Given the lack of any real activity at Sunderland, barring new strips and sponsors, we thought it would be an ideal time to delve back into our My First Match feature. To get the ball a-rolling again I was called upon by the powers that be here at RR Towers to bring my tale of how I fell in to the trap of following the veritable emotional rollercoaster that is SAFC.
Be sure to hit us up on Twitter, @RokerReport, or just email us, f you would like to share with the world your first game, we'd love to hear from you.My love affair with Sunderland began in December of 1995. Having been obsessed with football from an early age I had been pestering my father to take me to a game for what seemed like a life-time but as a bloke who grew up playing rugby my dad had little to no real interest in football. My quest to see a live game seemed destined to be a
fruitless task as each begging request was met with a "you're too young" rebuttal.
On Saturday 9th December however the planets would align. I remember it was a typically freezing day in the North East and my school football side had a home-tie in the local schools cup competition where I "plied my trade" as an uncompromising right-back. Well, as tough-tackling as a ten year old can be at least - I once almost caused a game to be abandoned as the opposition's coach didn't take kindly to my treatment of their left winger - who knew kids could be so aggressive.
Having donned the strips in the school changing rooms the two sides made the short trip across the road to the playing field, studs clattering across the poor caretaker's polished floor as thirty-odd eager lads strode into the brisk winter air. The football field was enclosed by a small wall from the footpath with a small drop from the perimeter down to the turf. I made the small jump as I had many, many times before but misjudged the layer of ice that had built up in the harsh conditions and slipped. Instinct kicked in and I broke my fall with my hands before quickly picking myself up and breathing a sigh of relief that my embarrassing mishap had gone unnoticed by my friends.
Brushing the dirt from my hands onto the gold sleeves of our kit I quickly caught joined the rest of the team on the pitch.
I can remember the palm of my hand being itchy and continued to satisfy the urge by rubbing my hand on the sleeve of the shirt, thinking nothing of it until one of the parents came running over with a concerned look on their face before taking me by the arm and leading me away. Confused and annoyed it was only now that I looked down and
saw the blood streaming from the palm of my hand. It would seem, from the shards of green glass at least, that my fall had not been broken by the frosty grass of the field as I had thought, but rather a broken discarded beer bottle.
A painful trip back to the school, where a group of completely unqualified in health and safety parents proceeded to poke and prod at the gaping wound before finally coming to the realisation that they were out of their depth and a visit to Sunderland General was in order. A number of stitches and hours later, I left A&E in some discomfort and in a huff suitable to a kid my age having had to miss the game that all of my friends would be discussing in such intricate detail on Monday that would even have Gary Neville and his oversized iPad jealous.
What followed I now recognise as a stroke of parenting genius rather than the act of kindness I perceived it to be at the time. Seeing the monumental huff I had worked myself into my mother was, understandably, not looking forward to a day of her son moping around the house and convinced my father to finally stand down from his stubborn reluctance and I was on my way to Roker Park for the very first time.
The one thing I can remember more vividly than the actual game itself was the atmosphere and hubbub around the ground as we parked the car and made our way to the game, from the aging blokes trying to flog programmes from a rusty old shopping trolley, to the queue winding its way out of the Roker Pie Shop on the corner, to the old lady waving at the passing crowds from her front door and most memorably the floodlights which seemed to tower endlessly into the cold, dark winter sky - I had finally made it to Roker.
Having pushed my way through the rickety old turnstiles and my dad seemingly taken aback as to the cheap admission prices, we joined his friends on the Roker End terrace, which seemed huge to a young first timer. The experience was more profound than I could have ever imagined, the smell of the lush turf was almost overpowering as it blended with the hazy, meaty steam which poured out from under the stand as Bovril was being sold as if it was going out of fashion.
I was introduced to the gallows humour which I have now come to understand is intrinsic to the very nature of being a Sunderland fan as my father's friends lamented the side's chances over top of the table Millwall that afternoon. I can distinctly remember the laughter as the bets for the game were discussed and one of the group proudly announced his Dickie Ord first goal scorer and Sunderland to win by some ridiculous score line punt, an audacious bet which I would come to learn he placed each and every game with seemingly no regret.
By this point I had already been well and truly bitten by the Sunderland bug and the side could have been hammered and it probably still wouldn't have dented my newly found enthusiasm, which would blossom into borderline obsession - heck, even my father seemed to be enjoying himself.
As chance would have it we needn't have worried about the game as Peter Reid's side ran riot. I can remember thinking, probably through the naivety of youth, that this side had it all. Michael Gray and Martin Smith seemed capable of causing problems at will with their pace and guile on the wings with the iconic, bald, Steve Agnew
providing the steel in the middle. I would go on to fall in love, not literally of course... honest, with the Polish right back Dariusz Kubicki, who's performance I studied enthusiastically, hoping I could learn a thing or two as a fellow right back. Then there was Craig Russell leading the line, a local lad playing for his local side, literally living my dream right there before my eyes who went on to bag a haul as Sunderland romped to an incredible 6-0 victory!
It has become somewhat of a cliché associated with the club now to wax lyrical about the famous "Roker Roar" but... wow... the noise that greeted each of the six goals, the swell of the fans on the terrace as thousands jumped and celebrated in unison is something that will always stay with me, an element of the game which can no longer be truly appreciated in the modern all-seater stadia we are spoilt with now. Sure Roker was in somewhat of a sad, dilapidated state by 1995, but such was the sense of history and nostalgia that standing on her old, battered terraces could invoke I will always be thankful I managed to take in a season and a half there before her unceremonious demolition to make way for the SOL.
Following the game I was not the only one hooked on SAFC, my father seemed almost as excited as his ten year old son as we returned home with smiles stretching across our faces. We didn't miss a single home game for the remainder of the successful 1995/96 season as Peter Reid's side went on to win promotion and season tickets were a must for the following Premier League campaign, as they have ever since, through the good times and the many more bad times.