Hayley Penman – click on the images to enlarge – is starting young. And what better time and place to do so than the Stadium of Light on a day that we secure a crucial last-second win over West Ham? Her dad John, an occasional Salut! Sunderland contributor, takes up the story
Her father had followed the team for 35 years and now Hayley, at the age of three, was to experience the magic of Sunderland FC for the first time, against West Ham.
Things had changed from her dad’s first game on a bitterly cold day in Feb 1982 when Notts County came visiting Roker Park.
It would also be Hayley’s first train journey which would only add to the excitement of the day. Tickets for the third row from the front of the East stand were purchased and her strip was laid out, ready to be worn for her first Black Cats game. Hayley, I should explain, knows Sunderland only as the Black Cats since she can’t get her tongue round the word Sunderland and even struggles to call them ‘Sunlun’.
The train journey was largely uneventful apart from a Glasgow hen party which seemed intent on drinking enough vodka to float a boat and molesting any male unfortunate enough to cross their paths.
There were also a group of West Ham fans behind us and a scattering of other SAFC fans wearing their strips. This encouraged Hayley to take off her jacket and reveal her Black Cat top, which seemed to make her feel part of that family.
For her father the journey was pleasant enough apart from the experience of trying to supervise a three- year-old child on the toilet while the train rocked like a boat in a force eight wind.
We arrived at Newcastle and Hayley showed her first signs that she may be a Mackem in the making. She stood on the platform and informed me that there was a funny smell about the place. It’s just Newcastle, I informed her and she seemed to accept that. The short Metro journey followed and we arrived at the SoL station with plenty time to spare.
Her father’s attempts to explain the history and behind the Stokoe statue were met by puzzled looks – though it didn’t stop him having a memory flashback to the day when this own Sunderland adventure started.
We walked round the stadium, saw the West Ham team arrive, took more pictures and made our way to the club shop. She wandered round like a lady on a mission. She picked out a pink baseball cap and a dark pink scarf. “I will look pretty in that,” she announced before marching me to the checkout. Good grief I thought that is her at three, what will shopping be like with her 15 years from now.
Making our way into the stadium through the turnstilem, she ran into the arena. She stood, uttered “wow” and gazed at what is truly a magnificent stadium. Even a three-year-old can appreciate that. We checked out our seats before venturing up to get a drink and meet the legendary Sixer and Joan. An element of nervousness came over Hayley as she met Sixer, but the ice was soon broken as Pete pulled a variety of funny faces which greatly amused her.
We took up our seats in plenty of time. Lollipops and crisps were plentiful to keep her amused in case of a dire game. Fortunately it wasn’t and our position in the south-east corner of the stadium and the wind direction meant that most of the rain missed us. The Black Cat music (Prokofiev) then started – she has her own CD of that – and we awaited the teams. She did seem more interested in Samson and Delilah the mascots than Gordon, Richardson or Jones but that may change in time.
The highs and lows of the game resulted in a variety of emotions and expressions from Hayley but the sheer joy and delight that we both felt when Reid blasted in the last minute winner was just magic. The stadium noise after the goal however caused her to cover her ears but that didn’t stop her cheering and clapping. It was a fitting end to a good match. As we headed up the stairs to the exits she remarked that she had such a good time and could she come here every week. She’ll learn, I thought.
The journey home saw Hayley instructing everyone at the SoL station to keep back from the edge of the platform. She also performed a dance at Newcastle station while shouting rather loudly, in an attempt to create an echo, that the Black Cats had scored two goals and won. Strangely enough she said there was still a strange smell there. Again the answer of Newcastle seemed to suffice.
The ideal scenario on the 90-minute journey back to Edinburgh would have been that Hayley would be tired and by now want to sleep. When her father suggested this, he was met with a look of horror as she claimed not to be remotely tired and wanted to read me her the Black Cat book (matchday programme). After about 30 mins of endless chattering I askeded again whether tiredness was an issue, and once again I was assured she wasn’t tired. The Sunderland fan sitting across from us broke into a wry smile after this answer. He was obviously hoping probably like most of the carriage that Hayley was sleepy and he could get a much-needed 40 winks. In his desperation he walked to the buffet car and returned with four cans of Stella Artois. Only two were consumed before he was snoring peacefully unaware of the little chatterbox across from him still going full throttle.
After nearly 11 hours on the road we arrived safely home. We had both really enjoyed the day. Sunderland really are a fantastic club. The people, the stadium and the whole set up of the club are so friendly. And I hope my daughter can appreciate that in years to come and see this as a most enjoyable life journey, just like her dather has.