After swapping the chalk face for a school reunion just off Junction 13 of the M1, Pete Sixsmith battled the floods and took in a Northern League game which gave him the opportunity to renew acquaintances with one of his boyhood (and adulthood) heroes. Frankly, after the amount of rain that hit the North East, cutting off the village of West Auckland, carrying off cars in the city of Durham and washing away the foundations of a whole apartment block in the suburbs of Newcastle, it was amazing that any games took place at all. The rain that fell over the previous two days certainly rivalled that which had caused the Reading game’s cancellation. We must hope there’ll be no repeat on Saturday and we can witness a first league victory since March.
Having worked my way round the road closures in North Yorkshire (it took me over an hour to get through Northallerton and it would have been longer had I not slipped through Romanby and Yafforth), I was home in time to scoff fish and chips at Clem’s and then take a leisurely stroll up to Dean Street for the Northern League Division One game between Shildon and Sunderland RCA.
The Railwaymen have come off the rails a wee bit in the last couple of weeks. After annihilating South Shields 11-0, they have drawn at Consett, almost thrown away an FA Vase game against Liversedge, been walloped at Dunston in the League Cup and then beaten in the FA Cup by Altrincham.
That one could have been a real disaster, as they were 3 down in the eleventh minute to The Robins, a club beloved of the late, great Frank Sidebottom. A trio of basic errors had the game lost early on and they took no solace from the fact they had more shots on goal than Alty in the remaining 79 minutes that the disappointing crowd had to put up with.
Another reason for strolling up was that it gave me an opportunity to see and hear the RCA coach, one George Herd, a member of the 1963-64 promotion team, a personal favourite of mine and scorer of the second Sunderland goal I saw, following on from Harry Hooper’s opener in a 2-1 defeat of Middlesbrough in November 1961.
He was a gifted inside forward of the kind that Scotland seemed to produce with the regularity that they produce fine whisky or exotic deep fried snacks. After a 15 year career which took in Queens Park, Clyde, Sunderland and Hartlepool United, he worked as a coach all over the world, before ending up back in Sunderland and helping out at RCA.
Many fans of my generation will remember his ability to thread a ball through to his centre forward. He arrived at the club in April 1961, made his debut in the final game of the season against Liverpool at Roker in a team that lined up: Hird (his only appearance); Nelson, Ashurst; Anderson, Hurley, McNab; Davison, Herd, Sharkey, Fogarty, Overfield. Nicky Sharkey scored the goal in a 1-1 draw.
The season after, he supplied a lot of the bullets for Brian Clough and they used to room together, but fell out in the 70s when Clough blanked George at a PFA Dinner, which could be typical Clough behaviour when he was in his pomp.
The arrival of Johnnie Crossan and George Mulhall meant that a Second Division team had four internationals in the forward line, as Clough had gained a couple of England caps while at Middlesbrough and George had been capped 5 times for Scotland.
He was a real crowd favourite and was admired for his skill and his passing ability, but some felt that he could and should have scored more. His final record for Sunderland was played 315 with 55 goals – not a bad return for someone who was at that time known as a schemer.
Apparently, he was a poor sleeper away from home and, if the club had an overnight stay, he would ask for permission to travel down on the train on the morning of the game – or even cadge a lift on a supporters’ coach. Somehow, I can’t see the current crop of players doing that.
He had an excellent disciplinary record, blotted the once when he was sent off in a fractious FA Cup 2nd replay against Leeds United at Boothferry Park after he called the referee, one Mr Ken Stokes of Newark, a very rude word for awarding Leeds a penalty that was offside, outside the box and a dive. Difficult to blame him really.
I spoke briefly to him before the game and got him to sign his photo which the Shildon programme editor had used to illustrate a piece I had written about Ryhope. He then went off to spend the next 90 minutes barking instructions at the RCA players, which clearly had the desired effect as they edged the game 3-2.
On my return to Sixsmith Towers, I switched the radio on to catch the League Cup draw and was a little disappointed to see that we had drawn the Boro again. I fancied Swindon or Bradford at home but was pleased to avoid a Premier League club.
The game could see a resumption of hostilities between Lee Cattermole and Grant Leadbitter who clearly didn’t care for each other in the game at The Riverside a few years ago – assuming the manager picks Cattermole. It is possible that, by that time, Meyler or Gardner or Vaughan will have cemented a place in the centre of midfield. We shall see.
The Wigan game is a great opportunity to claim that first win. Last year, their win at the Stadium brought about the arrival of O’Neill. He will be wanting a win to get the ball well and truly rolling before we go into a difficult October.