Growing up near to Durham in the early 1960s and having a Sunderland daft dad, the exploits of 'the lads' were a main topic of conversation whenever my Dad was in the company of family or his mates.
Names such as Brian Clough, Charlie Hurley, Jim Baxter, George Herd and Johnny Crossan were mentioned with such reverence that I realised I had to be part of it all as quickly as possible. Looking back, football matches weren't exactly the family friendly experience they are today, and at first my Mam probably wasn't that keen on her young lad being exposed to 'all that swearing' and boisterous behaviour at such a tender age.
Eventually though, my obsession with footy and a bit of arm twisting by Dad could no longer be resisted. Sunderland were playing Man City at home on New Years Eve 1966, and it was to be my first trip to Roker Park.
We made the short walk down to the bottom of our street, and boarded the Cosy Coaches bus that was to take us from Brandon to Roker Seafront. The journey seemed to take ages, but luckily my sheer excitement won out over the sickly feeling induced by a mixture of fag smoke and diesel fumes on the bus. I remember being stuck in traffic for what seemed to be ages at Houghton - it must have been before they built the road that goes through it now.
Arriving on Roker seafront and taking the short inland walk to Roker Park, we made our way into the Clock Stand Paddock well before the start of the match. Being among the first to arrive, we took up prime position just behind the wall and railings at the front. Once the match started, Dad lifted me up so that I could sit on the wall with my legs between the railings as I tucked them underneath a pile of straw that had been used to protect the pitch from frost the night before.
What a view! I couldn't believe that I was sitting right next to the pitch, unbelievably close to the heroes I had heard so much about. One particular player made big impression on me that day. A youngster called Bobby Kerr having his debut for the lads. He looked really small up against the other players, but boy did he make up for it.
He jinked up the right wing time after time, and before long the crowd went crackers whenever he received the ball, in the way that only Sunderland fans do.
The match seemed to be ending in a goalless draw, and we left the ground shortly before the full time whistle was about to blow. I remember starting to trot back to the bus along the eerily silent streets as a tremendous ROAR suddenly erupted from Roker Park, a short distance behind us. I'd never heard anything like it. We soon learned that the lads had grabbed a late winner seconds before the final whistle. The scorer no other than Bobby Kerr.
The following months and years saw many happy return journeys to Roker Park for me and Dad, including an unforgettable 3-0 win against Newcastle later the same season. Dad passed away in 1973, but not before seeing his beloved Sunderland win the FA cup earlier that year, the trophy being lifted by none other than Bobby Kerr, my first Sunderland hero.
Wind the clock forward thirty years or so from my first match, and I'm at Villa Park watching Sunderland with my own son - he posted his story describing that day just a couple of weeks ago here. Needless to say, I always knew he would become a lifelong Sunderland fan as soon as he experienced it at first hand and I wasn't wrong.
Despite all the ups and downs we're still keeping the faith, knowing that just like it was for me and my Dad all those years ago, this thing we share will always be much bigger than the sum total of the eleven players on the pitch, however good or bad.