Soapbox: Sunderland oddities – and a competition

Pete Sixsmith extols the virtues of coach travel for awaydays and sets a few quiz questions. The first reader to answer them correctly wins a copy of Hazey’s book*

For many years I travelled to away games by car or train and used the coach only in exceptional circumstances. However, the rising cost of diesel, combined with the labyrinth of train fares and the fact that the network is usually being dug up at weekends, have gently directed me on to the coach.

My journeys are made with the Durham Branch of the Supporters’ Assosciation. Organisation is exceptional; we receive detailed time sheets from Stan Simpson which give the precise time that the coach will pick us up – Thinford 7.24am or Scotch Corner 9.04am.

Stan and Dave Cassie run a tight ship. No hot food allowed, plastic bags at every seat for rubbish and a town booked into for pre-match pints. Lancaster, Lichfield, Knutsworth and Usk are all places where landlords have benefited from an influx of Sunderland fans. Some make for the nearest Wetherspoons, others for a Good Beer Guide listed hostelry while a small minority look for second hand bookshops and a decent meal before the coach moves on.

The beauty of the coach is that you can read the paper or a book while you are travelling without having to take out a second mortgage for a ticket. Add a portable CD or MP3 player and a personal radio for Sounds of the Sixties and this old fart has a good day out.

The good day out was brightened on Saturday by our excellent win at Villa. It was a real pleasure to get back on the coach with a smile and a feeling that things could now begin to improve. Lots of chat about the game which then drifted into trying to think up obscure questions about Sunderland players.

This was my contribution: who was the last Sunderland player to play County Championship cricket? It proved a real stinker and the combined brain power of Paul Dobson, Ron McDonald and John Smart failed to come up with the correct answer.

I gave clues: played in 1965 and 1966, was a winger, came from Birmingham City, moved on to Huddersfield Town but nobody got it. Answer: Mike Hellawell, who had one game for Warwickshire in 1962 (look him up in Wisden).

That excellent publication All The Lads was plundered for equally obscure questions so here’s five to keep you occupied:

1 Which former centre-half took a physio course when he retired and worked for the club in that role?

2 Which former forward was landlord of The Post Boy in Ferryhill?

3 Which former forward won a Finnish League Championship medal in 1980?

4 Which former forward won the Durham County Schoolboys 220 yards and long jump title in 1967?

5 Which 1960s full back coached the Australian National side?

* You can have the satisfaction of being as big a smart arse as me if you get them right; you will also receive a copy of My Dark Friend, the book version of Dull Ramblings, the inspirational blog by Graeme “Hazey” Kerton about his brave but ultimately unsuccessful fight against cancer. Answers on Monday. Post replies here or send entries to the e-mail link at the top left of this page.

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