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…
There are a number of ways to get to the match, and over the years, we’ve tried them all. Hitch-hike, supporters’ bus, train, car, boat (Isle of Man), plane (Watford 1999), walk, cycle, and service bus. The last one is fine for home games, but, based on experience (this one), it is to away games what Seamus McDonagh, or more recently Lee Camp, was to the art of goalkeeping.
Christmas ’74 came and went with only four defeats suffered, and 32 points in the bag already. Things were looking decidedly canny for the lads, and, fuelled by the prospect of a promotion campaign and seasonal alcohol intake, a trip to east London on December 28th seemed a good idea. Myself, Tubby (six feet tall, 9 stone), and Sicker (Michael these days, and quite right for a man of our vintage) found an overnight bus that picked up at Bishop at midnight, and duly booked up.
We met in the Cumberland around eight, as we were wont to do of a Friday evening, and took plenty of goodies on board in the form of Ex and crisps, and also a mixture of abuse for missing a late one at the Queen’s and respect for going to an away game overnight. When the Cumb closed, we headed for the Market Place. We boarded the bus, carry-outs in hand, as our pals entered the Queen’s for someone’s 18th/engagement/any excuse for a late drink. At 18 pence for a pint of Gold Tankard, we were saving a fortune by drinking bottles of Brown on the bus – sorry, luxury coach. Coaches in those days weren’t nearly as comfy as those of today, but, had it been light, and had we not had a drink, I doubt if we would have got on – it looked like a refugee from Beamish Museum. This was the equivalent of the slow train – it stopped everywhere. Darlington, Northallerton, Thirsk, Leeds, Doncaster, Sheffield. At first, we were glad, as there were no on-board lavvies, and we looked forward to each bus station toilet like a mag at Greggs. Eventually, somewhere on the M1 after another bog-break in Leicestershire, the bus stopped stopping. In fact, it stopped altogether, knackered, and we had to push it across the car park – all of us, even the bloke who wouldn’t put his guitar down – and wait an hour until a replacement arrived.
It was well light by now, and way past breakfast time when we arrived in the capital, so we fed our faces and decided that it was too cold to spend all morning sightseeing or standing around waiting for the pubs to open, and we simply didn’t do shopping. We duly checked out Leicester Square, and were delighted to find a cinema “open 24 hours”. Being of a certain age, we were doubly delighted to find that the bill was “Maid for Pleasure” and “Erotic Diaries” – two masterpieces of mid-‘70s “art-house” film making. We thought at first that we’d get hoyed out for laughing, until we noticed what was going on beneath the bowler hat in the lap of the bloke next to us. We’d have been shot for doing that in the Odeon in Bishop. We shifted seats and watched the remainder of the performance (the bit on the gravestone still looms large in my memory) with one eye on the audience.
Our lust for culture satisfied, we headed for the delights of Trafalgar Square, where we treated the Lions to a slurp from our bottles of Brown, then took the Orient Express to Leyton, where we surprised the locals by having a pie and Brown picnic in the park. Into the traditional freezing-cold open away end, where we were amused by one of our lads constantly expressing his pathological hatred for all things Cockney, including the West Ham fan who’d come to watch us because we were his second team. This London-hater sat near me at the SoL for a while, and he’d mellowed with age now – at least, he had for home games.
As we watched this non-fight taking place (it takes two to tango, as they say, and the West Ham lad simply wasn’t interested), the Lads trotted out with Monty, Malone, Bolton, Moncur, and Dave Watson at the back. Ha, they’d never score past that defensive line-up. A central midfield of Dennis Longhorn (insert crude pun at your leisure if you like) and Bobby Kerr seemed logical, with Billy Hughes wide on the right and Jackie Ashurst – well, let’s say he was a centre half – in for Tony the Tiger Towers. Helping out in front of the defence was his job that day, and he did it reasonably well. Pop Robson and Vic Halom (Vic Halom, Vic Halom, la la la la la laaaa) were up front, and we expected great things. We started like we were going to get them, as the game was barely kicked off when Billy Hughes nipped in from the right, and scored. 11 seconds – the fastest ever Sunderland goal? I would think so. Far from being a foundation to build on, the Lads decided it was a lead worth hanging on to. Maybe having three centre-halves on the field lent itself to a defensive game, protecting a lead. Me, I prefer single goals to come as late as possible, so that we don’t have to hang on too long. We were still in the first half when ex-Smoggie Derrick Downing, he of the ridiculous sideburns (to narrow it down a bit), lofted in a centre from the left. Consternation on the terraces. The winter wind caught the ball as it flew below us, and carried it over Monty’s despairing hands. Panic on the terraces. It then hit the post. Relief on the terraces. Then things got silly – it hit Monty on the back of the head, and flew into the net. Disbelief on the terraces. “Arse,” we thought.
The second half was more of a solid defensive performance, with Joe Bolton beginning a run in the sidee, and Jackie Ashurst dropping deeper. The Orient fans cried “bring on Cunninghaaaam”, and out came their bright prospect for the future – Laurie Cunningham, soon to be of West Brom, England, and Real Madrid. He certainly livened things up a bit, and, by full time, we were happy with a point as he was like lightning down the touchline. Game over, lugs, fingers, and toes numb with the cold, and a light jog back to the tube and the associated warmth. An hour later we were aboard another dilapidated charabanc and off on the slightly more reliable, but no less circuitous, trip back north. When we disembarked at Bishop, we discovered that the equaliser at Brisbane Road wasn’t the only thing the wind had got hold of. The remains of the day’s market was strewn about, and several roofs had been removed in one piece. The streets were littered with slates, and we were pleased to find our homes in one piece in the small hours as we snuck in without waking the folks.
Service buses to away games? Forget it.
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.