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My First Time: Can you remember the first time that you watched Sunderland at Roker Park?

In today’s delightful edition of ‘My First Time’, David Holloway reminisces about the first time he experienced the wonders of Roker Park.

Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images

It seems like yesterday. I have no idea what the date was, nor the month - I am not even certain of the year. Maybe 1976, maybe 1977. I was a kid, a very young kid.

Heavy brown cords, a shirt with long round collars, the obligatory parker. Long lank wavy hair that only got washed once a week. Silent, unspeaking. I was either six or seven years old.

We crossed Roker Avenue from The Clipper and went for a bag of sweets, weighed on scales, served by an old lady who was dressed in a nylon overall - turquoise with dark blue trim.

She climbed step ladders to get the sweets from one of dozens of jars in the grocery shop on the corner, the corner of Roker Avenue and Stansfield Street. The floodlights were in the distance - it was my first visit to Roker Park, my first time, and I had a quarter of a pound of kets in a white paper bag.

Getty images

In truth I only have flashbacks from the time, not real memories, rather an awareness of something that had happened once - in silence, not in black and white but not in full colour either... grey, dull images of a different time.

My dad, my uncle, my granddad and me. I’m the only one still here today.

It was 1976 or 1977. I was unaware of punk but I can remember the Silver Jubilee - the Queen in an open-top car on a sunny day, waving a white glove as the estate lined the A690 waving Union Jacks just outside of Durham. The Queen and me, six or seven years old, around about the time that I first went to Roker Park.

I don’t remember the game but I remember the seats. I didn’t actually have a seat - I sat on my dad’s knee. He had a wooden seat in a wooden stand, the Clock Stand, but I couldn’t see a clock. I remember the old men around me, silver hair, grey wrinkled faces, aged by years of hard graft, stamping their feet on the wooden boards... I remember it like it was yesterday. I wish it was.

Mirrorpix via Getty Images

I remember the groans and the odour of strong cigarettes. I remember an old man unknown to me offering a black bullet. I crunched it and I was told off: “Careful, they’ll knack yer teeth son!” He, of course, had none.

I remember a little bloke with long black hair and a moustache who wore a red and white shirt hanging down just above his knobbly knees. “Who is that?” I remember asking. “Wey that’s Bobby Kerr, young’un, he won the cup!” a grizzled faced old man with yellow teeth turned and told me, before letting out a cough from a chest abused by tobacco and coal dust.

I remember the red and the white, the size of the place, the noise.

I can’t remember the opposition, can’t remember the score.

I remember the faces, the smell of vinegar, tobacco and chips. I remember the smiles and groaning, the laughing, the moaning, the cheering, the cries of frustration.

I was hooked, finished, done - there was no way back for me now.

Roker Park... the wind, the rain, the cold, the lights on a night game which made the green pitch glow. The man in a knee length overcoat climbing the ladders to the scoreboard in the corner - I watched him, wondering. The match was still being played out.

The man placed numbers in some sort of random order. They were just numbers and letters - A 0-2, B 1-0. Who was that? What did it mean?

Getty Images

“Back of the programme, that’ll tell yer bonny lad”. I could barely read.

I remember all of that but not the match - there was too much to see, too much going on, too much to watch. The match, my first time - I can’t remember my first time and I wish that I could.

Then the whistle blew and everybody was up, pushing to get out, down the steps, to the street - the tight terraced streets - and people moved quickly back to the bus stops, back to their cars, back to their homes. I can remember it well.

We stopped off to pick up my mam and my sister from behind Marks and Spencers - four adults and two kids in a small beige car, Sports Report on the Radio, heading back home for tea. It was too late for Basil Brush but we were just in time for Dr Who and for Bruce Forsyth’s Generation Game. I was put to bed before Match of the Day, unable to watch it, unable to record it. I remember it well.

I wonder what the score was?

Who did we play? Did we win?

I will never know. My first match - I wish I could remember my first time.


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