Why Sunderland? I guess all supporters can answer that question when it comes to explaining why we chose to be a Sunderland fan. The vast majority will say it was because it is or was their local team, or the club their Dad supported.
Well, both of those reasons apply to me. If my Dad had supported Newcastle, I reckon I’d be one of the great unwashed right now.
I can remember clearly when my Dad took me to Roker Park for the first time, though I’ve researched the exact dates. It was 24th August 1974. We had tickets for seats in the Main Stand, towards the Fulwell End as I recall.
We were playing Southampton, half time came and a Mick Channon penalty had us down 0-1. Then, in the second half, three goals in 10 minutes from Dave Watson, Pop Robson & Billy Hughes gave us a 3-1 victory. When the second goal went in, I remember the guy in front turning round & saying “I knew they wouldn’t let us down” and everyone was cheering & hugging with complete strangers. I thought this was what it would be like every week.
Obviously that wasn’t the case, but it was quite a memory for an 8-year-old. The previous year was dominated by the FA Cup final win over Leeds, but that Southampton game was my first live match.
As the years rolled on a few other matches live long in the memory. I think my favourite game ever was vs Man Utd on 24th Nov 1984 when we won 3-2. This game had everything. I was packed into the Fulwell End & the first half alone had five goals, two penalties, two sendings off and a hat-trick from Clive Walker. Colin West standing in front of the Fulwell End waving his arms at half time, generating the noise to fever pitch. It’s also the only time I ever remember that the Fulwell End sang all through the interval.
Next seeing Gabbiadini for the first time - 24th Oct 1987 vs York. I was in the Roker End for this one as two Cornforth goals and one each for Marco & Eric Gates gave us a 4-2 win. I remember thinking Marco was the fastest thing on two legs I’d ever seen.
Then promotion to the top flight induced my (then) wife & I to part with £89 pounds each for a season ticket for the Fulwell End. I recall playing Tottenham on 28th August 1990 who had Lineker & Gascoigne in their side fresh from their heroic exploits at Italia 90.
Lineker was afforded enthusiastic applause whilst warming up though Gazza was met with a chorus of “Where’s your girlfriend gone?”
Must have been something in the news at the time with him & Sheryl.
Another standout was on 24th March 1990 when we beat West Ham 4-3 in what has become known as Keiron Brady’s finest hour.
On to the Stadium of Light and, with increasing fees for match day and season tickets, I attended much less frequently though my passion for the team never wavered. My first time at the magnificent Stadium of Light was on the 11th Nov 2000, when we drew 2-2 with Southampton & James Beattie scored a cracker from about 3 miles out (well 35 yards, anyway).
Of course there have been many low points along the way though I have to pick our original relegation to the old 3rd Division as my worst feeling as a Sunderland supporter. We had to go through the agony of a two-leg playoff with Gillingham, and it was a tie I couldn’t contemplate us losing and seeing our proud record of never being lower than the old Division 2 destroyed.
To help us win I even put a bet on Gillingham to beat us, my logic being that my sometimes awful luck on the horses would carry over onto a football bet and guarantee us victory. I remember how despondent I felt as I collected my 30 pieces of silver from the bookies.
So, here we are now back in League One - the old 3rd Division. Maybe it’s because I’m 54 now, but I’m not as down as that first time. We are at our lowest ebb for sure, but time shows that there are always ups and downs following Sunderland, probably more than any other club. We must keep the faith and wait for better days.
Tell you what I’ll nip to the bookies and put a bet on Parky still being our manager in two years time... well, it’s worth a try.