It’s summer. Not much going on, save for transfer speculation (Roy Keane maybe in for Carlos and Nyron, us undecided between Rooney and Drogba – well, the first bit is true, according to the papers) …the new season approaching but still far enough away not to worry about. Let Pete Sixsmith, then, introduce Tash, a great new Salut! Sunderland writing talent with heartwarming words about her first visit to the Stadium of Light …
As June limps out and July dashes in, the new season comes ever closer. There are just over two weeks to our first pre-season game at Darlington and here, at Sixsmith Towers, there is a little flutter of excitement in the not inconsiderable tummy as yet another dawn arrives that promises to be as true as an Elvis Costello shot rather than as false as a Labour Party manifesto.
The love and affection (and occasional contempt) that the grizzled veterans of Roker Park have for the club is well documented.
Some live close enough to feel it 24/7, while others live far enough away to have a more detached view. Sometimes, we take Sunderland for granted, with the world weary, cynical view that we have seen it all before and no doubt we will see it all again.
So what a pleasure on Saturday to read an infinitely less hard bitten view of SAFC. I received a suspicious letter in the post that morning. It wasn’t the usual final demand, credit card bill, Viagra offer, but a hand written envelope in a script that I recognised. I opened it, fearing bad news and read a perfect reason why the likes of us oldies should restrain our cynicism and grumpiness about the club.
The covering letter was from Peter Scott, a retired colleague and probably the finest teacher I have ever worked with. He was a Roker Ender par excellence, refusing to move even when the heavens opened in deluges of Shamrock Rovers (away) proportions.
Peter doesn’t go as much now and his equally loyal son, Derek lives in the Midlands, so he doesn’t get to many games either. But the light of Sunderland AFC burns in their hearts and makes them fine examples of how our club will always be superior to the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal, with their plastic, band wagon jumping fans.
Peter’s granddaughter, Tash, lives in Truro, which is about as far away from Sunderland as you can get and still be in England. Despite the distance she is a proud and loyal Red and White and is, according to her grandfather “living proof that I have brought my family up in the correct and time honoured traditions”.
On being asked to do an English assignment on My Favourite Place, Tash looked no farther than the Stadium of Light. She produced a great piece of work which is part tribute to her dad and granddad and part tribute to what we all hold dear – Sunderland AFC. This is her describing the approach to the Stadium.
“I vividly remembered crossing the giant metal bridge that connected either side of the North-eastern city, connecting either side of the angry River Wear. The air was cold and the wind blew heavily from across the freezing North Sea which made me glad my dad had reminded me to take my warm coat. The rich smell of frying burgers and hot dogs drifted over from the busy fast food trailers that rested on the crowded road ahead.
The deep voices of men in dark coats and woven red and white scarves, who I’d probably never see again, surrounded me. I held Dad’s warm hand tightly as his face was one of the few that was recognisable. I looked up at Grandpa as his old hand dug into his navy blue coat pocket and faintly heard the sound of rustling, before he pulled out a handful of Werther’s Originals.”
Tash goes on to describe Peter giving her her ticket;
“Grandpa tapped me lightly on the shoulder and, smiling, leaned down to give me something.
Warily I put out my cold hand to receive it. It glistened as what little sunlight was left reflected off the glossy coating. The emblem in the corner was instantly recognisable. I probably would have recognised it from the day I was born. I slid my fingers across the smooth surface as I read the black text. I realised that I was holding my ticket. A ticket that would get me into that magnificent ground that stood over me.”
And this is what she saw inside:
“Our red plastic seats were slightly faded in the middle, from the fans who had sat there. Cold, grey concrete lay flat beneath our feet.
In front of me were thousands of excited heads and shoulders all steadily leaning in toward the green rectangle bordered by snow white lines. The stadium was bigger than I’d ever thought. The red seats were filled with bodies and an ocean of red and white lay before me. Inevitably, Prokoviev’s Dance of the Knights began and everyone rose to their feet as though it was an order. As the players emerged, the adrenaline buzzed around the stadium as the clapping, chanting and whistling started. The sound was amazing. The sense of unity and passion was second to none.”
And, for Tash, the defining moment:
“Even as Sunderland were defending the noise was constant, pushing the team on, willing them to win. Different chants ran loops around my ears. Dad knew them all as did Grandpa. The noise was so immense I was almost scared, almost terrified.
My fingers were ice against my face; I’d forgotten how cold they were. I fumbled around in my pocket, scrambling for my gloves. The noise of the supporters suddenly increased, a few of those in front of me began to stand, I looked up quickly, I couldn’t see. I tried to find a gap between a thousand heads. I stood up as the ball rippled idly into the back of the net. The ocean of red and white erupted. Everyone was on their feet, jumping up and down, screaming. Dad hugged me so tightly I could barely breathe. The noise was unimaginable, ecstatic, amazing.”
For us who trudge across the bridge, slump in our seats and moan about the players, Tash’s lovely piece should go some way towards pricking the bubble of cynicism that older fans sometimes have.
All of us have felt like she did and all of us can remember our first real experience of Roker Park or the Stadium. I don’t think Tash sees many games but, like her dad and her grandpa, she is part of the family of Sunderland fans that stretches across the country and across the world: a true Red and White!