I was an eight-year-old in 1960 when my dad, Charlie Bell (also known as Charlie Day as he managed the newsagents owned by his father-in-law in Grangetown) bought me my first season ticket. The seat number was B13 in the lower grandstand.
I remember craning my neck to see past the supporters in the front row, or when the play was blocked by the girders that held up the stand. I could see most of the ground, all except the Roker End corner flag on the grandstand side. The major annoyance was not being able to see the right-hand Roker End goalpost unless you thrust your head between the two people sitting in front of you!
It’s odd incidents that stick in the memory: Cloughie colliding with the Bury goalkeeper, I think it was on a Boxing Day; Bobby Kerr’s amazing run of games and goals when he first got into the team - especially the cross shot that beat Liverpool’s Tommy Lawrence and which, I learned from the man himself many years later, broke Lawrence’s finger! And Mike Hellawell’s showing me his two England international caps when he lived in Leechmere Road.
But, two of the strongest memories had nothing to do with the football itself. In the nineteen-sixties Gerry Grantham owned a motor dealers and driving school opposite us in Grangetown. Up until 1963 or so Dad and I had caught the 21 or 22 Corporation bus to Hudson Road, then queued outside the Central Library for the ‘specials’ to take us to Roker Park. But when Gerry came to Grangetown we would take turns in driving over to Roker and parking in the back streets near the ground - often paying the local children a ‘tanner’ to look after the car while we were in the match.
In the crowded streets after the match we’d listen to Sports Report, starting with the results and working out how they had affected the Lads that day. Dad and Gerry would dissect he match on the way home.
We owned a Morris Oxford and later a Hillman Super Minx Estate Car that we used for the run to and from the match. Gerry, however, would turn up in whatever car he fancied from his showroom: the longest lasting, and by far my favourite was a maroon Jaguar 340 - not unlike the Mk II driven by Inspector Morse in the television series – that had cream leather seats: I, of course, sat in the back in splendid isolation.
My second abiding memory was of the smell emitted by two season-ticket holders. Let me explain. One smoked Clan pipe mixture, very rare in those days, an aromatic mixture from Holland that, many years later, I tried myself. I can only say that the sweet aroma far outweighed the experience of smoking it! The other at every half-time, when an elderly chap in front of me poured strong-smelling coffee from a little Thermos flask and unwrapped a caramel wafer. OK, I admit that it isn’t very exciting in print, but the sweet scent that drifted over from the freshly-unwrapped biscuit was just amazing: I can’t catch the scent to this day without being transported back to B13 at half time.
There are dozens of memories to relate, but I’ll finish, for now, with this small incident. At the end of the ’71-72 season Dad had decided to give up his season ticket. I was working in Birmingham for Cadbury’s and couldn’t always get home for a Saturday match, and never for a midweek game. Then Stokoe was appointed and Dad, remarkably far-seeing, suggested that we get a half season ticket each. I had finished with Cadbury (well, in truth, they finished with me) and was back home.
Dad sent me over to Roker Park and, on enquiring at the ticket office about season tickets, was given a three feet by two feet piece of hardboard onto which was pinned a seating plan of the grandstand. ‘Go up there and find a seat you’d like’ was the instruction; so, carrying this board I wondered around the upper Grandstand, trying seats out for the view. Eventually I hit on Q142 and Q143, three rows from the back of the Grandstand and one seat in from the aisle.
My season ticket, along with the programme tokens, got me priority booking for the home cup ties, and visits to Maine Road and Hillsborough. I was, also, fourth in line outside the ticket office when the Cup Final tickets went on sale to the season ticket holders and we had seats just past the halfway line and opposite the Royal Box at Wembley!
It was sometime in the early 50’s when I first saw a match at Roker Park. I’m not sure exactly when and I haven’t been able to find out. I did try writing to the club historian a few years ago to no avail - not even an acknowledgement I’m sorry to say. It was a home game against Charlton Athletic and it was thought by my father the most appropriate match for my initiation into the mysterious joys of being a Sunderland supporter.
Both he and his father were already smitten - and it was all because a cousin of my grandfather’s by marriage (how tenuous a reason do you need!) was playing. Alright, so it was for the opposition. But he wasn’t just any old player mind. He just happened to be the greatest uncapped English goalkeeper in the country at the time: the legendary Sam Bartram.
Not everyone will know that he was a local lad. I don’t remember the score or even if he kept a clean sheet. All I remember is we arrived early before the gates to the Clock Stand opened to ensure that we got a place right at the front behind the wooden fence fronting the stand and overlooking the paddock.
Tucked into a corner, I think I was only aged between 7 and 10 at the time, it was deemed in those days of mainly standing and big crowds to be the safest place for me. The noise was incredible. From then on I was hooked but being of tender years, at school and living west of Durham, I could only go occasionally. Nevertheless, went I did, as often as possible.
In due time I became a Roker Ender and eventually was able to buy my first season ticket there for the princely sum of £3! However, me and my mates defected when they put a lid on the Fulwell End, but we had to pay £4 a season for the privilege of staying dry.
We’ll have more Roker Park memories coming in the near future - if you’d like to share yours right here on the site, please get in touch with us via email.