The romantic in me says Sunderland will finally produce a performance worthy of our magnificent fans and beat Chelsea. The realist in me, er, can just shut up!
For our last Who Are They? feature of the season, we – by which I mean the Colin part of Salut! Sunderland – could not only have turned to a past contributor, David “Sid” Millward, but joined him on a junket via Grand Central and one or other of the SoL corporate bunkers.
I have chosen to stay in France – or rather the sight of the bank balance, as much as Sid being a Chelski fan, dictated that I should – and watch the game on some dodgy web link.
So Sid wasn’t asked to pen some more thoughts. Step forward instead Jerry Evans, even older than the old codgers at Salut! Sunderland but seen in action above with his grandson Nicholas. Jerry’s musings – return here tomorrow and you’ll see why he thinks people like the admirable Jeremy Robson are wrong to hate the Mags – make him a late entrant for the judging currently in progress for our first annual award. And guess who, according to the romantic in him, will win (Sunday’s game, not the award) …
So many years have seen me before the mast at Stamford Bridge that my name has changed from time to time – maybe to protect me because of my football allegiance.
Jeremy Evans was born in wartime – the end of 1939 – but I was known to the family as Jem by the time Great Uncle Bill sat me on his knee at Kingston in 1948 and declared that as I had a burgeoning interest in the game I must go and watch Chelsea play, as he himself had been doing since the year dot.
I dutifully obeyed, of course, and on April 16 1949 stood on the huge west banking at The Bridge for the first time, watching the powerful Derby County easily dispatch the Blues 3-0. I must have thought: “This is how it is. Visitors are strong, and they beat us because we are not very good.”
And for many years that simplistic verdict was not far off the mark. Incidentally, Sunderland, who finished eighth in 48/49, had a 3-0/1-0 double over Chelsea that season.
It was around that time that I first saw Sunderland play; it was at then mighty Portsmouth, the old first division champions that season and the next.
I regret to say that I cannot recall the score, but I suspect it was in deep winter because the mud was ankle deep. How they could play at all was a mystery, yet I remember with awe Trevor Ford, that fine Welsh centre forward, striking the ball with such power that it split the Portsmouth crossbar, causing a half hour delay.
And that with a ball so heavy it would have made a perfect weapon for Nelson’s cannons at Trafalgar.
I had become Jim by the mid Fifties.
Living in Brighton and Hove, I regularly caught a Green Line bus to Victoria coach station and nipped on the tube to Walham Green (which also changed names later, to Fulham Broadway). The whole thing, including my boy’s entrance fee to the west banking, cost four shillings and sixpence in old, proper money. I shall return to April 9 1955 in due course.
What a pleasant thought about society all this nostalgia engenders. From the age of nine I would regularly travel on bus, coach, tube or train and pack on the terraces with the masses, and it never occurred to me or my family that there was anything unwise in doing so.
In 1961 I joined the RAF and became Jerry to one and all. I did so on something of an impulse and perhaps I felt I would not stay too long. True enough, since I decided I’d had enough by 1999 after 38 years service, and I left. Throughout the period there were lengthy spells when I had to follow adventures at The Bridge from afar, though that extraordinary sense of belonging to a club never wavered for an instant.
It doesn’t, does it? Nothing live on television for most of that time – even if you had one – so your doughty newspaper, wherever you were, had to provide the news, and the results you craved were often days old. I remember scanning the paltry sports section of the Singapore Straits Times in 1966 and learning to my delight that Chelsea had signed one Charlie Cooke from Dundee.
What an odd way to find out about acquiring one of the great Scottish ball players.
In the mid 90s I bought my first season ticket, so was finally able to make up for all that time away by watching regularly from the Matthew Harding Stand, and after relinquishing it several years later, as golf and grandchildren squeezed my time, I have made do with a membership, and less frequent visits to the shrine.
This Season’s Climax.
What a coward I am! I had hoped for – and indeed expected – that The Mackems would cross the safety line at Fratton Park.
Then it would have been carnival time at the Stadium of Light on Sunday, and my assessing task would have been a deal easier. We’ll overlook the situation had Sunderland drawn at Pompey since, effectively, that would have changed nothing. But it was not to be; Wearside must endure the last day agony, along with the nail-biting sufferers at Hull, Villa Park and West Ham.
