Monsieur Salut writes: I have long envied Sobs. Paul Dobson, that is. We tend to meet only at away games, in the company of Pete Sixsmith though we also had a beer in Charleroi before England vs Germany during Euro 2000 and saw each other at the retirement do of the Northern Echo’s Mike Amos. But Sobs gets to pretty much every game whereas I get to only a few.
I suppose my dream, post-Lottery win, would be living half the year in France, as now, but flying back for every single game, preferably joining the London branch whenever rail travel is on the cards for home or away. With the Lottery win, I’d happily pay for everyone to travel in first.
But Sobs never told me that he is a published author. Until today that is when, inspired by my flippant suggestion that such an important game as SAFC v Cardiff merited more than a mug as the prize in Guess the Score, he offered a signed copy of Ganterbury Tales. Not Chaucer on strong medication, Sobs and a much-missed pal on journeying the country in the cause of Sunderland support. Let him explain …
Paul Dobson: There comes a time in every football fan’s life when he has to make a decision. Is it to be the occasional trip to the match when there’s nothing better to do, is it to be the full home campaign with the occasional trip away from home when there’s something special at stake, or is it to be the full whack – home and away as much as money and circumstance allows.
This decision usually becomes necessary some time after match-going has begun, but the exact time varies.
For some, it’s only a matter of weeks, while for others it may take a few years for the necessity for commitment to manifest itself.
I suspect that for most fans, it arrives some time in the early teenage years, when their attendance at home games has been without the wise old head of their dad, granddad, or uncle, and they’ve been making their way to the match under their own steam, usually with a motley bunch of contemporaries, and the (sometimes very) odd older sibling there to offer advice.
Then comes the moment when you and your mates decide to go to an away game under your own steam, so you have a word with some Big Lads of your acquaintance, and get yourselves some seats on their bus. Or you do something really brave and buy train tickets (juniors, of course) and trust to the vagaries of British Rail or whatever the name of the rail operator is these days.
And that’s when the real adventure begins.
Well, that’s the way it worked for me and my mates all those years ago. The best thing about it is that it goes on for as long as you go to the match. Times and therefore matchday activities change as you get older and your priorities change, your financial situation changes, and new clubs and new grounds come along.
After about thirty years of this nonsense – because it is after all, only a game (honest) – me and Pos were talking about some trip we’d made back in our spotty youth, and we realised that we’d done an awful lot of growing up on our travels to watch SAFC around the land. There’s an awful lot about life that you don’t know at thirteen or fourteen, and an awful lot you can learn travelling up and down the country with a football match in the middle of it.
We realised, over that pre-match pint in the Salty, that there was at least one good story about every away game that we’d been to.
Fair enough, some of the performances and many of the results had been nothing to write home about, but there was so much more to away days than just winning the game. People, places, pubs, and pies, for instance.
We’d often set off with little more in our pockets than our bus fare and the price of a pie and a pint, and worry about getting home after the final whistle. Pos reckoned that we should write down as much as we could about as many awaydays as we could remember, and see if we could get it printed.
“If we’re talking about travelling, we should call it Ganterbury Tales,” he said, so off we went to the match with a promise to meet up back in Bishop that night, armed with nothing more than our memories, a notebook and pen, and a thirst sufficient to sustain us in our first evening’s ramblings.
Our extensive knowledge of the English alphabet allowed us to arrange our tales in order from A to Z, and we were certain that most travellers to away games would recognise situations, games, and places that would be, if not exactly the same as those they experienced, close enough to their own experiences as to bring back a load of memories.
Luckily, there seemed to be precious little that we’d forgotten, and the more we wrote down, the more came back to mind. When Pos suddenly and sadly passed away in 2002, I kept going, remembering old awaydays and making sure that I enjoyed the new ones that came along, just like thousands of others have done and will do for years to come.
* But the paperback or Kindle version at http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0956084648/salusund-21
* or buy it direct from Sobs. I will leave it to him to add a comment as to how best that might be done