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Colin Randall writes: an appalling admission but yes, this is my debut for the season. Just back from France before the drawbridge is raised, I am heading for Shrewsbury hoping to witness an away win to match Phil Parkinson’s stomping first experience of being in charge of a home game. Pete Sixsmith’s superb series on his own first encounters with Sunderland’s opposing teams and their grounds ran its course last season. Here, though, is a reminder of one of its many fine moments – memories of both the old Gay Meadow ground and its successor, New Meadow …
This is another new one for us [rather, it was a new one last season, when Pete wrote this – Ed] , although we have played in Salop four times at the old ground, the wonderfully named Gay Meadow. We have a good record in the town, having won three and drawn one and we will be hoping for a fourth win on Saturday.
Town are relative newcomers to the Football League, being elected in 1950 along with Scunthorpe and Lindsey United. Most of their subsequent life has been spent in Divisions Three and Four (One and Two in new money), but they did have a 10-season run in the Second (Championship) between 1978 and 1988.
During that time, they produced some fine players who went on to better things. Steve Ogrizovic won an FA Cup Winners medal with Coventry City, Bernard McNally had a successful career at West Bromwich Albion, John McGinley became a cult figure at Bolton Wanderers and manager Graham Turner went on to manage Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers. Good manners forbid me from saying much on the subsequent career of one David Moyes…
I have visited their tidy new stadium, The New Meadow, once and that was seven years ago. We had a Monday night home game against Everton, so I made a weekend of it, visiting Burton Albion on the Friday night, where visitors Bury turned in a tremendous performance on their way to promotion by winning 3-1 and then on to Shrewsbury for their Division Two game with Southend United.
It isn’t a game that has lingered long in the memory box. It ended 1-1, with Mark Wright putting the Shrews ahead just after half time and Anthony Grant (who now plays for Shrewsbury) levelled in the 87th minute. Let’s hope there is no repeat on Saturday.
The only Sunderland connection I could find was with Peter Gilbert, the Southend left back who is the son of Tim Gilbert who played for us between 1976 and 1980. He scored on his full debut in a 1-1 draw at Blackburn, where he scored in front of the visiting support and went on to make 36 appearances over the four years he was with us. In 1980 he moved to Cardiff City and two years later, Billy Elliott signed him for Darlington where he was a first team regular for three years. He died at the age of 35 while holding a coaching session for youngsters at Cleadon.
My first visit to Shrewsbury was on Easter Tuesday, April 8th 1979 and was part of a three-game winning streak that put us well on the way to promotion. We had seen off the Mags 1-0 at Roker on Good Friday (Stan Cummins, 73), had won 1-0 at Wrexham on Easter Monday (Alan Brown, 3) and went into the game at Gay Meadow top of the league as our rivals, particularly Newcastle United, fell away.
Nowadays, the three games in five days routine that was a regular feature of Easter would be banned on Health and Safety grounds, but it was a great time to be a football supporter.
The Wrexham/ Shrewsbury double is a couple of days etched on my memory for ever. Four of us went – Doug Bones, Ian Douglass, Steven Wilson and myself. Doug drove us there in his Vauxhall Chevette and I provided camping gear from work. We pitched the tents in the small town of Wem, chosen because it had a brewery, and after one or two problems with our erection technique (“Oooh, isn’t he bold.”), they were up.
We set off for Wrexham, watched us win thanks to Alan Brown’s early goal and rejoiced considerably on the road home. Food was cooked on the camping stoves and then, after a tour of the pubs of Wem, we rolled back to the site.
Next morning, we discovered a flashing light from the nearby roadworks outside the tent courtesy of Steven and he admitted to taking it and throwing the other one down a hole in the ground, hitting Bernard Cribbins in the process.
Steven is sadly missed by us all.
We took the train to Shrewsbury and quaffed a few pints until the pubs closed at 3pm and then retired to the wine department of Marks and Spencer’s. Steven, already in disgrace for his road lamp antics, further shamed himself by insisting on drinking Double Diamond and then causing a kerfuffle in M &S.
Gay Meadow was a short stagger from the town centre. It was often flooded due to being next to the River Severn and the ball often ended up in the river. For many years they employed a man with a coracle, one Fred Davies, to retrieve the Mitre Multiplexes from the river and bring a bit of romance into the game.
The home team were experiencing the second level of English football for the first time and seemed to enjoy the influx of Sunderland supporters into their town. We stood in the paddock in front of the main stand, a little the worse for wear and listened to the rural accents mixed with a twinge of West Midlands/Black Country, like something out of The Archers.
After two wins on the trot, a third seemed likely when Pop Robson put us ahead in the 6th minute. We awaited a goal deluge that never came as a resilient Shrewsbury team dug in and put intense pressure on us. Chris Turner made a number of splendid saves and it was this game that convinced the support that he was a better keeper than Barry Siddall.
He could do nothing when Trevor Birch equalised at the start of the second half, but rejoiced with the rest of us two minutes later when Stan Cummins scored an absolute cracker to put us ahead and subsequently win the game.
Turner, aided by a solid back four, kept the Shrews out and at 9.15 we sat proudly at the top of the table, ahead of rivals Leicester City and Chelsea and moving farther away from a rapidly declining Newcastle United who eventually finished 9th of 22. Burnley, Charlton Athletic and Fulham were relegated and Shrewsbury finished a satisfactory 13th, sandwiched between Swansea City and Orient.
The train trip back was a raucous one, we cooked a sandwich which consisted of everything in the cool box and fell asleep in the tent looking forward to a glorious future in the top flight – was it ever thus.
The teams that day were;
Chris Turner; Steve Whitworth, Gordon Chisholm ,Rob Hindmarch, Joe Hinnigan; Shaun Elliott, Kevin Arnott, Barry Dunn; Stan Cummins, Alan Brown Pop Robson sub; Mick Buckley.
Bob Wardle; Jake King, Graham Turner, Colin Griffin Carl Leonard; Jack Keay, Ian Atkins, David Tong, Steve Cross; Steve Biggins, Trevor Birch sub; Jimmy Lindsay.
The team that turned out that night was the same one that had played at Wrexham the day before and at home to Newcastle on the Friday, with one exception – Gordon Chisholm came in for Jeff Clarke at Gay Meadow.
And what of the four happy campers? Doug Bones (top man) gave up football for golf, Ian Douglass now lives in the USA and travels around in a RV and Steven was killed by a thug outside a pub in Bishop Auckland while trying to calm down a situation which he had little to do with. As for me, I’m still here….
The prize Guess the Score, open to all whoever you support