My favourite episode of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads is the “England F” episode, where the lads try to avoid knowing anything about an England game until the evening highlights programme.
They see a newspaper headline “England F” and then spend the rest of the evening speculating on the outcome. Was it “England fail”, “England flop” or “England five”?
Look away now if you don’t know what happened… when the lads settle down for the game they discover that it was postponed: “frozen off”.
I thought of this while I spent Saturday overseas, either on the road or at a family function. Overseas for me includes the UK these days so, to my annoyance, I was in the homeland on a match day but couldn’t go. Worse still, my mobile phone doesn’t pick up 4G away from home and I’m too tight to pay for roaming, so I couldn’t go online to check the scores.
No problem, I thought, I’ll get my dad to text me updates. Somehow, however, technology failed him and nothing came through.
What was going on at the Stadium of Light? I’d decided that a draw would do for me. Charlton are a decent side... there’ll be first day nerves... Ross probably won’t have worked out his best team yet. A 1-1 would be a decent outcome... but what if we lost? On the Roker Rapport Podcast someone mentioned Norwich losing their first game in League One 7-1 to Colchester. What if that was us, turned over by a workmanlike Charlton, with the early season optimism dead after half an hour?
I hadn’t mentioned the football to my wife and eventually I remembered she had a phone which worked in the UK. “Oh, Sunderland won” she volunteered. How did she know? A friend had sent a message showing the League One table with us at the top.
Get in! Time to relax. But what had happened? Had we walked it, winning 4-0 – a stroll which had everyone expecting a championship coronation? Or had we squeaked it 1-0? Was it lucky? Or well deserved? Who had scored? What was the team?
By this stage, I was as stupidly nervous as if I didn’t know the outcome. Also, the friend in question is not averse to a jape. Perhaps we hadn’t won and he’d doctored the league table? Perhaps we had lost 7-1?
Of course, I now know the result and all the details. Charlton at home is one of those games people will talk about for years. Give it a decade and 60,000 will have been there. It was clearly perfect. Great atmosphere; tension during the first half; great tactical changes; a storming second half; great goals; a last minute winner.
A new era starts with a boom, the magic carpet, 2018 style, is in the air. And I wasn’t there! Oh well, must check out those flights for Rochdale in September.