not to cry. Some of our travelling companions had access, through their places of work, to equipment designed for those members of society who have a problem with incontinence. These marvellous devices were basically a large (3 pints? 4 pints? Who knows?) plastic bag with a little funnel on the top, and they provided instant relief to their owners during travel. The only problem was that they got full, and had to be either emptied or disposed of. The first bag-related incident came when one of the lads stood up to dispose of his bag, and it came away from the funnel, landing right on top of his neighbour’s head, and giving him a first-class golden shower. “You dirty b*****d” he screamed, while the rest of us folded up with laughter.
“What do you mean, me?” replied the one with the detached funnel in his hand, “you’re the one with pee all over your head!” Cue another ten minutes of hysterical laughter, as the wet one poured copious amounts of Cedarwood aftershave over his head (I can still smell it to this day), and removed his jeans, jamming them in the rooflight to dry.
The next bag-related incident involved the ejection of a full one from the rear rooflight. The timing of this ejection was far from good, and, as soon as it had been hoyed, a red Triumph Spitfire appeared, directly in the line of fire – and, as you might expect, with the roof down. Also as you might expect, but the driver didn’t, a direct hit was scored. I vaguely remember it hitting the bonnet, but I was later told that it landed in the bench seat, just behind the driver. Have you ever seen 54 people trying to stay out of sight on a bus, whilst attempting not to wet themselves with laughter?
Despite these aids to continence, we decided on a comfort break by the road in Lincolnshire. The sight of a busload of football fans, one with no trousers, peeing into a field was too much for the elderly couple enjoying a picnic in the layby – especially when the trouserless one had his keks deftly removed and flung into the hedge. They packed up and sped off in their Morris Minor at a totally unexpected speed. The arrival of a red Triumph Spitfire hurried us back onto the bus, but there were 54 of us, and they turned out to be Sunderland supporters anyway, so we were safe.
Nearer to Norwich, the police stopped us and said that we were too early, and couldn’t go into town until half past one. No problem to us, we simply went to the nearest roadside pub. Big problems for the roadside pub – they had never seen more than ten people before. The landlord dragged his granddad downstairs to help out, but the old boy had such a dother on that your pint was only a half by the time he rattled it down on the bar in front of you. We boarded the bus with pints in hand, and carrying the life-size cardboard Babycham girl from the lounge. I kept my Watney’s Red Barrel glass for several years as a memento of the day, using it for hair-washing purposes, and had to break the damn thing with a hammer when I got sick of it, as no amount of dropping would do the trick.
When we were allowed to park up in Norwich, it quickly became apparent that the local constabulary could not cope with the size of the travelling support. No advance ticket sales in those days, you just turned up and paid on the gate. Consequently, the street outside our turnstiles was a disorganised mass of bodies, with no queues in sight. Lucky decided that the only way to be sure of getting in on time was to climb over the fence, so we gave him a bunk up above the seething crowd, and he duly impaled both hands on the spikes cut into the corrugated iron sheets at the top. As he tried to pull himself up and over, a Polis appeared on the toilet roof, looked down at Lucky, and said “If you come over this wall, son, I’ll chuck you straight back out” We managed to push him high enough to unstab his hands, and he fell back into the melee below.
We did all manage to get into the ground before kick-off, along with almost 28,000 others. We even caught the pre-match kickabout, and Swagger decided to claim first prize in the sweep by catching a ball and, very indiscreetly, hiding it up his shirt. This resulted in almost immediate ejection from the ground - seven hours on a bus, a real battle to get in, and he never saw a ball kicked in anger. No match ball, so no money from the sweep either.
Former Lad Colin Suggett, once a record transfer out of Roker lined up for Norwich and got a half-decent round of applause from the massed ranks of Wearsiders, while for us Siddall, Docherty, Bolton, Waldron, and Jackie Ashurst made up the defence, with Towers and Arnott pulling the strings as Elliott won the ball and Rowell did the running behind Lee and Holden. It was a bit of a cracker as games go, with us battling for every ball and earning four bookings in the first half, which ended goalless. A point wasn’t really enough, as we needed as many as we could get, so the second half had to be more positive.
It didn’t start that way, as we conceded almost immediately thanks to their main goalscorer, Kevin Reeves, and things got even worse when Viv Busby – it’s a small world but I wouldn’t like to dust it - got a second with only a quarter of an hour left to play. Towers had made way for Bobby Kerr just before that goal, and the change proved decisive. After Gary Rowell had made his usual contribution with seven to go, little Bobby hit the net two minutes later to secure the draw. Not the three points we wanted, but coming from two down away from home to snatch a point felt almost like a victory, and that gave us reason to be cheerful on the journey home – especially when we saw the distinctive green and yellow match ball bouncing around the back of our bus, courtesy of some cunning undercover work by Davey Scott. We had a winner after all. The seemingly endless convoy of coaches was escorted to the A1, whereupon we stopped at the first sign of civilisation – Newark, which we’d been told was a decent place for a night out. This turned out to be true, apart from one thing. This happened to be the day that Forest had achieved promotion, and Newark’s proximity to Nottingham meant that the place was packed with surprisingly bad-tempered Forest fans, leading to several interesting confrontations. Mally discovered that a very effective method of avoiding a good kicking was to fall over and throw up over the legs of his would-be assailants. That’s a useful one to remember if you’re ever on the receiving end of such an assault.
Come closing time, our friendly landlord tried to persuade us to leave, but as the Lads hadn’t been on MOTD yet there was no way we were budging. In fact, we built a viewing arena from the chairs and tables so that everyone got good view of the telly, and we sang our hearts out for the Lads for the second time that day as we watched. I hope the cleaners got paid treble time the next morning - they deserved it. We eventually got home around 2am, and if anyone ever found a bait-box with a match programme in it by the side of the A1, I’ll have it back, please.
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.