The First Time Ever I Saw Your Ground: Bristol City and Ashton Gate

Ashton Gate in the era when Everton ruled

John McCormick writes: I hitched to quite a few games – including some at Roker Park – and I do remember going down the M5 in a Reliant Robin when it (the M5, not the car) was a two-lane motorway. I still believe its  front wheel (the car’s, not the M5’s) left the ground when we went above 60.

However, for this game (for when else could I have seen Joe Baker at Bristol?) I went on a John Tennick bus. An overnight journey, a killer result, an evening of pubs and an overnight journey back. To think that we took such things in our stride. Now I’m looking askance at the 40-mile trip to Bolton in a week or so.

As, probably, is Pete Sixsmith:

We are back in the early 1970s, after our second (and my first) relegation. The mood around Roker Park is not great. There is little spare money, no new players have been signed and some of the older ones (Len Ashurst, Calvin Palmer) have left. Manager Alan Brown, in his second spell at Sunderland, is putting his faith in the new training barn at Washington and in young players like Bobby Park, Dennis Tueart and John Lathan.

cool Sixer

In the wider world of football, Everton are enjoying their role as league champions and of finishing 15 points ahead of 5th placed Liverpool (two for a win in those days as well). Chelsea are equally enjoying showing of the FA Cup in their dilapidated Stamford Bridge stadium after their late winner in the replayed game with Leeds United at Old Trafford, two games widely regarded as amongst the most violent ever seen . Hartlepool United and Darlington have finished in the bottom four of the Fourth Division but are re-elected. Alas, the same does not apply to Bradford Park Avenue who are booted out and replaced by Cambridge United who thus become only the second new team in the league since the new divisions were formed in 1958.

The World Cup has been held in Mexico and Brazil have changed everybody’s concept of the Beautiful Game by playing as well as any national team since the Hungarians in the early 50s and far, far better than any since. It was a tournament remembered for Pele’s outrageous chip from 50+ yards which just missed*, the goal scoring exploits of Rivelhino and Jairzinho, that goal by Carlos Alberto in the final and the limp display by Peter Bonetti as he played a major part in England’s demise to West Germany in the quarter final in Leon. Two up, the Germans, led by Uwe Seeler, won 3-2 as Bonetti crumbled. Had Monty been the back up to Gordon Banks, we would have been home and dry. But Alf Ramsey didn’t pick players from the north east, much preferring those from London and ever since then I have had no time at all for the England team and look forward to them being deposited out of each and every tournament from that day on.

Meanwhile, our season opens at Ashton Gate against a Bristol City side who had finished the previous season in mid table and who will struggle in the one that was just about to start. It would be fair to say that there was not a huge amount of optimism around the supporters of either club. I was spending the summer working as a nursing assistant at Aycliffe Hospital, an old style mental hospital which housed well over 1,000 patients/inmates. My job was to supervise meal times and recreation periods, make a connection with some of the less disturbed patients and prevent some of the more disturbed ones from doing terrible things with soft toys. I also had to make sure that nobody woke up Arthur Thatcher until he was ready to be woken up.

I did once and he chased me down the dormitory threatening to kill me. The staff nurse who rescued me from the side room that I had locked myself in said, after he had given Arthur an extra period of beauty sleep courtesy of a dose of largactil, that he would have had a good go at carrying out his threat and for the next few weeks it was up to me to make sure that he got up when he was good and ready. This I did most diligently. And I have never trusted anyone called Thatcher ever since

I decided that I wanted to go to Bristol. And I decided that I wanted to get there as cheaply as possible which ruled out British Rail and John Tennick’s bus.

Mike Harding

My father was understandably reluctant to let me use the family Cortina, so I did a 60s/70s thing and hitch hiked, maybe sleeping the night in a railway station or bus station en route. Starting off from the roundabout at Scotch Corner, I made it to somewhere near Coventry by 8pm.

One of my lifts was from Mike Harding, the singer and raconteur, barely known then but a thoroughly nice man who had a VW Beetle with a heating vent that was jammed and almost turned my left foot to a liquid mass [I shall make him aware of this memory – Ed].

Coventry was a disaster and I walked miles heading out of the city until I was picked up by a chap from Newcastle who lived somewhere near Evesham and took me to his home where he and his wife gave me a bed for the night. The next morning he took me to Gloucester where he had some business to attend to, and I caught a bus to Bristol from there.

