I have many happy memories (peanut seller) and not so happy memories (Gillingham play off match) but one that stands out is when l took my son to his first game at Roker Park on a cold floodlit League cup night against Watford, l think.
In a drab affair we won 1-0, but I missed the only goal because my son wanted the loo!
Way back in the mid 1950’s me and my best mate at school would go to every home game. We used to travel by train from Durham Station to Sunderland (this was in pre-Beeching days).
Because my father worked on the railway I could get a half-fare, half-price return ticket for 7 and half pence (in old money) - entrance to the Fulwell End was 1 shilling (boys) and 3 pence for a program.
All for less than 2 shillings (10p in today’s money).
I remember one day on the way to the Roker Park we saw Charlie Hurley running the other way carrying a petrol can. He must have got his car going again because, come 3pm, there he was on the pitch.
By the time we got back to Durham ‘The Pink’ was out so we could relive the match and see if the reporter had been to the same game.
It was September 1959, and Sunderland were playing Bristol Rovers and losing 2-1 with seconds remaining. A cross came in from the right and Colin Grainger headed into the net at the Fulwell End just as the referee blew the final whistle.
There were muted celebrations before the players walked off the field. Stan Anderson spoke to the referee but gave no indication as to whether or not the goal had been allowed. There was no announcement over the PA system as to what the final score was. Not one person in that crowd of 30,000 knew for certain whether Sunderland had lost or drawn.
It was not until the Football Echo came out that evening that I knew the match had ended 2-2.
So many great memories... but my first visit to the ground was as a 7 year old with my dad. It was very much a “tryout” for me. Having watched the 57/58 Cup Final on my dad’s friends TV and been spellbound by Nat Lofthouse’s up and at ‘em performance, my dad suggested a reserve game would be a good way of introducing me to the seemingly-enormous Roker Park.
Back in 1958 the reserves played on the same pitch as the first team on Saturdays when the first team were away. So there I was, standing in the Clockstand peering over the barrier to watch Sunderland Reserves play Barrow Reserves in the Northern Regional League. The score... 9-1 to Sunderland, and I was hooked!
Although it wasn’t my first time at Roker Park, following the Munich Air Disaster I think we were playing Blackpool. It wasn’t the actual game I remember but what I vividly do recall were volunteers carrying a large tarpaulin sheet around the touch line and spectators throwing money onto it. This money was to go to the Munich Fund. Very moving.
I can’t remember who we played, or the actual year, but it would have been somewhere and sometime in the late eighties. I know this because I remember having a few pints and I wasn’t old enough, so I would have been 16 or 17. However, the strongest memory of that particular day is watching my brother going through the thrown away food from the fish’n’chip shop. He was up to his elbow in sausage, batter and gravy. That, and the ‘bovril incident’.
My mate Kev is about the biggest bloke you could ever meet - even at 16 or 17 he was as wide as the Fulwell End. I forget the name of the pub we went to, but it was always heaving on game day and we used to send Kev up for the pints as he simply couldn’t be ignored by the bar staff. His size meant he wouldn’t be questioned about his age, but his voice suggested he hadn’t come out of the other side of puberty. When he’d meet new people, they would have a look of puzzlement on their face as soon as he spoke.
Anyway, we’d had our few pints, a bit of a sing song, and headed across to the chippy for a cowboy special. I think it was chips, gravy, battered burger and a sausage. Grub in hand, Kev, my bro, his mate and myself sat down on the wall beside the pub. My brother spat his sausage into the void between the wall and the pub as it wasn’t cooked properly. I think the words that came out of his mouth weren’t quite as pleasant as how I described the sausage.
Walking to the ground my bro was talking to me, and I was looking at him and thinking something isn’t quite right. Then it clicked. His false tooth was gone. Kev says, “Vint, you’ve lost a tooth marra”.
“Oh, for f*** sake”, my bro says, “I must have spat the f****r out with the sausage! Lets go lads, we can look for it together”.
Needless to say, while he was up to his shoulders in leftover food, we had another pint and watched along with a crowd of about 50 who’d gathered around, every man and woman in hysterics as the story spread through the group. Eventually he pulled out the ivory as if it were Excalibur, except that it was a tooth covered in other peoples food and spit, and not mythical.
Once we settled into the clock stand, hot drinks in hand, we all looked on in absolute disgust as my brother produced the tooth from his pocket, dipped it in his Bovril, and slotted it back into it’s rightful place. His mate shot to the toilet and emptied the contents of his stomach. To this day, my bro reckons it was the best Bovril he’s ever drank.
P.S. I was back home last year (been living in Sydney for 20+ years) and went searching for the old chippy. Either it had closed down as its big pay day had been moved to a shop near the SOL, or I simply couldn't remember exactly where it was as I didn't have Roker Park there as a landmark.