Fifty years of Sunderland openers: (1) Leicester City and six goals

Derek Forster: a young with a very grown-up up role
Derek Forster: a young kid with a very grown-up up role

On a day when I caught (via Facebook) my old pal Barry Emmerson “listening on Spotify to Billy Fury (not Halfway to Paradise but Jealousy) – it seems right that Pete Sixsmith should launch a new series on opening games of Sunderland seasons. He’s seen quite enough, but has magnificent power of recall that enables him to bring to life the detail of August encounters of his and SAFC’s past …


It is half a century
since Monsieur Salut and his (much) younger chum (me) purchased our first season tickets and became fully fledged, regular Sunderland supporters.

In that time we have had promotions and relegations, the glories of ’73 and the disappointments of ’85, 90, 92, ’98 and ’14.

Owners, managers, players and stadiums have come and gone but, like many of the readers of these pages, we are still there – one of us in heart, the other in body. We have seen players who have thrilled us and players who have made us wince. We have suffered life-affirming pleasures, and seasons and performances that have plunged us into that black night of depression.

But we come back season after season, hoping that the institution that we hold close to our heart can repay that loyalty and give us the thrill that we first experienced when we started out in the years when Harold Wilson was Prime Minister, the Beatles and Del Shannon were Top of the Pops and long before anyone had even dreamed that the likes of Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal would be involved in the English game.

Over the next few weeks, we will be looking back [I’ll hold you to that – Ed] at the opening games of each decade of our unwavering and loyal support. There are some good ones, some bad ones and some that have almost been forgotten even by those who were there. I hope it brings back some memories for readers old enough to remember, inspiration for younger fans who are no less passionate.

Many thanks to the admirable Keith Scott and his trusty sidekick Peter Hayes for the loan of the programmes; as always, a great help.

PART ONE: LEICESTER CITY at ROKER PARK 22/08/64

Back where we belonged, in the top division after a six year hiatus in Division Two, it looked as if Sunderland were on the up. Promotion had been achieved behind the devious and increasingly unpopular Leeds United and, despite a top notch goalscorer, the future looked bright.

There was an ambitious and respected manager in Alan Brown, a brilliant young goalkeeper in Jimmy Montgomery, the most inspirational captain I have ever seen in Charlie Hurley and an exceptional crop of Scots and Northern Irish internationals in George Herd, George Mulhall, Johnny Crossan and Martin Harvey. The upper echelons of the First Division were about to be stormed.

We convinced our respective fathers that a season ticket in the Main Stand paddock at 6 guineas (£6.30 in current money) was a good deal. For me, it drastically reduced the number of Christmas presents available later that year, but I remember being excited when the red booklet with its tear out vouchers arrived. It was read from cover to cover and taken out of the drawer so much that, by the time the first game arrived, it had more creases than those on WH Auden’s face.

Sunderland being Sunderland, the close season had been a disaster. Alan Brown had left over a matter of principle (a promotion bonus) and no new manager had been appointed. As well as the failure to sign up a new boss, no new players had been bought and we went into pre-season with a squad that was exactly the same as that which had got us up. There was no transfer window 50 years ago – had there been, I suspect Messrs Collings, Evans, Parker, Turnbull, Ritson and Cooke, collectively known as The Directors of the Company, would have acted in exactly the same way.

To add to the mayhem, Monty went and broke his arm a few days before the season’s opener. That left the directors, who were now picking the team pending a new appointment, with a dilemma. Did they go for Monty’s understudy, Derek Kirby, a man with no first team experience or did they sign another keeper as a short term replacement until Monty’s arm healed?

They did neither. They plumped for the youth team keeper, Derek Forster, an England schoolboy player who was even younger than M Salut. He was pitchforked into the team at the age of 15 years and 185 days, at the time the youngest goalkeeper ever to have played in English football.

One wonders what the response to this shambles would have been had there been message boards, fan sites and Twitter in 1964. One feels the Board of Directors would have had a rough time. This was only seven years after the illegal payments scandal that had rocked the club so the keyboard warriors like me and Jeremy and John Mc would have had a field day.

So, not the most auspicious start to the season. And, for the Magnificent Two, we had to find a new way of getting to Sunderland. Previously, we had travelled by train from Shildon to Durham and then on to Sunderland via such exotic locations as Beechburn, Hunwick, Fencehouses and Pallion.

