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…
It’s strange when your Derby game for the season happens to be at York. A bit like Carlisle, gleefully acceptable in the First (Premier) Division, but hopelessly rubbish when it’s in the third, and a bit like recent times when Doncaster and Accrington have vied for that dubious honour.
However, York is where we found ourselves in 1988, thanks to the inspired work of Mr Mackemenemy. Still, it was an ideal train trip, being just 25 minutes from Darlo, joyously boasting pubs for every day of the year(and counting), no match ticket required, and three points the merest formality because Smithy’s boys were flying. Just turn up, warm up, and be entertained in a late season show of Red and White might. Well, that was the plan…
We duly arrived in York in perfect time, just before 11 o’clock heralded the opening of the first of the 364 on our list – but we had to be selective, as most pubs in the city don’t open until noon. In those pre-internet days there was no way of finding out in advance which they were, and there was no Spoons with their guaranteed early opening, so it was a case of enquiring at the information booth at the station. I think they guessed our question before we opened our mouths.
Security started early, with the Yorkshire polis videoing every Sunderland fan as they disembarked the train. A very pessimistic start, but par for the course those days, and we soon chalked up our daily allowance of liquid as we reduced the “must visit” list to 359. It looked like we would struggle to get round them all, as we entertained Mackems, locals, and bemused tourists alike with a varied display of our dubious theatrical talents. Gibba gave us “Alouette”, the unexpurgated version for performance in the presence of over 18s only, Tink “scrunched”, which is a very visual display of testosterone involving a madman running around the pub, and Skinner, Aycliffe’s Prince of Pop, provided the coup de grace with two verses of “Lucky Lips” before we were asked to leave. Yet another pub that we henceforth excluded, but there were still another 358 to choose from.
On to Bootham Crescent, a real prefab of a ground, where there was chaos at the turnstiles as the law made a particularly feeble, and potentially dangerous, hand of crowd control. When we did get inside, the famous York Shambles took on a new and frightening meaning. Their idea of safety fencing was that rusty stuff that is used to reinforce concrete. It was rough, it was held up with string, and it swayed about at the slightest touch, it seemed about 12 feet high, and had nasty, sharp, pointy bits sticking out all over the place. People scrambled everywhere to get a view of the pitch, including the TV gantry (sorry, TV shed) and the clubhouse roof, where the police video camera got much better close-ups of the visitors than they had ever expected.
We were behind the goal, packed in as tight as I ever remember being in the Fulwell and this was one of the very few occasions I can recall my ability to move and draw breath being dictated by others for more than a couple of seconds. Just as panic began to set in, the local plods saw a bit of sense and opened a gate to allow the no-man’s-land of the main stand, which was noticeably empty, to be filled with a flood of Sunderland fans. Relief. That had been worse than the ’75 game when it hoyed down and 4,000 of us tried to get under one umbrella. 8,878 was the official crowd, but I’m sure that there were at least that many in our end alone.
The football was poor, mainly because York hadn’t read the script, the cheeky buggers. Maybe they raised their game due to the presence of Denis Smith, John McPhail, Marco, and Viv Busby, all York old boys We were the big club, running away with the league, and with a massive following. Despite a debut goal from Pascoe, a substitute for the famous Dougie McGuire (who never showed his face again) and a disallowed effort from Gorgeous Gordon Armstrong, they beat us 2-1. McGuire short-lived appearance meant that we’d spent more time in the White Swan that afternoon than he ever did in a red and white shirt. Smithy had done what managers were supposed to, and bought when the team was winning, with Pascoe the man coming in. On paper, we were by far the stronger team, with Hesford, Kaysie, Reuben Agboola, McPhail and Benno at the back surely too strong for their attack, and a midfield of Steve Doyle, Armstrong, Owers, and McGuire surely too tenacious and crafty for their midfield. Above all, we had the G-Force. Although still a relatively new partnership, they’d ripped the division to shreds in their first campaign. We even had Frankie Gray on the bench, and the new boy Pascoe. Perhaps it was enough that York felt that they owed Denis Smith one. Whatever it was, it worked for them that day.
We decided on a post-mortem back in town and managed to evade the visiting “tourists” in Leeds colours lurking in the streets outside our end on our way to pub 358. We decided that we would still walk off with the league, Denis Smith was all right, and I was daft for running the York Half Marathon the next morning on a belly-full of beer (“you can’t fly the Atlantic without petrol” was my reasoning), but we simply couldn’t decide on who was the biggest arsehole – Lawrie shit-for-brains Mackemenemy, or Jimmy Hill. Those two seemed to crop up in every such debate, and still do, as few come close to replacing them. In the end we decided on the latter, because he knew exactly what he was doing whereas Lawrie obviously hadn’t had a clue. I, with thirteen miles to run the next morning, opted for a quiet Italian meal with my wife, who’d patiently shopped the afternoon away, only to find no available seats at the restaurant of our choice. The waiter promised that, if we popped to the pub next door for a swift one, he’d give us a shout when a table became available. In one of the more unexpected moments of the weekend, he did just that, so I filled up on pasta (fuel for the true athlete) and Nastro Azurri.
Back in the pub (number 355 or so) the increasingly animated discussions of the rest of South West Durham’s finest had attracted the attention of a couple of females, who stupidly accepted the invitation to join in and give their opinions on the Mackemenemy/Hill debate. They turned out to be American Psychology students on a course in England, and they’d just found some suitable subjects for their future studies. One looked like Brooke Shields (OK, the lads had been drinking a bit, but you get the pictures), while the other redressed the balance by looking like Bette Midler. They were obviously top students, as they ponced gin & tonics from the lads all night. Deciding that it was perfectly normal for two twenty year-old Americans to want to spend the evening in the company of a bunch of (a bit) drunk older men in football colours, the lads decided to delay their departure. However, free drink was no compensation to Brooke and Bette for putting up with inane drivel, although they did concede that Mackemenemy (whoever he was) was not a nice man, as they moved on to their next victims.
When the lads got back to the station they discovered that the last of the regular trains had long since departed, leaving them with a two hour wait for the mail service, the trusty friend of the itinerant, and daft, football fan. The potential passengers included a fair smattering of the usual faces amongst the pissed-up stragglers and such a smattering would have been incomplete without the one and only Sammy. There he was, eternal Fulwell legend, scarf round his wrist, and a domino card for every occasion. He informed folks that he hadn’t seen the game due to being a victim of police injustice, and muttered something about communication cords and Chester le Street as he boarded. The last leg for the Aycliffe Army was a costly post-midnight tariff taxi from Darlo, ensuring a good old (and expensive) nag the next morning. I spent the night in a York B&B, and the York half marathon was the last thing I needed after a miserable defeat and a night on the town. But I did finish.