'My Dad is taking me to the football' were the words that I'd used all week.
My dad and I were to to make the long trip to Sunderland from Poole in Dorset - seven hours in the car. I lay on the back seat whilst dad drove. We traveled up Wednesday overnight, and got to Sunderland early morning. We checked into our bed and breakfast; thursday was just a chillout day.
On friday, the football build up started. The first thing we did was visit the Charlie Hurley centre to watch the first team train - those days, you were allowed in to watch. I was in awe of players my dad talked about - players like Bally, Dickie Ord and Craig Russell. My friends back home wouldn't have heard of any of them, but to me they were as big as Cantona or Ryan Giggs.
By lunchtime my dad's twin brother and his older brother with his two sons had met up with us - they also came up from the south. We went to have a look around Roker Park. Looking back now, the reception didn't look all that but at the time reading 'Welcome to Sunderland A.F.C' looked awesome.
The ground was quiet. A guy strolled out from the reception - it was only Peter Reid. What a true gent. He just came up to us, and started talking football. We had our photo taken with him. I was beaming.
We spent that afternoon at the groyne in South Shields, where my grandad's ashes had been scattered. It's now home to my cousin Tony (left hand side of the picture) who sadly lost his life not too long ago. By this time it wasn't just the football team but the place itself that I was embracing. The locals would hear our southern accents and ask what we were doing up here. 'Have yous come up for the match?' was all that I remembering hearing. We were welcomed with open arms. 'Such friendly people', I remember thinking.
Finally, matchday came - Sunderland versus Reading at Roker Park. My dad took me to the club shop first thing in the morning. He bought me the full home kit and a signed ball. My shirt was the best thing someone has ever bought me, even to this day. It was far too cold even in September to wear the shorts. I put my shirt over my coat.
We then went to the New Derby pub - to say that I blended in would be an understatement. There was red and white everywhere. Shouts of 'Ha'way the lads' rang out. 'Oooh Bally Bally' followed soon after. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing up. I can still picture the joy on my dad's face when I joined in the singing. The singing continued as we took the short walk to the ground - my dad told me that it was tradition to buy a programme and a copy of ALS on the way.
We went through the turnstile, and still the noise of 'Haway the lads' could be heard. I go straight to my seat t he noise was incredible. I was almost in tears.
All of my friends were Arsenal, Manchester United or Liverpool fans - not me. My dad had opened up my eyes to Sunderland, and I was hooked.
I don't remember much about the game. We went one nil down and there were a few groans around the ground. Then, David Kelly equalised. The roar was phenomenal. The atmosphere turned up a notch. Again, we concede late on, only for Andy Melville to equalise in the last minute - Roker erupts again.
The final score was 2-2, and my first Sunderland game was under my belt. We clapped the players off, and I was still trying to make sure I knew all the players by name and face.
We filtered out of the ground, back to the New Derby, and still there was red and white everywhere you looked.
All that I remember thinking was 'I am now devoted Mackem'. Despite being only nine years old, and born hundreds of miles away down south, I felt as if belonged here. This was my team - I was proud to be a Sunderland fan.
I do hope when my two boys are a bit older they are bitten by the same bug that got me.