A couple of days ago I stumbled upon something on social media that made me chuckle – a fan, presumably in his 20s (ah, bollocks, I guess he could have been in his 30s even) genuinely asking how on earth you bought away tickets before the internet.
Of course, the majority of games you just turned up and paid at the turnstile (which made for some brilliant spur-of-the-moment days out), but for bigger games you needed a ticket.
‘You just had to turn up at the ticket office and queue, lad’ was the gist of the response, which was met with genuine astonishment and bewilderment.
For many of us, spending days (and occasionally nights) wrapped around Roker for tickets for big games are a memory those younger generations will never have – and they provided some cracking experiences too: old ladies handing out sandwiches and packets of crisps (they always brought enough to feed EVERYONE, just in case), folding chairs, whispers about how many tickets were left, freezing cold... magic.
On this day back in 1992, tickets were all the talk as Sunderland faced an FA Cup fourth round trip to Oxford United’s Manor Ground in four days' time, having beaten Port Vale at home in the competition’s opening round for first and second division clubs.
Caretaker boss Malcolm Crosby, now three weeks into the job which would be made permanent by virtue of the cup, had overseen a significant upturn in fortunes, and fresh off the back of an impressive 2-1 win at Derby, all eyes turned towards Oxfordshire.
However, the plans of around 6,000 Sunderland fans, who’d expected to pay on the gate at the Manor Ground, had been changed at the last minute, as Oxford decided they couldn’t handle the invasion from the north, and instead limited the lads to 3300 tickets, which had to be bought prior to the game.
Given this decision was made on the Monday, communicated to fans on the Tuesday (remember, this was pre-internet, so the news needed to be conveyed by the newspapers) and the game was on the Saturday, it gave supporters little time to turn up for a good old winter’s queuing session on the Wednesday morning.
Tickets would go on sale at 8.30am the following day, the papers reported, on a first-come-first-served basis to season ticket and Gold Card holders, costing £6.50 each.
Cue thousands of sickies across the north east the next day.
Sunderland general manager Geoff Davidson said:
We could easily sell these tickets twice over, but we only have a limited allocation and in situations like this we don’t have time to cater for everybody.
Oxford won’t have had an influx like this for a ling time but clearly people are still going to be disappointed, We must urge supporters not to travel without tickets.
Caretaker manager Crosby said:
If they can’t accommodate the fans there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s our job not to let down the fans who do make the journey. Of course, Oxford could always play here if they wanted!
Sunderland went into the game without the cup-tied record signing Don Goodman, of course, while Tony Norman was able to shake off a flu bug to line up for a game that, unbeknown to those able to get their hands on tickets, and the rest of us who were listening to John Cairns back at home, was the second step on a very special and memorable journey.... during which we had to attend three home games in seven days and collect vouchers from the programme to have a mere chance of getting semi tickets.
But that’s another story, for another day.