The First Time Ever I Saw Your Team: Preston North End and a trip back in time

John McCormick writes: Tuesday morning, and I’m idly contemplating the weekend and Pete Sixsmith’s “first time” feature which will announce it. “Did I see Preston in our promotion year?” I thought to myself. So I got out my trusty promotion year souvenir brochure that my dad bought me (2/6) and had a look.

Preston were there, as I expected, but I remember nothing about the game, not even the very decent score, which makes me wonder if I went. Fortunately, Pete Sixsmith definitely did:

We are back in the 1963-64 promotion season for this one, almost 54 years to the day as the game took place at Roker Park on the 21st of March 1964. It was my first season going regularly and I probably took in ten games that year including my first away game at Elland Road and the epic cup games against Everton and Manchester United.

Even after all those years, I can still clearly remember the players who turned out in red and white stripes that day. Nowadays, I sometimes fail to recognise which loanee/ free transfer signing/player returning from injury is on the pitch wearing something that Adidas think is a “traditional” Sunderland kit, but very clearly isn’t.

Changing trains at Durham, the Sunderland leg of the trip took us through Leamside, Rainton, Fencehouses, Penshaw, Coxgreen, Hylton, Pallion and into the stygian gloom of Sunderland station. We always enjoyed going through Pallion as it reminded us of Paladin, the character played by Richard Boone in Have Gun, Will Travel. It was a less complicated time…..

I was 13 at the time and had just celebrated that birthday three days prior to the game. I went with M Salut on the train from Shildon to Durham and then on to Sunderland. Both lines were ready for the chop after Dr Beeching had taken his axe to the British Railways network but they were still hanging on.

Shildon Station

From Shildon, the train went to Bishop Auckland, then on to Hunwick, Willington, Brancepeth, Brandon and into Durham. I walked this line quite recently, a pleasant 7 mile hack from Broompark back to Bishop on a sunny summer Sunday and it brought back memories of the green BR diesel trains that trundled along that line until it closed in 1965.

We would have chatted, looked out of the window, pinched toilet rolls to chuck at the opposition goalkeeper and read the Melody Maker, New Musical Express (R.I.P.) and Disc and if we were feeling bold, maybe a copy of Tit-Bits (there weren’t any) or Reveille. Discussions would have revolved around whether we could pip Dorty Leeds to the title, whether The Beatles’ version of Twist and Shout was better than that by Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, whether Harold Wilson could win the impending General Election and whether my mother would let me stay up to watch That Was the Week That Was that night.

Off the train, we would walk briskly across the Wearmouth Bridge and along Roker Avenue, following the crowds of (mostly) men making their way to the finest ground in the North East. Roker had been designated as a World Cup venue with the possibility of a quarter final and its imposing Main Stand and huge Roker End meant that it stood head and shoulders above brash St James’s Park and poky Ayresome.

We went into the Fullwell End, paying the princely sum of 9d for the privilege. Sometimes we bought a programme, one of the small pocket size ones which contained nothing of very much interest and we may have bought a pie, whose content was the same as the programmes. We took our place near the front and waited for the teams to come out.

There was no mood music 54 years ago. They might have spun some platters over the loudspeaker system as the 22 players warmed up but the principal noise was the hum and buzz of the crowd.

We had a good side and were confident of winning promotion, but there had been a couple of injuries recently.

Cec Irwin had taken a knock and had been replaced by Colin Nelson at right back and Jimmy McNab (what wouldn’t we give for someone with his heart and steel nowadays) had missed the last half dozen games with Dave Elliott taking his place.

As seen in our 1964 souvenir brochure

As Shildon lads, we took pride in seeing Colin Nelson as he had been working as a pharmacist at Crooks Chemists in Alma Road. He was almost one of ours…..

Preston had a decent side and were tracking us. Like the posse in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, we could not throw them off the scent and they kept a respectful distance behind us, waiting for a slip up. We had not been out of a promotion place (only two went up in those dear, departed days) since the end of October but it was a worry as we had slipped up at the sharp end of the previous two seasons and a third failure was unthinkable.

North End were our only genuine challengers and they were distracted by an upcoming appearance at Wembley where they were due to meet West Ham United in the FA Cup Final on the first Saturday in May. They had beaten fellow Division Two members Swansea Town in the semi-final the previous week with centre half Tony Singleton scoring the winner with a speculative shot from 30 yards which deceived Noel Dwyer, the Swansea keeper. They had their first Wembley final for ten years and it was hoped that their thoughts would be on that rather than on us.


We lined up thus;

Jimmy Montgomery;

Colin Nelson, Len Ashurst;

Martin Harvey, Charlie Hurley, Dave Elliott;

Brian Usher, George Herd, Nicky Sharkey, Johnnie Crossan, George Mulhall

Many of those players are still alive; what must they think of the current situation that Sunderland AFC are in? We will never have a group of players that good again. In 54 years’ time, will anybody wax nostalgically about the current crop? (It’s a rhetorical question)

The Lilywhites team was;

Alex Dawson

Alan Kelly; George Ross, John Donnelly; Nobby Lawton, Tony Singlewood, Ian Davidson; Dave Wilson, Alec Ashworth, Alex Dawson, Alan Spavin, Doug Holden.

