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Way Back When: Memories of watching Sunderland away at Burnley in 1978!

The smell of tabs and Bovril still resides in the nostrils of Lars Knutsen as he dreams of glory days and records broken, a game for Sunderland away at Burnley all the way back in 1978.

DW Caricatures

Back in the late 1960’s and into the 70’s football, at least at Roker Park, used to be a “guy thing”. Many men would work on Saturday mornings, get to the pub for a pint or two, then walk on to the game. The recollections I had as a teenager attending matches were often nasal in origin: the smell of cigarettes, Bovril and hot pies; others were the swearing, male chauvinism and occasional racism, all of which were off the charts at times.

The first match I ever went to was Sunderland’s 0-0 draw vs. West Bromwich Albion in May 1968. The following week the Black Cats won 2-1 at Old Trafford to deprive Man. Utd. of the League Championship, see:

…and I was hooked for life.

Society gradually changed, and in the case of Sunderland, the club’s move to our excellent Stadium of Light in 1997 combined with an uplift in the club’s fortunes under Peter Reid, as well as players taking better care of their personal grooming, meant that many of the fairer sex started to come to games, often with their families. Nowadays we have a veritable army of female fans, according to my Twitter feed, and that is truly excellent.

However, what I am seeking to cover and personally reminisce about today is a game from the gritty, non-politically correct late 1970’s, when two proper Northern teams played a solidly memorable game. I refer to Burnley vs. Sunderland on 23 September 1978 - extra needle was present in the game because former Clarets manager Jimmy Adamson was in charge at Roker Park. The superb – at least for SAFC nerds – helped me with the details of the game.

What is great about any live game is that one can see history being made and in the 70’s cameras at a game were a rarity, unless your team happened to be on “Match of the Day”. No cameras then for that Second Division Turf Moor clash.

The first half was pretty even, but the referee was reaching for his yellow card too often for my liking. Just after the half hour mark Shaun Elliott joined full-backs Mick Henderson and Joe Bolton in that rather picky official’s notebook. Then disaster struck; both Henderson and Bolton got their marching orders in the minutes up to the break. I was counting the players to make sure I had seen this actually happen and yes, we were down to 9 men. Even coach Ken Knighton was booked for protesting those decisions.

I do not know what manager Adamson said in the dressing room, but in the second half we just kept the ball away from our defence, and the now legendary goal scorer Gary Rowell netted twice, the second being a penalty kick. There was a rather nervy ending when Burnley pulled one back on 75 minutes, but this was the first time ever a team had won with 9 against 11, starting at 0-0.

Breathless entertainment, amazing action and a match that will forever live on in my memory. The team went on to finish strongly and failed to get promoted by just a single point. Nobody can say that following Sunderland AFC is boring!

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