You may gauge – correctly – from this that such agonies give me no pleasure. But they are part of football, in the same way as the dreaded penalty shoot-outs and play-offs. Someone has to drop – 15 per cent of the Premiership do so every year.
But let’s try to keep some perspective. If the worst should happen, then next season Sunderland will almost certainly be knocking at the door for a quick return. And the same nails will be gnawed by the same teeth, but for different reasons.
And in case these musings invite furious cries of “it’s all right for you, always at or near the top”, let me put you straight:
Chelsea’s league positions (out of 22, and only 2 relegated (9.1 per cent) for the first 14 years of my London SW6 sentence were: 13, 13, 20, 19, 19, 8, 1 (shorely shomething wrong here – ed), 16 (that’s more like it), 13,11,14,18,12 and 22…….and relegated.
And following on from that disaster (no, not disaster, it’s just part of football, remember?)…..following from it came my most vibrant memory of Sunderland/Chelsea encounters. At the top of the (old) second division in May 63 lay Stoke City, Chelsea and Sunderland; they were separated by a whisker coming into the final strait, and only two would be promoted.
On May 11 I was one of 66,199 at the Bridge to see Dave Sexton’s rejuvenated Blues take on the veteran masters from the Potteries. Chelsea brought in 17-year-old Ron Harris, who as we were all to find out had a certain way with a tackle, to secure the left flank against a wizened, stooping right winger, who had been known to destroy defences in his day. He was 48 years old; he was Stanley Matthews.
This genius still packed football grounds countrywide, but on that Spring day down the Fulham Road he was quiet for most of an almost unbearably tense match.
Then, midway through the second half, he received the ball outside the home side’s penalty area, surrounded by blue defenders. A pause, a shuffle, that familiar feint, and he found five yards. He accelerated like quicksilver, released to Jackie Mudie, another old stager, and the Potters had the game’s only goal. 66000 cheered Stanley off; they knew they would never see him, or his like, again.
For Chelsea, this critical reverse saw them visit the fortress of Roker the following Saturday needing to win. It was essential. And – somehow – they did. Little, puppet-sized Tommy Harmer, in the twilight of his stop-start career after release from Tottenham, contrived to get a thigh to Bobby Tambling’s corner. 0-1, and determined defending held the advantage to the final whistle. Tambling it was four days later who scored four goals as Chelsea thrashed Portsmouth 7-0 at Stamford Bridge to achieve promotion at The Mackems’ expense by .4 of a goal on the old goal average system.
My most treasured memory has to be April 9 1955. Easter Saturday was warm and cloudless as 75,043 packed the ground to await the clinching game between Chelsea and visitors Wolves.
Hundreds of youngsters were passed over heads and shoulders down to the running track below. 15 years old, I was propped against a metal barrier half way up the west banking, as usual, and with a wonderful view. I had earned it, having queued outside then entered the stadium three hours before kick off.
There was little in the match, until after 75 minutes Seamus O’connell, Chelsea’s amateur inside forward, beat keeper Bert Williams with a 20 yarder. But England skipper Billy Wright, still on the line following a corner, leapt to punch clear, receiving the acclaim of his team mates instead of the instant sending-off, which would have been his lot today.
Peter Sillett crashed home the penalty, we won 1-0, and went on to take the Championship for the first time. I met Seamus O’Connell years later at a Spanish golf club, and we yarned endlessly during our round. I loved the fact that his preparations for that great match were the same as always; he caught the afternoon train from his home at Carlisle to London, stayed at his regular guest house in Earls Court and walked to the ground at mid-day. Times may have changed…….just a little.
Yes, over the years we have all been there, struggling to achieve ups and avoid downs. Did the man who suggested that things even out over a season also mean they were fair over a decade – a generation – a lifetime perhaps? I do not know, but for certain,and as always, I shall be frantic to see the result from The Stadium of Light on Saturday. Of course I hope for a fourteenth away win, but this time I have a fancy that the passion of Wearside will course through those red and white stripes and make the difference. And do you know something? I’ve so loved chatting about football and our two great clubs that I hope you do it. Really!
And we’ve loved having you Jerry, so much that you get a two-parter. Come back tomorrow, folks, for Jerry’s answers to the usual Salut! Sunderland questions.