Soapbox: another Saturday away from the Stadium of Light

Pete Sixsmith profits from a SAFC-free weekend to take in games at Ashington and Ryton, plot his book on the fate of proper old football grounds, hail Big Cec Irwin and question moves to stamp out of swearing on the pitch

Being out of the cup gives people like me a chance to get to clubs and grounds that we sometimes struggle to visit.

A couple of weeks ago on Fourth Round day, I went to Consett, once the Red Dust capital of the UK, and watched an exhilarating Vase replay against the swells and toffs of Poole Town.

No Vase replays this weekend, so it was a question of looking round for something interesting. I found a good one on the Friday night at Ashington and a not so good one on the Saturday at Ryton.

Ashington are leaving their atmospheric and evocative home of Portland Park for the usual soulless, IKEA ground on the edge of town. Asda have decided that the good citizens of Ashington need a bigger supermarket so the obvious place for expansion is the local football ground.

So, yet another old ground (used by the Colliers in their Football League days in the 1920s) becomes yet another temple of consumerism.

There’s a book to be written about grounds that have become supermarkets, or suffered some other comparable humiliation. I have bought fruit in the penalty area of the Old Show Ground at Scunthorpe, had a cup of tea on the halfway line at Broomfield in Airdrie and pushed a trolley down the slope at Huish in Yeovil, while cursing the place because of our humiliating defeat there in 1949.

There was a huge crowd at Ashington to see Seaham Red Star poop the party by winning 3-2. This was good because the majority of Seaham fans are of the same persuasion as us while many of the Ashington fans wore replica bar code shirts and spoke of the Toon. But not all. We have a healthy representation of fans in this area, and I noticed a goodly number of SAFC jackets and hats amongst the 1500-plus who turned up on a cold night.

One Sunderland legend who has Ashington connections is Cec Irwin and he was in attendance, along with other former players – but not Bobby and Jackie. Cec must be well into his 60s but he never seems to have altered. Still tall, still walking well and still bald – but then he was at 22.

Colin and I started watching Sunderland when Cec was in his pomp in the early 60s. We both had fine heads of hair in those days and Cec looked impossibly ancient by being so follicly challenged in the days when baldness equalled a rapid descent into senility. He was never a great full back but his dedication to Sunderland and Alan Brown in particular could never be doubted. I was there when he scored his one goal in a red and white shirt, at home to Nottingham Forest. His well hit centre was caught by a swirling wind at the Fulwell End and was blown in past the despairing dive of an ex-Mag, Gordon Marshall, to the accompaniment of general delirium amongst the 20000-odd present who had given up all hope of seeing him score.

We went on to win 3-1 and it became one of those badges of honour among Sunderland fans that “I was there when Cec scored” – a bit like those who were at Spurs when Chris Makin netted or somewhere or other when Kelvin Davies finally caught a ball.

On Saturday I chose to go to Ryton to watch their game with Thornaby in the Arngrove Northern League Division Two. Not much SAFC interest here as Thornaby had a comfortable 3-0 win and Ryton had one sent off for punching an opponent.

Next season, the ANL is introducing a zero tolerance policy towards swearing in the Second Division. Had that policy applied in this game, it would have been abandoned after about 15 minutes as both sides would be well below the minimum of seven players a side and there would have been nobody on the bench to give them advice as they would have long been cleared out.

It’s a brave stance but I wonder whether it will work? Swearing and foul language are part and parcel of the fabric of our society now and football at all levels reflects the society we live in. I wonder if Cec Irwin ever swore at Charlie Hurley?

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