Dr Beeching put an end to that, so M Salut negotiated two places on the supporters’ bus that started in Close House and travelled through Shildon to Newton Aycliffe – as it still does now.

It was here that I was introduced to Billy Reilly, Kenny Snowdon, George Michael Thompson (who still runs it), Alan Metcalfe, Jasper Jones (a prodigious drinker – and dead by 40) and others. This was where I served my apprenticeship as a Sunderland follower and I sat at the knees of these great man as they talked of travelling to away games at Portsmouth and Plymouth, Huddersfield and Hull and Walsall and West Ham and of the crates of Brown Ale that were supped on these journeys.

The bus parked off Fulwell Road; the men skipped off to the Navy Club in Roker Avenue or The Cambridge Hotel while we youngsters trooped off to the ground to watch the players arriving in their Triumph Heralds and Mark 1 Cortinas.

The game pulled in a crowd of 45,466 on a windy Saturday afternoon. All games kicked off at 3pm in those days. The only televised game was Match of The Day and that had just started, being shown on BBC 2 (which ruled out a large slice of the population). Kenneth Wolstenholme, 23 months away from his defining commentator’s moment, commentated on Liverpool’s 3-2 win over Arsenal at Anfield.

Meanwhile, back at a windy Roker Park, Mike Stringfellow and Tom Sweenie had taken advantage of some poor defending to put The Foxes into the lead. Forster was blameless and had made two smart saves from tricky winger Howard Riley, but the general consensus was that we were all over the place with Charlie Hurley in particular struggling.

George Mulhall got one back before the break and then, early in the second half, George Herd tapped in the second after Crossan’s shot came back from the bar and when Nicky Sharkey set up Mulhall’s second, M Salut and me rejoiced greatly.

Well, we did for 45 seconds . City went straight down to the Roker End and equalised, with Stringfellow’s pass letting in Ken Keyworth to tie it up at 3-3. And that was that.

Peanuts, tanner a bag
Peanuts, tanner a bag

Forster played two more games before Sandy McLaughlin was brought in as a more experienced replacement. Derek stayed for nine years, moved on to Charlton and Brighton and returned to the North East. He lost an eye through cancer a few years ago, but appears to be happy and content and always willing to talk about his brief spell in the limelight.

And so, we returned to the bus and Sports Report. Len Martin read the results out, Eamonn Andrews hosted the show and there may have been a report on our game. Did Doug Weatherall do the insets for the Light Programme in those far off days?

At home, we probably tuned into Radio Luxemburg and listened to the No 1, Do Wah Diddy Diddy by Manfred Mann, avoided the No 4, I Won’t Forget You by Jim Reeves, chuckled at Call Up The Other Groups by The Barron Knights and wallowed in Dusty’s I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself.

Then a night in front of the Murphy or the Bush watching William Hartnell as Doctor Who and Michael Rennie as The Third Man before an early night in preparation for an early start next morning on my Sunday paper round for Peter Dowson.

That 5/- a week paid for my trips to Roker. He has a lot to answer for.

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15 thoughts on “Fifty years of Sunderland openers: (1) Leicester City and six goals”

  1. You are right about the two bob Jake and I am sure I am right about the £6.6s.0d.
    There were no concessions for the Main Stand Paddock if memory serves and my dad wanted me to be under cover particularly in bad weather.
    He also wanted me to be safe – he had had a very unpleasant experience at the Warrington v Halifax RL Cup Final replay at Odsal Stadium Bradford where the crowd was 102,000 and where he had lost his footing in the crush on the ash banks that were Odsal then.
    The Randalls were, as now rolling in money.

  2. By the way Pete, are you sure your season ticket cost 6 guineas? I started going to games around that time, and I’m sure I remember it being two bob (10 pence) for boys to get in the Roker End. Now I know you were in the posh end but that’s three times the price my dad was paying for me! And your season ticket would give you a bit of discount on match-by-match prices so it’s even more than three times the price. I always knew you and Colin came from the aristocracy. (or maybe I’m wrong about the two bob…..)

