Two great pieces in today’s newspapers retrace Martin O’Neill’s steps as he follows a boyhood dream and goes in search of the Roker Park of the club he supported from the other side of the Irish Sea. Both are riveting reads.
From Colin Young’s article, spread across two pages in the Daily Mail with superb illustration of the road to Midfield Drive and Promotion Close:
We were in Romanos, Bertsch and I – Keith played for Sunderland for a little while himself – so I just said, “Come on, let’s go and drive and see where Roker is”. I knew it was a housing estate now, but I’d never been. Whenever I’d visited Roker Park as a player, we’d just come up on the bus, park outside, in, play the game and home again. I wasn’t even aware it was that close to the seafront. I didn’t know. ‘Keith was all on for it. We’re in the car, he’s driving and we’ve got to a place where we think we know where it is. I said, ‘Well, Bertsch, you played here. You should have an idea’. He replied, ‘Er, I think I’ve lost my bearings a wee bit’.
They stopped to ask. “You couldn’t tell us where Roker Park was, could you?,” Bertsch enquired. “Forget that,” came the reply, “you want to come to the pub with us?”. Invitation declined, directions were offered …
We just drove round a couple of times, to see it, try to get the bearings right. And then, of course, when you see a couple of the wee markings and the new houses against the side of the road, Association Road, you realise all the new part is where the stadium was. There’s a great aerial picture in here in the Academy of Roker Park and it all comes so clear then. The Fulwell End, the Roker End and stuff like that. I felt something, though, absolutely – the sense that somebody is living in a house where Tommy Harmer scored for Chelsea in a vital promotion match in 1963.
Grand stuff. And there’s more, from the consistently excellent George Caulkin in The Times, freed here from behind the Murdoch paywall with the aid of a paying customer (of said paywall):
It makes you think. You consider they had a 100-year history there, all the things that happened in that century. It’s amazing.
I remember the first time I went there. It was 1972, I was playing for Nottingham Forest – I’d never been as a kid, as a fan – we’d been relegated and they murdered us. To quote that great Bill Shankly line: ‘6-0 and we were lucky to get nil.’ Although I think it was 4-1, actually. Dennis Tueart was brilliant in that game. Essentially, it was the Sunderland side that won the FA Cup.
“I went back as a player a couple of times and to see the Roker End halved, because of health and safety, was sad. But I went to Sunderland’s second-last game at Roker, against Southampton [they lost 1-0]. I just wanted to see it, because they were going to be leaving the stadium. I was manager of Leicester at the time and I couldn’t get to the last game because we were playing.
“I would have loved to have gone in one of the ends, but I bottled it and took a safer seat, somewhere off the directors’ box in the main stand. It meant a lot, emotionally, to make that trip up. It was probably reliving my childhood, but listen . . . this is just a fantastic football club.”
If any of that makes you want to go out and buy the papers, so much the better.
And what was the Niall Quinn story? From Gordon Taylor at the Blackcats email list, comes this link to an RTE interview: Www.rte.ie/player/#!v=1138698
What does the big man have to say? I am about to find out myself, starting – says Gordon – from about 24 minutes in.
ps just finished watching. Irritatingly stop-start stream but snippets include;
Steve Bruce – oops, sorry (see Comments – Pop Robson virtually begging him to take a chance on James McClean, about to sign elsewhere even though Chelsea didn’t want to take a chance
* having as his best friends people he got to know in Sunderland people
* emphatically not wanting a stand named after him at the Stadium of Light