Nine of those played at Wembley; Jim Smith came in for Donnelly and Howard Kendall, Chester-le-Street lad, took Ian Davidson’s place and became the youngest player ever to play in an FA Cup Final.


Howard Kendall, 1946-2015

The match was eagerly anticipated and 35,420 turned up to watch it. It was over by 3.37.

Johnnie Crossan opened the scoring in the 25th minute and then we scored another three in the next twelve. George Mulhall made it 2-0 and then Nicky Sharkey (right) got two in three minutes to bring the contest to and end and send two teenagers home happy.

We floated back to the station, got the train back to Durham and then, faced with a wait for the intermittent service to Bishop Auckland, ran down through the side streets to Bimbi’s Coffee House on North Road, where we drank coffee in clear bakelite cups, ate what I remember as a splendid pie and picked up a Football Echo (still green in 64; went green with shame after the relegation in 1958; it would be puce with anger now!!!) and strolled back up for the final leg of the rail journey. Home to Drybourne(s) Park and Avenue and a night in with the telly.

We had missed Spike Milligan on Juke Box Jury and Sam Kydd and Peter Glaze in Dixon of Dock Green but may have watched Terry Scott and Hugh Lloyd in Hugh and I – but probably didn’t. The argument over TW 3 never materialised because it had been taken off but I probably watched The Eurovision Song Contest from Copenhagen. Matt Monro was the British entrant with I Love the Little Things but he was well beaten by the Italian Giglio Cinquetti whose Non Ho Leta was a bit of a classic.

There was a sports programme on as well as that Saturday saw The Grand National and the end of the (then) 5 Nations Championship.

     Peter O’Sullevan
 Peter O’Sullevan, Bob Haynes and Peter Montague-Evans shouted Team Spirit home at Aintree, while Bill (they’ll be dancing in the streets of Hawick tonight) McLaren witnessed Scotland’s 15-6 victory at Murrayfield and Peter West, he of the firmly clamped pipe in mouth and incredibly tight tie, saw Wales and France draw 11-11 in Cardiff. As a League man, I probably refused to watch it.

          Peter West

On Saturday for this visit of Preston North End, there will be no standing behind the goal, no pies at Bimbi’s, no toilet rolls slung at the keeper and certainly no four Sunderland goals in twelve minutes. The journey home will probably be spent listening to Benno wondering aloud what I will be wondering silently viz; how can players with the pedigree of ours be hopelessly adrift at the bottom of a division that is not exactly sparkling with talented teams.

Then, I will have to write another depressing piece for Sunday morning. As Peter Glaze used to say to Leslie Crowther, I don’t know why I bother…..

If you can bear to look, clicking the image leads to the Salut! Sunderland home page
The 1964 souvenir brochure was designed and printed by R Ward and son, Newcastle. It acknowledges the Sunderland Echo, Newcastle Journal, Daily Mail and Sunday Mirror for supplying and giving permission for the use of photos but no  ownership or copyright of any photo is identified. The Cup final video was published on Youtube by British Pathé in 2014.  The Howard Kendal statue is outside Goodison, photo by John McCormick.  Pete Sixsmith photo by himself and “home page” graphic by Jake. Other photo sources are unknown. 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.

7 thoughts on “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Team: Preston North End and a trip back in time”

  1. I knew something was missing from my life this past week.
    Been celebrating Mrs Wrinkly’s **th birthday in the West Country with my best man and his wife and by coincidence we reminisced about NME AND the superb organisations that turned out the (in Bristol’s case) Pink ‘Un and Green ‘Un inside an hour of final whistles!!

    Thanks again for the memories.

  2. A great read Pete. This was my first season following PNE. I was only 11 and couldn’t get to every game but it went down as mythological ‘truth’ that if we had beaten you at Roker and at home ( rather than drawing), we would have been promoted in second spot.

    We all know it’s the hope that gets you.

  3. What a player Johnny Crossan was. What would he be worth now? He wouldn’t be running a Sports shop in Derry, that’s for sure. Thank you for the kind words Alan.

  4. I remember the rail line from Sunderland to Durham with great fondness. Many a pleasant Saturday was spent in Durham visiting the cathedral and the boat hire place down on the river. Strangely, although Pallion station was a lot nearer my home, I always got on and off at Sunderland Central – remember the huge arcade with the sports shop (Willie Watson’s?) leading to the ticket barrier? Another memory from those days – at Roker Park the visiting team used to come out first and have a kick in at the Roker End, then, to a great roar, the lads came out towards the Fulwell. It must have scared visiting teams witless. We could do with some of that now instead of the all the poncey side by side appearance and shaking of hands, meeting of mascots, posing for photos etc.

    • Thank you, Pete, for a reminder of a memorable match : I was one of the first into the Roker end and soaked up the atmosphere as the ground filled up. I remember a masterclass from Crossan and the relief that we were probably going to get promoted. We managed pretty well without a lumbering target man in those days….

  5. That was one of the best performancrs of what was already
    an excellent season. If ever aplomb was the apposite word, it applied to the manner in which Nick Sharkey scored the fourth goal. Sunderland did indeed have an excellent team that season and very easy on the eye.

    As to music, there was always the Z-Cars theme.

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