I got into football properly around the 1986 World Cup and once the new league season was underway I began listening to Sunderland games on the radio and also sneakily in bed when it was a night game.
Unfortunately there were mainly defeats - 2-4 at home to York in the Littlewoods cup, 2-0 away to Barnsley in Bobby Mimms' debut (some things just stick in the memory) for example.
Bob Stoke had taken over as caretaker manager with five games remaining following Lawrie McMenemy's disastrous spell (to put it very politely) in charge. The lads were in a battle to stay up (sound familiar?), however this was no top tier relegation battle like we are used to now, no, this was a battle to stay in the old Division Two and prevent relegation to the third tier of English football for the first time in our history.
It was the last game of the season and the lads had a lifeline - beat Barnsley, and stay up. Walking to the ground with my dad for the first time was an experience I'll never forget, walking over the railway bridge at the bottom of Newcastle Road then down towards the ground, the sight of the fans in red and white as I walked amongst them, the smell of beer from The Cambridge, The Roker Pie Shop and not forgetting the site of the ground as it drew closer.
My dad had been a Roker Ender in his younger days so today he was taking me there. Walking up the steps wearing my Sunderland scarf and hat proudly, we went into the centre of the Roker, the sight of the packed Fulwell end in front of me stopped me in my tracks. The rest of the ground was packed too and we were near the back of the once famous Roker End. Looking at some stats there were only just over 19,000 in the ground but as a youngster, that was packed.
I could see little of the first half but we raced into a two-goal lead, everything was going to plan. We then got a penalty, 3-0 at half time would all but seal our safety. Mark Proctor stepped up and.....missed. After this Barnsley began to get their act together and pulled a goal back to make it 2-1 at the break. During halftime we moved closer to the Main Stand where it was just a little less crammed. I remember during the opening stages of the second half watching Stokoe in his mack and hat on the touchline and the two subs warming up. Sunderland and the crowd were getting nervous, Barnsley equalised and then disaster, they went 2-3 up.
The lads couldn't recover, we were beat and consigned to the play-offs.
I went home, not put off, and returned to watch the second leg of the play offs from the part of the ground where I would watch so many more games in the future, the Fulwell end. I witnessed my first victory but also my first relegation. The rest as they say, is history. All this maybe should have put me off, but as we all know, and whether we like it or not, once the Sunderland bug gets you, it’s Sunderland Till I Die.
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