Salut! Sunderland’s deputy editor Malcolm Dawson is among several to have answered Monsieur Salut’s call for contributions to the new series on Sunderland tops you’ve known and loved or hated. All offerings will be published while the series runs its course. Malcolm’s recollections of the mustard-coloured top we wore for the Charlton playoff final is a bitter-sweet tale of more than one disappointment. Check out the SAFC tops offered by our friends at http://bit.ly/1ZNPCJA”>Classic Football Shirts …
I confess the shirt I am writing about wasn’t, and still isn’t a favourite of mine. I have a range of Sunderland shirts from various eras but I never bought this one. Still I have chosen to write about the mustard/old gold, with blue trim away shirt from season 97/98 because it encapsulates for me highs and lows of following Sunderland AFC.
This was a shirt that I became familiar with not long after I had reacquainted myself with the vicarious pleasure of following my local team. I grew up in a part of County Durham that became part of Tyne and Wear during my time at college in London. Then apart from a brief period when the Sex Pistols and disco loving Bee Gees competed for the attention of music lovers and I spent 18 months back in the North East, I lived in the East Midlands and spent more time playing sport than watching it.
In the mid 90s I gave up playing footy on Saturday afternoons in winter and started going to watch football again on a regular basis. It was the last season at Roker Park – the time of Sky TV’s “Premier Passions”. I was there to see Chris Waddle score after Southall carried the ball out of the penalty area. I was at Selhurst Park as Wimbledon sent us down and Coventry tried their old trick of delaying the kick off at White Hart Lane.
Autumn saw us move to a new ground and though ironically I didn’t make the first home game v Man City, I did get to 43 of the first 53 competitive games we played that season. Vaux brewery was still producing beer and Lambtons was the logo on this shirt.
Home games in midweek were the most difficult for me involving getting away from work at 4.30, driving up the M1, M18, A1 and A690 to make kick off. Usually I would crawl into bed at around 2.00 am then after the briefest of kips get up for work again. I was at plenty of home games where the attendance was in the 20 or 30s of thousands. It was only as the possibility of promotion beckoned that our 42,000 capacity became necessary. Because of that I hadn’t bought a season ticket.
I went to plenty of away games too. I was one of 5,404 who watched us beat Crewe Alexandra 3-0 at Gresty Road – that was the total attendance not the number of Sunderland fans who were there. Bury, Stockport, Oxford, Birmingham City were other games with few spectators. I was there.
Season 97/98 was the play off season. We finished third and after beating Sheffield United in the play off semis, Wembley was calling. Unfortunately for me, non season ticket holders had to either queue up at the SoL or ring the club on a Friday morning to try and get a ticket.
What was I doing at the time the tickets went on sale? Teaching Literacy to a group of 9-11 year olds before heading off to the local Leisure Centre for the weekly swimming lesson.
Little chance of a ticket for me, even though a friend’s wife said she would ring the hot-line for me. I think she got the engaged tone twice before giving up and I don’t blame her. I didn’t get a ticket and to rub salt in the wounds my brother told me about two girls his wife knew that had never been to a football match in their lives, who queued up and got one each when they could each have bought two! Had we known beforehand that was their intention it could have seen me sorted.
So I watched the epic battle with Charlton, mustard shirts and all, on telly in my front room. That we lost in such a heartbreaking fashion just reflected the despondency that I was not there.