Beauties and Beasts: that’s the name of this series – see it here – of supporters’ recollections of different Sunderland shirts from years and even decades past. It was inspired by an idea from Classic Football Shirts, very welcome here as occasional competition sponsors. Their range of historic SAFC tops is a great internet outing in itself – but it is not complete, as John McCormick is about to explain …
I effectively left the North East in 1970, when I went to live down south in Yorkshire. I did return from time to time, most notably for the home games in our 1973 cup run (I also made the away ones, as it happens), but from Yorkshire I moved to London, and then to Liverpool, where I arrived in the summer of 1975 …
In those first five years as an exile I made it to quite a few games; in fact, I made it to as many as I could.
Dennis Tueart’s first-minute goal at Oxford (September 15 1973, StatCat says it was the 3rd minute but I was there and I swear they’re wrong) still finds its way through well-worn brain cells to pop up in my memory, as does a dreary loss followed by a scary departure at Millwall (15th December) and a much more pleasant stroll (to Craven Cottage for me, at Craven Cottage for the remnants of our Cup-winning squad) the following season.
After my move to Liverpool, however, things changed. I did go to some games; I remember a hostile environment at Old Trafford, a no-score-bore-draw at the Victoria Ground and, of course, that infamous 1977 match at Goodison, but not much more. My circumstances changed and my match-going with it.
In the 1960s and 70s we didn’t wear team shirts, and even if we did, can you imagine travelling independently to places like Millwall or Leyton Orient (does anyone else remember the early kick-off there during the power cuts?) and advertising where you came from? So I grew up without the need to wear a shirt, and then I was away from Roker/SoL, from the whole commercial thing, and missed the start of the great shirt rip off. By the time I got round to noticing it I had been immunised.
Let me explain:
I was at Charles de Gaulle airport with a colleague from work and we were being messed around. Talk moved to what we could do about it – the answer was “not much” – but she had a simple philosophy.
“If I disapprove of something or someone”, she said, “and the only thing I can do is withhold my money from them then that’s what I do. I won’t be shopping or paying for anything optional.”
Her philosophy struck a chord. It’s now the philosophy I apply to football clubs. I really do believe that, deep down, many clubs’ relationships with supporters are based on disrespect and disregard. How else can you explain the prices of tickets, the timing of matches, the cost of food and drink inside stadiums, and now the plethora of kits and shirts that fans are exhorted to buy?
I don’t think our club is the worst, not by any means, but I still don’t think they should bring out a new strip, with God knows how many versions, every season and thereby put hard-pressed families in an economically challenged area under constant pressure. I think it’s wrong, just plain wrong. So I do the only thing I can do and refrain from buying. I have never bought or worn a Sunderland top from the club and I probably never will.
But life moves on, doesn’t it? I’m now a granddad. I became one on Easter Sunday last year. I have a granddaughter, Hazel, who’s a bundle of fun [and will one day locate the adorable picture you see of her and sue Salut! Sunderland for breach of privacy – Ed].
Her dad’s a stalwart Blackburn supporter. He has a season ticket, a shirt from 1995 and a couple of mugs, one of which is from their 2002 League Cup win.
Two mugs, hmm… One from a League Cup win, hmmm… That’s powerful stuff with which to influence a little girl, and all I have to counteract it is a single “Wembley and safe” mug.
I can’t let all that go, can I? I have a granddaughter to protect. I have to do something about it, don’t I? And a mug won’t be enough.
So I’ve already got Hazel a football. Next, I’ll get her her own mug from our former sponsors personalised football gifts. And when she’s big enough to wear it, I’ll get her a proper Sunderland shirt. To make sure she wants to wear it I’ll get one for myself, they’re cheap enough from our new sponsor.
But which one for Hazel? The 1960s classic, the one her granddad grew up watching? Or perhaps the 1973 Wembley shirt, which isn’t a lot different? Both could be contenders, unlike the 1992 Wembley catastrophe.
Really, however, there can be no choice. Only one shirt will do.
Easter Sunday last year translates as 5th April, 2015, a date that will live long in any Sunderland fan’s memory as the day we did five in a row. So it has to be last season’s home shirt for Hazel. If I’m able to personalise it should I put number 5 on the back, or should it be 54, as in 5th April? And what about the name above the number? Should it be “Hazel”, or should it be “in a row” if I opt for a simple “5”?
I can only put all that on the back if it’s a replica, of course, and a replica would be fine.
But, ideally, the shirt I want for Hazel is the one Jermain Defoe wore on the day she was born, the one he wore when he scored the only, the winning, goal. Sadly, it’s not on the Classic Football Shirts site, but if it comes up for auction I might just be putting in a bid.
Maybe he would autograph it and add: “Happy Birthday, Hazel”.
That’s the shirt I want