About a decade ago we published a book called Ganterbury Tales, now it's out of print we thought we’d publish some of its content online…
On our ‘95-96 train journey down to the smoke, we sat near a group of very smart looking ladies who were on a shopping expedition. They were dressed up to the nines, reading “Bella” and eating Marks & Sparks salads. Our gentlemanly questioning revealed that they were on a regular excursion to London from Tyneside to do a bit of “upmarket” shopping. They wished us good luck for the match, we wished them happy shopping, and, at King’s Cross, we went our separate ways, expressing sincere hope that we would meet up on the homeward journey.
We met up with Reg, then based in Ross on Wye, who had travelled with the his usual pessimistic outlook – every time he and his brother John, based in Cheshire, succumbed to our gentle persuasion and went to an away game, Sunderland lost. Must have gone to loads, then. John couldn’t be persuaded along to this one, although Reg was easier to convince. The usual few beers in the Lamb were followed by a last-possible-minute train journey out to the capital’s southern suburbs. Our reluctance to leave the Lamb resulted in a sprint to Selhurst and no time for further refreshment before the match, which isn’t a bad thing as it’s a good ten minutes from the nearest watering hole.
We went to the window assigned to selling tickets to away fans, where no amount of persuasion could convince the youth behind the glass that three £14 tickets did NOT cost £38. No wonder they’re going bust. Eventually, we stumped up the £38 he wanted, and then had great problems trying to get together exactly £12.6666666 each to cover the cost. We got through the turnstiles, spent the money we had saved on tickets on three of football’s better burgers, and raced up the steps towards the seats. The second the field came into view, Nigel Martyn let the ball bounce off his chest for the first of many times that afternoon (he must have been wearing a bullet–proof vest), and the eventual outcome was a penalty.
Not even in our seats, and the chance to go one up at the home of one of the better teams in the division! A cracking start – magic, no less, and we hadn’t even had the chance to see who was in the team. Unfortunately, Scotty’s spot-kick hit the foot of the post and flew along the line to safety. Bugger, so let’s see who Reidy’s picked this week. Chamberlain, as expected, Dariusz, the unfortunate Scotty, Mary Melville, and Dickie Ord at the back, midfield of Bracewell and Bally in the centre, Micky Gray on the left and Martin Smith roaming about behind Phil Gray and David Kelly up front. We generally outplayed Palace without creating too much in front of goal until the second half, when we were awarded another penalty. This time, Le Brace took responsibility, and proceeded to serve up one of the worst penalties of all time. Well, until Jeff Whitley in the play-offs a few years later – against Palace. The thud of the Brace’s wayward effort hitting the advertising hoardings lives with me still. Eventually, Martyn let another shot bounce off him, Bally whacked it back into the middle, and Mr Kelly scuffed the ball just inside the post for one of his all-too-rare goals for us. Celebrations of the enormous variety were enjoyed with Sunderland-supporting ex-Mag Kevin Scott who we had spotted close by. We won the game, we eventually won the league, but we missed a hatful of penalties that season, with just about everybody in the first team squad having a go from the spot at some stage.
One nil at Palace – not bad at all. I know people who’ve been to Selhurst a dozen or more times and not seen us win, so I never let them forget the match that they missed. We headed back to Victoria, where we went to the nearest watering hole for a celebratory pint or three. I forget the name of the pub, but it had a big notice stating that no football supporters were allowed in. We duly buttoned our coats up to the top, and entered. It was half full of lads wearing huge, smug, grins, and coats buttoned up to the top. These were the followers of the day’s successful teams. The other half of the clientele were lads dressed identically, but with glum expressions, and were thus obviously the followers of the day’s unsuccessful teams. Reg was especially pleased, as his journey across the country had, for once, been rewarded, if not with a brilliant performance, then with three good points. We endured the stickiest pub carpet in the country – a heady combination of beer, powdered glass, unspecified vegetable matter, and straightforward glue (dripped from the noses of the locals, no doubt) – and some of the scariest toilets in the capital, for an hour or so. We phoned everyone who had turned down our invitation to join us (from the pub’s payphone, as mobiles in those days were too large to carry to the far end of the country) and had a quick gloat, until Reg headed for the west, and we headed for King’s Cross.
Now, we were happy and suitably “warm” (Bishop dialect for a having a gallon on board) for the journey home, but our female travelling companions from the morning's journey really put us to shame. These elegant lady shoppers of this morning had been transformed, in a matter of six or seven hours, into the harridans from Hell. Mascara down the cheeks, smudged lipstick, hair adrift, holes in their stockings, and heels off their shoes. Blouses with the buttons done up out of sequence, tabs all round, and raucous, cackling laughter. Copies of “Playgirl” and ready-mixed Gin and Tonics had replaced the copies of “Bella” and the Marksie’s salads. Harrods carrier bags littered the aisle and balanced precariously on the luggage racks. Our beers lasted until Doncaster, but their G&Ts ran out before Peterborough, so it was off to the buffet car for the girls, lurching down the carriage to the amusement of all aboard. They joined in our now-customary cacophony of “football hits of the 70s”, and generally made us look like model citizens for the duration of the journey, despite our vain efforts to drink draughtflow beer straight from the can. Try it, you’ll see what I mean, but it’s best done just outside the toilet, just in case.
If ever you have train tickets booked to London, and the match in question is called off, I would recommend a shopping trip instead. It looks to me like it would be an acceptable alternative.