Soapbox: how can a week without football be interesting?


Depriving Pete Sixsmith of a football game on a Saturday – in truth, on any day at all – is a bit like putting a junkie on cold turkey. The withdrawal symptons include harking back nearly half a century to the year when it was really was cold, and some matches were postponed dozens of times before they could be played …

The “Big Freeze”
really hit us badly last week. Try as I did, it just wasn’t possible to get to work on Wednesday and Thursday, and by Friday most of the kids had decided to take the whole week off so we only had about 40 per cent of the little darlings in.

It came as no surprise when the rather Orwellian “Safety Committee” decided that the Stadium of Light surrounds were too dangerous for Sunderland v Bolton to go ahead. I suspect they were also looking at the forecast, which was poor and wondering how on earth people would get tot the stadium and then get home in what was predicted to be a white out.

So, for the first time since the rainstorm at New Mills last March, I was unable to watch a football match on a Saturday afternoon in the season. And it was boring, boring,boring.

Mind it was relaxing. No bouncing up and down in my seat as we defend as deep as a giant squid in the ocean’s depths. No outbursts of stress inducing shouting as we fail to clear the ball. No ecstatic jumping up and down as Darren or Kenwyne slot the ball in the net. Sixsmith Towers was a haven of peace and tranquillity – and boredom.

I listened to the Arsenal v Everton game and raised an eyebrow when the Gunners equalised, as it meant that Everton wouldn’t go above us. I half watched Birmingham and Manchester United while reading the paper and marvelled at such an unbiased commentary, in which Ferguson’s overrated bunch of oldies, has beens and never weres were expected to steamroller a well organised and very committed Blues side into the ground. It was better than nothing, but no substitute for the real thing.

In fact, I have seen very few live games since the 19th. of last month. There has been no local football, so I have had to spend Tuesday and Wednesday nights locked in the Drawing Room with several bottles of beer, a Northern League fixture list and a set of dice, as I played all the games that had been postponed. There were an awful lot of 6-4 and 3-5 results.

I also remembered the last “Big Freeze” in 1963. I was 11 years old, in my first year at Bishop Auckland Grammar School and was sent out to the bus stop every day to wait for a freezing cold United bus that sometimes appeared.

And I wore short trousers as you were not allowed to wear long trousers until Year 2. Consequently, my chubby little legs and my chubby little face took on a deep tint of blue as we stood there shivering, waiting to be taken to school. No school closures then, more’s the pity.

When we got there, we had to stand outside until the teachers had finished their Woodbines and mugs of Bovril laced with brandy. Once allowed in, coats, gloves, hats and wellies were taken off and placed near, or preferably on, the radiators, filling the room with a smell akin to that given off at Battersea Dogs’ Home after the occupants have all been hosed down. Blackboards were peered at through a haze of steam, reminiscent of a Finnish sauna working at full pelt.

Just as the outdoor gear had dried, it was break and out we went to take part in a series of vicious and brutal snowball fights with the Upper School, who lived on the other side of the football field. “Scrubbing” someone was to rub them in the snow until they bled. Sometimes the teachers joined in and many were the retributions taken on a cold morning in South Church Road. I can’t see that happening nowadays, again more’s the pity.

Neither did football. Nothing happened. Games were postponed all over the country. Newspapers showed skating rinks at The Shay, braziers trying to thaw the frost ridden ground at Roker Park and empty, desolate terraces all over the place.

There was nothing to talk about on the bus (when it came). No results to mull over, no transfer targets to discuss, no travel arrangements to work out. It was all about whether we should get the 4th Years at break, would it be roasties for dinner and “Do you think they’ll believe me if I say we had a power cut last night and I couldn’t do my homework”.

It looks like next weekend the professional game will be able to resume. I am foregoing the trip to Stamford Bridge for a trip to Roker Park. Not the one in Sunderland, but the wonderfully named ground of Stotfold FC from the Hereward United Counties League. They are hosting an FA Vase game against Shildon, and I thought that £6 to get in there might be a better investment than £47 at The Bridge. Of course, it may not be on so I may be trying to scrounge a spare for Saturday……. as long as it is safe to be there.

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