Games against Man City, home and away, get the best – OK, oldest – of us wallowing in nostalgia. The 1973 FA Cup replay, an improbable 4-0 win at Maine Road with an even more improbable John Hawley hat-trick (1980), a relegation clincher in the last game of 1990/91. And
Pete Sixsmithcannot think about Sunday’s clash without reflecting on some priceless family memories …
Statistics tell us that we have lost the last nine games to Citeh*, which makes for pretty dismal reading. I do remember beating them in the Reid era at the Stadium, and of course, they were our first visitors in 1998. I didn’t go to that game on account of how I was still sulking after the relegation of the previous season.
Over the years we have had some momentous moments with the Manchester Blues.
In 1963, a young Mr Randall and I took a British Rail toilet roll from the Durham to Sunderland train and ended up flinging it at Harry Dowd, the Citeh goalkeeper, from the steps of the Fulwell End.
I don’t need to mention the FA Cup ties in ’73- especially as Lance Hardy has done such an excellent job in his superb book, Sunderland, Stokoe and 73. We had a relegation saving win against them in 1982 when a Mick Buckley shot preserved our First Division place in Alan Durban’s first season, after we had looked dead and buried in March.
One game that sticks in the memory is a Tuesday night game at Roker Park in March 1989. It’s memorable, not for the four unanswered goals that Citeh stuck past us, rather the fact that I actually took my dad to Roker for the only time in his life.
Sixsmith senior was not a great football fan. Growing up in Leeds, he had been attracted to Rugby League and went to Headingley on a regular basis before and after the war.
He had been one of the 102,569 crammed inside the potential death trap known as Odsal for the 1954 Challenge Cup replay between Halifax and Warrington. He said that he was more frightened that afternoon than he had been at Nijmegen in1944 when the Germans had been taking shots at him. Odsal’s terracing was made up of cinders and he said you could feel the ground moving whenever the crowd swayed. He saw precious little of the game and I think it put him off large crowds ever after.
He went to Roker a couple of times after we moved up here. He took me to my first game there in 1961 with a friend of his to watch a fairly dull game against Middlesbrough. I was hooked; I walked up one of those entrances in the Roker End, gazed at the Leitch lattice work on the main stand and knew that this was the place for me. He also took me to Ayresome Park for a game but I spilt a cup of Bovril and henceforth, always regarded it as a place for losers.
My mother dragged him there in 1973 to get extra vouchers for Cup Final tickets, but apart from that, the only interest he showed was when we lost so he could shake his head at the scandalous waste of pocket money involved in his eldest sons growing obsession.
My mother died in 1988 and for his first birthday without her, I bought an executive package for the Citeh game. I did not tell him where we were going as he would have refused, but I had to assure him that we would be back in Shildon in time for last orders at the Timothy Hackworth.
As the car (VW Polo, if memory serves), approached Sunderland he turned and said: “We’re not going to a bloody football match are we?.” He sulked all the way through the town and almost refused to get out when I parked outside the ground.
When he realised he was going to get fed and have wine and beer, the clouds parted a little and he actually enjoyed the meal in the executive ding room at Roker Park. He liked the flimsily dressed young women walking around selling raffle tickets and programmes (he was not a Modern Man), pronounced himself well satisfied with the roast beef and the Lorimers Best Scotch and smiled when he realised that he had a decent seat and he could always nod off if he got bored.
The game was a resounding 4-0 victory for Citeh (NB see comments; Mr Gates and Mr Gabbiadini made it a less humiliating result than Pete remembers – ed). They had a young side that was thought to be on the cusp of great things. Lake, White, Brightwell, Hinchcliffe, Redmond et al.. Tony Norman made some blinding saves – and dropped a couple of crosses and we were clearly second best.
It was a good game with a decent crowd and atmosphere and I think he enjoyed it. In subsequent years I took him to see Nigel Kennedy, The Godfather: Part III and Billy Elliot before he announced that birthdays were now officially redundant at 9 Drybourne Park, Shildon.
We play Citeh on his birthday this year. He would have been 86. A similar result would be more than disappointing after the vast improvement shown on Tuesday. Here’s hoping.
* Pete’s use of Citeh will irritate some City fans, especially the one who wrote to suggest as much and even received an apology from Salut! Sunderland. So sorry again, but freedom of expression and all that …