You’d forgive any Sunderland supporter for indulging in past catalogues of nostalgia. Rekindling moments of success brings a sense of comfort during recent times which have seldom brought much to treasure.
With the club languishing in perilous predicaments both on and off the pitch, recollections of past accolades are a welcome distraction, whether its relying on YouTube’s finest goal compilations, reading tales of past shenanigans or reconnecting your old VHS player to watch Reid’s Revival.
I’ve no doubt, in our shallowest moments, we’ve all sought out these antidotes to remember moments of ecstasy. I’m of no exception; I confess to reminisce my past memories of truly great events. Despite our lack of achievements throughout my 25 years of endearment, I can assure you, I’ve treasured many moments. However, there’s a memory that’s always stuck with me in great clarity which I’d like to share.
This memory harbours away from the terraces, somewhere unlikely but familiar to us all. Nestled away in the Bridges shopping centre, Jackie White’s Market holds a special place in my heart. It’s labyrinth of stalls have offered the people of Sunderland an alternative from the high street offerings, harking back to a more traditional way of shopping.
It’s within this market during 1994 that my affinity to Sunderland fully blossomed. As of today, the entrance to Jackie White’s houses a quaint little ice cream parlour opposite Timpsons, however - until its closure in 1997 - this little outlet was the club’s official merchandise store!
Despite its diminutive shortcomings, the Jackie White’s store still housed everything a supporter craved. The back wall was an array of colour from the display of replica shirts, shelves stocked with the latest VHS tapes and annual book offerings, whilst the till area showcased the finest collection of hats and scarves. As a ten year old child with a growing appetite to embrace the world of football, this store gave me more excitement than Joseph’s toy shop (and for those too young to have experienced Joseph’s, you have my sympathies).
At this point of my young affinity to the club, my Dad had already indoctrinated me with the Roker Park match day experience. I cheered for my heroes of the time: Phil Gray, Alex Chamberlain and, of course, the ‘Son of Pele’ Martin Smith. My Dad knew the emotional attachment was near complete. Therefore, to ceremoniously confirm my allegiance, a trip to the club shop was required.
The glass window to the Jackie White’s club store had the current Sunderland badge emblazoned across it - although the red stripes under the famous ship were present, the white stripes were absent. This transparency gave me the perfect view to spy from the outside the array of shirts available to purchase.
The new Sunderland home shirt was the most prominent on display; designed by British sports manufactures Avec (their first foray into kit manufacturing) the peculiar design fitted well within the bold designs of the 90s. The traditional elements were present, but the peculiar shoulder flash of red and the adjoining renegade line across the stripes caused a divided response. Having to succeed the exemplary Hummel was always going to be a difficult task!
Nevertheless, I remember my Dad picking up the nearest size before anything else could be considered. I wasn’t opposed to the idea because at that point it was the only shirt I’d seen at Roker Park, yet despite what should of been the natural choice, my eyes were drawn to something else.
Jon Devlin of True Colours describes the 1994/95 away shirt as ‘unorthodox and garish’, and in retrospect that’s hard to dispute. The primary teal colour was dull and void of any redeeming characteristics, though the design did carry over the home shirts smart collar and the Avec shadow logo material, which was a nice touch. In comparison to the clubs earlier efforts, however, the Avec attempt fell short of memorable.
Despite the lack of popularity, I couldn’t help but be drawn to it. When my Dad allowed me to try it on, I knew I’d be leaving the shop adorning it. I loved the colour, the feel of the ‘Vaux Samson’ sponsor and the little pocket created by the collar stitching on the front. It may have been unremarkable, but that shirt was so significant to me. It was the moment I knew I’d be supporting this team for life.
As intended, I walked out the Jackie White’s store with the shirt on my back - labels included! The feeling of being a part of something which connects the city was empowering. I debuted the shirt at a home game against West Bromwich Albion.
The crowds previous without my shirt were but strangers to me, but sat in the Clock Stand I felt a connection with each and every one of my number.
I’m fond of this memory because I enjoy reconnecting with how joyous I felt wearing that shirt. It reminds me that despite the current hardships we’ve had to endure, Sunderland will always find ways to evoke emotions little else in life can replicate. They come far less than they should, but when they do you can’t deny that feeling of pride supporting this club.
Good times will return one day, but until then, during moments of frustration, uncertainty or anger, rest assured you’ll find me down memory lane... in Jackie White’s Market.