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…
Those of you with good memories may remember “plan C” (or was it D?) from the Bristol City tale – well, here’s how it changed to plans D, E, & F in August ‘75. Having been half frozen during my alfresco kip in the Bristol park shelter, I decided that a duffel coat over my “lucky” Levi jacket (laid to rest after one appearance at the SoL – you can’t argue with a pedigree that included five relegations and three goal-free Wembley visits), and a plastic mac in the pocket. Thus prepared, I got out my trusty thumb, and set off south, allowing a good 26 hours for the trip.
I managed the first 100 miles without a hitch (pun) before spending the obligatory three hours near Doncaster. Around 9pm, a Reliant Scimitar pulled up, and the driver replied “Oxford? Drop you off near there” – sorted! I happily climbed aboard, then noticed two other hitch-hikers, crammed into the back with their man-size rucksacks. Within a few minutes, I came to understand the reason for their worried expressions, as we hurtled south with one wheel on the central reservation, honking and flashing at anyone travelling at less than 120 mph. I stared up through the open sun-roof, watching the night sky flash past, and contemplating my chances of surviving the journey, which seemed pretty slim under the circumstances.
I was eventually dropped of “near Oxford” – I don’t know what my driver did for a living, but he was no geography teacher. If you check your maps for Shefford, you’ll find it happily nestling next to Baldock, once the home of a certain Kevin Phillips, many miles east of my destination. My next lift was with what seemed like ten West Indians in a Cortina, who listened with interest to my story, and were still laughing at the thought that Shefford was anywhere near Oxford when they dropped me in Watford at midnight. I decided I had travelled far enough, and spent the night in a cricket pavilion there, emerging, Compo-like, at dawn, scaring the pants off the milkman delivering the wherewithal for the afternoon’s tea and sandwiches.
A series of poor lifts got me as far as High Wycombe, where I gave up the thumb after sprinting to an Alfa Romeo with the roof down, only to be beaten into the passionate arms of the driver by his gorgeous girlfriend, who skipped from a nearby house. Looking at myself, I couldn’t fault his choice of travelling companion. The service bus was a welcome, if over-budget, luxury, and I felt a sense of relief as the dreaming spires of Oxford came into view as we dropped down the northern edge of the Chiltern Hills.
Despite the team’s pathetic antics a few days previously at Ashton Gate, a few pints in the White Swan soon got us back in the hopelessly optimistic mood that usually precedes away games – Tricky Dicky was in for Whacky Jacky Ashurst, and we had three up front in Holden, Robson, and Halom – how could we lose? We had Monty, Malone, Bolton, Jeff Clarke, and new captain Bobby Moncur at the back, so that was a good start. Tony Towers, Bobby Kerr, and a rare appearance for Tommy Gibb made up the midfield. As it turned out we didn’t lose, although the pre-match pints combined with lack of food to make me forget Bobby Moncur’s equalising goal after we’d been down at the break, and I left the ground convinced that we had lost 1-0. I was eventually convinced of the correct score by Col from school, who I had met in the pub, and who was also travelling by the rule of thumb. We agreed to join forces, but, unfortunately, there is an unwritten law which states that doubling the number of hitchikers halves the chances of a lift. This meant that we walked for miles around the ring-road, with no sign of a pick-up. We took turns to put our arms out, and, as I extended mine for about the fourteenth time, my fist came into sharp contact with the head of a passing moped-rider. Fortunately, there is an unwritten law which states that doubling the number of itchikers halves the chances of a good thumping from irate motor-cyclists.
By 10pm, we were somewhere on the A43, and still liftless, so we pooled our finances and found we could afford a couple of pints apiece in a pretty village pub. We asked if they had any pies, and were told they only had quiche. We asked what that was, decided that egg custard laced with cheese and onions wouldn’t kill us, and duly spent the last of our pennies. Suitably refreshed, we set off again, and met up with a serious hitch-hiker – waterproofs, big rucksack, map, and (most importantly) an endless supply of salted nuts in the form of lots of little bags on a card, as his dad was a rep for KP, which he happily shared. We slept surprisingly well, under a tree at the entrance to a military camp near Bicester, and I awoke around six to find that Col had set off a couple of hours earlier, apparently so that he could be back in Bishop for his Sunday dinner.
I left my new friend, and walked another ten miles or so before hunger forced me to nick a pint of milk from someone’s doorstep and gratefully pour it down my neck - sorry, middle England, but my need was greater than yours. By this time my blisters were getting the better of me, and it was with great relief that I accepted a lift to the M1. I’d only been waiting at the junction for a couple of minutes when my next lift arrived. “Hold tight” said the driver, handing me a helmet, and I climbed aboard a Triumph 650 for 180 miles of sheer terror. As my experience of motorcycles was limited to wheelies on Stubber’s moped outside school, I spent most of the ride north hanging tightly onto the strap, as my arse bumped a foot above the seat at every tiny bump. I dismounted at the A68 three hours later, my right leg soaked in hot oil, and wobbled the four miles to Shildon where I met Alf Ramsay from school who lent me 20p for the bus home.
I arrived in Bishop around 2pm, a couple of hours ahead of Col as it turned out, and in time to cook my own Sunday dinner – no quiche involved.
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.