Nearly 50 years on, I can remember the warmth of the sun, the cosmopolitanism of the population and the sense of history that surrounded the city.

Isembard Kingdom Brunel

The hulk of the SS Great Britain had been towed back from the Falkland Islands and was resting in the mud of the docks, a long way from the major tourist attraction it is now. The ship and Temple Meads Station were my introduction to Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a splendid Victorian character replete with top hat and cigar.

SS Great Britain

Brunel might have put up a better performance than Brian Heslop did at centre half that day. He had been a utility player for the past three years but got the nod over Richie Pitt for this one. It turned out to be his final game for Sunderland as he was held culpable for the inadequacies of a defence that was breached four times by The Robins. He hung around until March 71 before a couple of seasons at Northampton and a few more at Workington.

We lined up like this;

Jimmy Montgomery; Cec Irwin, Martin Harvey; Colin Todd, Brian Heslop, Mick McGiven; Bobby Park, Bobby Kerr, Joe Baker, Ian Porterfield, Billy Hughes. Sub; Brian Chambers

Five Scots in the forward line and only three players who cost us anything. And I know Joe Baker was “English” but he was fetched up in Edinburgh and was a Hibs man through and through.

City’s team was;

“dear old Dickie Rooks”

Mike Gibson; Trevor Jacobs, Brian Drysdale; Ken Wimshurst, Dear Old Dickie Rooks, Gordon Parr; Alan Skirton, Chris Garland, John Galley, Gerry Gow, Gerry Sharpe. Sub; Trevor Tainton for Skirton (53).

Brian Drysdale was a classy full back from Wingate. He started out at Hartlepool under Brian Clough and Peter Taylor and moved to City for a reasonable fee in 1969. He made 170 appearances for Pools and 282 for The Robins before moving on to Oxford United and then Swindon Town. City went ahead in the 14th minute through Gerry Sharpe but The Little General levelled three minutes later. Then, as now, the 44th minute was the killer as Alan Skirton ran through to restore the lead and in the 64th minute, wing half Ken Wimshurst gave City breathing space as our defence was all over the place. Plus ca change, as Monsieur Salut would say…….

Joe Joe, Joe Ba-ker

Enter Joe Baker. He had had a poor season in the First Division but we had great hopes for him in the Second. He pulled one back in the 72nd minute and then levelled two minutes later giving all the impetus was with us. We did go looking for the winner but we left gaps in midfield and Heslop missed a through ball allowing Sharpe to get the winner in the 87th minute.

Much disappointment from the Sunderland supporters there and it meant a disappointing trip back. I had met Don Coupland in Bristol and we decided to see how far we could get by train on a ticket from Bristol to Gloucester. As it happened, we got to Leeds and spent the night at my uncle and aunts house before making it home on the Sunday morning. It was a real adventure in the days when hitch hiking and jumping trains was common. There were huge queues of hitchers at Scotch Corner and at the start of the Doncaster by-pass. The motorways (and the odd murder) brought all that to the end.

For this game I shall be accompanied by Pete Horan as we trundle down those three lane blacktops in the trusty Mazda, to a comfortable hotel somewhere near the ground. Forty-eight years on, I dread what the result of this game could be.

*Pele’s chip can be found at this link:

Brazil in 1970 found at Published on youtube by FIFATV, 2014. If there is any copyright claim, not answered by ‘fair use’ exemptions, on the video and images used to illustrate this report, please make us aware and we will add credits or remove as requested.

2 thoughts on “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Ground: Bristol City and Ashton Gate”

  1. I was 16 and there for that game. Bobby Kerr and Joe Baker were terrific, but the defence let us down. At 3-3 after being 3-1 down we should have killed the game.

    Also there yesterday, it was an even more amazing game, being 3-0 down this time before starting the comeback. I hope Coleman never plays a back three again as in the first half, the defence played like strangers.

    Still on a high, though, after the second half. Cattermole is a true Sunderland hero.

  2. Quite splendid. – “three lane blacktops” – wow!
    I will make sure my nephew reads this. Mike Gibson, a keeper very much in the mould of Monty, had to subsidise his City pay packet by coaching – fancy a bit of that Rodwell?. One of his clients was me! He coached the lowly amateur side I played for during our pre season training sessions. Our home games were played on reclaimed land that had previously been a chemical waste tip but, despite having to PAY to play-just fancy that, Jack -we gave everything on that pitch. Just had another flashback – I got treatment to a football injury once by the Bristol Rovers physio! Does that still happen??

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