My love affair with Sunderland AFC started 55 years ago in September 1965 when I was 17 years old and had applied to go to a Teachers Training College in England. I had no idea where I wanted to go and on the application form, I simply wrote ‘anywhere’.
A few months later a letter arrived asking me to attend an interview at Sunderland College of Education. I had no idea where Sunderland was, but my dad said he thought it was somewhere near Newcastle Upon Tyne.
After advice from the local travel agent, I arrived in Sunderland where I was put up for one night in Williamson Hall on Mowbray Road. The next day, after what must have been a decent interview, I was offered an unconditional place to start the following September (1966).
On the 21st September, on arriving by train at Sunderland railway station, I was met by a couple of 3rd-year students and taken to my digs on the Durham Road opposite the Children’s hospital. I was pretty nervous, but was put at ease by my two fellow students who came from nearby North Shields (both Mags by the way).
A month later, on 25th October, a couple of us decided that we would go to a Tuesday evening match at Roker Park where the opponents were Stoke City. It was about a half-hour stroll after lectures from the College on Ryhope Road to the ground. In those days you could simply roll up and pay on the turnstiles. We bought tickets for the clock stand and when I walked in, I was blown away by the lights and the atmosphere. Coming from a small town in Northern Ireland, I had never been to a floodlit football ground before.
After a 2-1 victory I was hooked. I can still remember most of the team that evening with of course Monty in goal along with Charlie Hurley, Jim Baxter, Martin Harvey, and Cec Irwin. I owe the shortening of my name to Cec Irwin by the way.
As I was a mad sportsman, I was never able to get along to Roker as much as I would have liked over the following three years due to playing myself on Saturdays. On the Saturdays that I managed to go, I remember the ritual of a short walk to Binns Bearpit on Fawcett Street for coffee and toast, on to the match then back to college for egg and chips.
During my three years at college in Sunderland, I met my future wife who was from Shotton Colliery just down the road and, after graduating, it was natural that I would stay in the North East.
After leaving college in 1969 I taught for one year at Ryhope School, the school that Ritchie Pitt went to, but he had just left the June before I started.
Of course, the road to the 1973 FA cup final holds many memories, not least the fact that we were invited to a friend’s wedding that afternoon. I was gutted, especially as he was a Mag. I managed to slip away from the reception after the main course and was able to watch the second half on TV. We went into Sunderland that evening for a few drinks and the town was buzzing, I remember dancing along Fawcett Street. Shortly after the 1973 FA cup final, we moved away from the NE, but Sunderland was now my team.
Over the years, whenever we visited our friends and my wife’s family in the North East, I would always try and tie it in with a match either at Roker Park in the early days or subsequently at the SOL.
We have lived in Stockport for the last 35 years, and up until recently I was a part-time PE teacher at Cheadle Hulme School. I taught a young lad at the school who was talented at all sports and was an excellent footballer; so you can imagine my delight in 2013 when that boy signed for Sunderland – his name is Duncan Watmore. Duncan is a lovely lad and always looked after me when I visited the Stadium of Light. I was saddened when he left the club earlier this year.
Last year, 2019, was the 50th anniversary of leaving Sunderland College of Education and along with a friend, we decided that it would be apt to hold our celebration dinner at the SOL. It was a great evening overlooking the River Wear.
Being a Sunderland supporter over the past 55 years had had its ups and downs, probably more downs than ups, but it’s my team and always will be. I’m red and white through and through.