Updated: Jul 12
Somebody gave me a bunk up and I got a grip on the top of the wall at the Roker End but when I looked down I saw the lad whom I’d just given a bunk to being grabbed by a policeman. The cop looked up and eyeballed me and I could see that I’d also be nabbed the second I dropped down to the other side so I aborted the mission. It was Monday 12th May 1980 and the last game of the 1979-1980 Season, which meant it was business as usual at Sunderland A.F.C. with our hopes of promotion from Division 2 hanging on this game. We were at home to West Ham, who'd won the F.A. Cup two days earlier by beating Arsenal 1-0 with a Peter Brooking header. As I’d walked over to the game my mate and his brother, the latter had dismissed this achievement as winning, “The Mickey Mouse Cup”. To be fair to West Ham, they were fielding a strong team against us.
I was living in East Finchley in London at that time and had tried but failed to get a ticket for the game from the SAFCSA London Branch. I’d even got it together for the first and last time in my life to send them a telegram. Money was thin on the ground in those days so on the day before the match I hitch-hiked up to Sunderland. I managed this okay but when a couple of cops stopped their car as I waited at a motorway slip-road, they gave me a good grilling when I said I was from Sunderland. This was the time of the Yorkshire Ripper and Sunderland males were of particular interest then. I hitched part of the way with another lad from Sunderland whom I’d just met and, having given him my parents’ address, he happened to call in when I was out on the following day and had a beer with my dad. I never saw him again.
We went into the match with a thirteen-game unbeaten run behind us and nine days earlier I’d been among something like fifteen thousand Sunderland fans at Ninian Park for our 1-1 draw with Cardiff. Our line-up for the West Ham game was Chris Turner, Steve Whitworth, Joe Hinnigan, Gordon Chisholm, Rob Hindmarch, Shaun Elliott, Kevin Arnott, Mick Buckley, John Hawley, Bryan Robson and Stan Cummins.
We arrived in good time for the kick-off and there was a huge scrum of people outside of the ground, many of whom were ticketless too. Time went on and we kept prowling around looking for any kind of opening as the roars of the crowd inside swirled about us. There was a great roar when Arnott put us into the lead in the first half but we needed another to make sure. Having come all that way I wasn’t going to go home so I stuck around and midway through the second-half my persistence paid off as the gates were opened to let the early-leavers out and of course we were in there like a flash. Strangely enough after some initial squeezing through the crowd, it wasn’t that difficult to get a decent vantage point most of the time and at least I was there when Cummins put us 2-0 up and gave us the victory that assured promotion as runners-up, a point behind Leicester. The crowd was 47,129 - our biggest of the season - but that couldn’t have included me and the thousands of others who got in free.
That was a great start to the Eighties, but we were to touch the depths of despair in the middle of that decade before things went full circle and we were back in the top flight again in the summer of 1990.