    • In the late 60s, I got 10 bob a week (50p) from doing a morning (6 days a week) and Sunday paper round. It cost me 2/6 (return) bus fare and 2/6 to get into footy. That’s a total of 25p for you younger post decimalisation readers. A programme was 1/- (5p) and a hot dog (proper sausages not frankfurters) or a burger (from a tin and kept warm in hot water!) about the same.

      6 guineas (£6.30) for 21 games = 30p per game which would be affordable to the toffs in the paddocks but you are right Jake – it seems a lot for a standing ticket some years previously. Maybe the Shildon aristocracy were seated.

      🙂

  3. By then I was living in Portsmouth. I recall (I think I’m correct) David Coleman on Grandstand saying that the first goal of the season has been scored by one of the promoted clubs – Sunderland at home to Leicester. So this conflicts with your memories. I think the scoring went: 1-0, 1-1,1-2, 2-2, 3-2, 3-3.

  4. Memory is fallible but I do remember that George Mullhall gave Sunderland the lead, a cracking shot with Mullhall coming in from the left and belting a beauty past Banks. Mullhall took to the first division as a duck to water, a good player.

  5. My first ever was in the late 1940’s at Roker against Derby County.

    The SAFC players I remember are skipper Fred Hall, who appeared to be hewn out of granite, the graceful Arthur Wright [ a much under rated footballer ], Johnny Mapson, a very competent ‘keeper, and the all-action Dickie Davis at centre forward.

    I don’t recall the result, and actually my main memory of that game was of Billy Steel, a little inside left [ as they were called ] who looked like a choir boy, and played a different game to everyone else on the pitch. He had pace, skill, vision, and was hard as nails. He was well named.

      • Thanks Jake

        Gosh, that brings back memories. This was the brief interlude between the end of WW2 and the ” Bank of England ” era.

      • Billy

        It is great to recall what, to me, was the best ever era of football.

        The crowds were huge, knowledgeable, and good-natured [ no need to separate fans ]

        There was genuine competition in every league, and almost any team could, potentially, win something.

        The players [ with very few exceptions ] equated themselves with the average working man, and just felt privileged to be paid a decent wage for doing what they were good at.. There was very little diving, play-acting or histrionics of any sort [ they would have been laughed off the pitch ]

        I watched your father many times. He was a complete midfield player, and he would have thrived equally well in the modern game.

      • No problem Billy, I came across your lovely website quite by chance a few months ago and thoroughly enjoyed all the old photos, it was obviously very lovingly put together. Although your dad stopped playing about a decade before I started going to Roker Park, I remember my dad talking about him quite a bit, you must be very proud.

  6. I was there as a City fan. Monty was a great keeper ( the cup final saves were something else ) but for me Banksy was & still is in a league of his own. Shilts was brilliant for us but not quite Gordon.

    Mention of Sharkey amused me, I am sure almost forgotten to a lot of City fans. He never really did it for us, in fact sank without trace – possibly like Bob Lee for you, never really heard much about him after he joined you !??

    • Or Matty Piper who was injured before he had a chance to show us what he could do.

      Can’t disagree about Gordon Banks who was as you say in a class of his own, but if Bonetti had played for Sunderland and Monty for Chelsea I wonder if they both would ended up with the same number of caps as they actually got!

      But my favourite Monty fact is that he got a European Cup Winners medal despite never having played a minute for Nottingham Forest, only ever warming the bench.

  7. My first ever Sunderland match.

    I had been to Roker Park once before when England played Scotland in what I think was a Schoolboy International that finished 2-2. There was a lad called George Luke who was in my elder brother’s class at Eppleton Secondary Modern who I think played. I may be wrong about that (I’ll try and look it up) but he was certainly capped at Schoolboy level, signed for The Mags but eventually went to play in South Africa. He played one game for Chelsea and isn’t the same George Luke who played for The Mags in the 50s and 60s. (Thank you chels.info).

    Unlike Sixer my memories of those days revolve around hot dogs, the smell of pipe tobacco and not seeing much of the game unless I’d managed to get to the front of the Roker or Fulwell Ends – the paddocks were too posh for us Hetton Lads!

  8. My overiding memory of that day was, the great Gordon Banks walking off the lush Roker Park pitch with his arm around the shoulder of the youngest player ever to play football in England.

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