As the hoo hah dies down after the derby game and Darren Bent’s move to the Midlands, we have a very important game at Blackpool on Saturday. Our current form is not brilliant; since two hard fought consecutive wins, we have crashed out of the cup and almost allowed the Mags to claim undisputable bragging rights for the rest of the season So, let’s wallow in a little bit of nostalgia as Pete Sixsmith reminisces about three visits to the seaside town that is noted for fresh air and fun, one in the 60s, one in the 70s and – to follow later in the week – one in the 80s.
My first visit to Bloomfield Road was in September 1964 in a proper First Division game. I was 13, Colin was 15 and he played a major part in persuading my reluctant father that I be allowed to go to the game on Billy Reilly’s bus. Colin convinced him that we would be ok and that no drinking would take place on the Central Coaches flyer and that after the game we would go to Woolworths for a meal before taking a tram (probably in the shape of a Mississippi river boat) see the illuminations.
Well, the first part was wrong with a capital W. The bus was full of Shildon’s finest drinkers, including Michael Jones and his somewhat overweight brother who rejoiced in the nickname of Jasper. He was a drinking legend in the town and he took up two seats on the coach because of his mighty girth.
We were picked up at The King William and the bus meandered down to Close House, where the adults got off and shot into the Royal Hotel for a couple of pints while Billy Reilly and Kenny Snowdon loaded the bus up with crate upon crate of Newcastle Brown Ale.
Off we set again, through Barnard Castle and over the A66, which was not the super sleek highway it is now. We crawled along to Kirby Stephen and then through to Sedbergh and Kirkby Lonsdale before hitting the newly opened M6.
By this time the beer had gone and the famous funnel had been used copious times by the assembled drinkers; no toilets on coaches in those days!! We rattled into Blackpool in time for the Working Mens Clubs near the ground to be descended on by the red and white hordes. We went for a walk along the sea front.
The game was played out in front of a crowd of 37,000, which must have included at least 10,000 Sunderland fans. We had no manager at the time; Alan Brown had left in the summer and the Directors hadn’t quite got round to choosing a new one. So, they picked the team and signed players. Sandy McClaughlin, Harry Hood and John Parke had arrived by this time and McClaughlin played in goal that day.
Blackpool had a decent side. Jimmy Armfield and Ray Charnley had played for England, while a young Alan Ball would play for England and they had players who had been regular First Divison players for many years. If memory serves me correctly, Charnley scored twice and King Charlie headed a goal for us in front of a packed Kop.
After the game, I have distinct memories of vomit in the streets and loads of very drunk Sunderland fans full of mysterious beers like Threlfalls, Matthew Brown and Magees Ales lurching around. We may even have tried to get into the club near the ground that may well have been owned by Johnny Kidd of Johnny Kidd and The Pirates fame. If we did try, we didn’t get in!!
Fast forward to February 1975 to what was probably our best known visit to the land of the Tower and lions that devoured little boys with sticks with horses heads handles on.
It was a Second Division game in a league that featured big boys Manchester United, wannabee big boys in Aston Villa and small fry like York City. We were going well and looked bang on for promotion until we started a February wobble at Bloomfield Road.
The game is best known for the stupendous goal scored by Micky Walsh which won Goal of the Season on Match of the Day. The game had been selected by the Beeb as most other games were off and the salt in the air kept the frost out of the ground at Blackpool.
We travelled to that one on Corny O’Donnells special train, which he ran to a number of away games in the 70’s. It was by no means a dry train and the consumption of beer was actively encouraged. Cans of Double Maxim were my favoured tipple and I quaffed a few on the slow drag through York, Bradford, Accrington and Poulton-le-Fylde.
On reaching the Lancashire Riviera, we sought out a joke shop in order to purchase the mythical “Shitting pig”. This creature had been described by Bob Miller (Teacher, not leader of the Millermen) on many occasions. It was a tiny replica porker that, if you inserted a pellet up its anus, would then proceed to crap all over the table.
The story had been told around campfires and gas fires and this latter day band of Argonauts, led by yours truly, were determined to find it. We asked at several joke shops, were nearly arrested in one and eventually found ourselves in a seedy back street emporium, run by an elderly man who confirmed that the legendary squeaker had indeed existed but that he had not seen one for many years because “people want something a bit classier”. At that he pointed to the Saucy Sal cruet set, where a voluptuous pottery female had removable breasts in the shape of a salt and pepper set.
We gave up and went in search of some Boddingtons Bitter before lurching into our seats in the wooden main stand and watching Blackpool take a 2 goal lead before Vic Halom and Billy Hughes leveled. We then got a penalty which Hughesy missed due to some wizened old Lancastrian git in a white coat waving his arms around and distracting him. Cue Walsh for spectacular winner, and we departed sans points, sans pig, sans everything.