The first football match I ever went to at Roker Park was on 15th September 1962 and that day we beat Luton Town 3-1. Our team was Montgomery, Irwin, Ashurst, Anderson, Hurley, McNab, Davison, Herd, Clough, Fogerty, Mulhall. I was eight and a half at that time and I was small for my age so I hardly saw any of the actual match because it was of course all-standing in the Fulwell End in those days. I could climb up onto the barrier in front of me and my brother, who was thirteen, lifted me up for important moments but for most of the time I had to rely on his reports and the noise all around me to get a picture of what was going on. That December I saw us beat Cardiff 2-0 but when I got home I discovered that the score had actually been 2-1. My brother hadn't bothered to inform me about a trifle such as a goal by the opposition and there'd been no celebrations for it in our end at least. The demographics of a football crowd were a lot different in those days with at least 90% being males and there was the constant aroma of cigarettes. On the refreshments side there was plenty of Bovril as well as crisps and pies but definitely no alcohol except on people’s breath.
That season we were at last making a serious push for promotion and having been there at Easter in a crowd of 62,000 to see us held 0-0 by rivals Stoke City, on 4th May 1963 I saw us beat Southampton 4-0. It was a lovely sunny day and at one point Monty cleared it out to right-winger Jimmy Davison just past the half-way line and he proceeded to run the length of the Southampton half before scoring. Years later, not long after Jimmy’s early death, I described this goal to his brother at a session in the Laburnum. That goal of Jimmy’s seemed so easy that I wondered why we didn’t do that all the time. On the walk home we were passing nearby All Saints Church when a guy just in front of me put a half-crown (twelve and a half pence in modern money but a fair bit in 1963) into the collection box of the vicar, who, no doubt well aware of the good result, knew he could garner a few bob. It was all for nothing though as we had to wait till the next year to win promotion back to what was then called Division One.
There are some special sounds that always remind me of Roker Park and the first of these it the click-clack of the turnstiles as we entered the ground. Another clacking noise that was common in those days came from a wooden rattle which devotees whizzed round while they roared the team on. These days you’d probably get pinned to the ground by a couple of burly stewards if you tried to enter a ground brandishing a rattle. I never had one but wished I had. I always had a secret longing to be passed over the heads of the crowd down to the front as you sometimes saw happening to little lads during very crowded matches but that was also unfulfilled.
Often people keep shouting things at the match and you don’t know what they’re on about. Round about 1964 when George Best had introduced a heart-throb element into football attendance, every club suddenly had a pin-up boy whereas before that it had all been about baggy shorts and dubbin. Whether he liked it or not Brian Usher, a young winger who never played too regularly for us, became that figure. I was at a match one Saturday and too drunk-looking guys behind me kept shouting, “Oh…here comes Mary!” every time Brian hove into view. This was perhaps understandable, in light of their jealousy of his good looks, but they kept on repeatedly shouting, “Corner post, Mary! Corner post, Mary!” every time they spotted him. To this day I’m unsure what this command meant.
Many people used to buy a programme in those days and on the back there was a chart for checking the half-time scores. In those pre-electronic days there used to be a wooden structure very like a cricket scoreboard at the angle of the Clock Stand and the Roker End into which an employee would slot little numbered boards bearing the scores of the particular teams and checking this was a ritual for many. It sounds almost antediluvian but as there were no mobiles of course back then, if you were in the main stand you could join a throng around a telephone there after the match by means of which some official or other would pass on all the other final scores.
Lastly, I must mention several cries that were an integral part of my football experience in the Sixties, though one wasn’t actually heard within a ground. Anyone who was at Roker Park at that time and afterwards will recall a guy who walked around the cinder track shouting, “Peanu-uts, tanner a bag!” over and over again, though he’d sometimes add a bit of variation by saying, “Peanuts as big as cocynu-uts!” He was a dab hand at catching sixpences from within the crowd and then lobbing the packets of nuts up to their purchasers. A classic Roker cry that still lives on was the immortal, “AWEE-AWEE-AWEE-AWEE-AY-EUUURRGGH!” Early on a Saturday evening a Football Echo salesman would walk the streets of our area delivering papers and selling them to passers by. We used to call him Ned and you could always hear him coming because he had the lilting cry of, FOOTBALLEKKHHHEUUURRRGGGGG AAAAAAHHHHH!” Now, that’s a very Sunderland sound.