Soapbox: suffering in the rain at St James’ Park

Sunderland fans remember the 2-1 victory in torrential rain at Newcastle United in 1999. Pete Sixsmith’s memory goes back further to another wet occasion at St James’ Park, without the uplifting consolation of a win …

Half term and a couple of days in Lincolnshire, watching the delights of Louth Town v Shirebrook Town (8-0) and Lincoln Moorlands Railway v Long Eaton Town (5-0), with this game enlivened by a strange Long Eaton supporter bellowing out “Come on Long Eaton” at regular intervals and giving a decent impersonation of the late lamented Emperor of Exmoor.

I awoke this morning, logged on to the trusty lap top and nearly expired on the spot. There, on this very site, was a fair, balanced and very enjoyable view of the Tyne/Wear Derby – by a Mag.

I had to read it twice (because the bloody thing switched itself off) and I found myself nodding in agreement with much of what Keith Topping says, even down to the score – I would also be happy with 1-1- draws if it meant we could get these damned games over as quickly as possible. Like Keith, I don’t enjoy them and I feel nervous for a week beforehand.

My first experience of a Tyne-Wear Derby came in March 1964 at St James’ Park. I missed the 2-1 win at Roker as it was on a Wednesday night and I had to be at Bishop Auckland Grammar School the next day (although I probably wasted it by looking out of the window or thinking of Charlie Hurley) – so I did not witness Len Ashurst’s superb opener, nor George Herd’s winner.

However, Colin and I did make it to the return game on March 14, played in front of a dismal crowd of 27,341. Typical Mags, all this talk of loyal support; absolute rubbish.

Except that would be unfair (see what influence you have had on me, Keith!!). There was a torrential downpour all Saturday morning, and as we stepped off the train at Newcastle Central (direct from Shildon), we were met with thousands of red and whites and black and whites boarding trains home, saying that the game was off.

Disappointment for both of us. Hard earned paper round money had been wasted on train fares, so we decided to walk out to the ground to have a look at it. I had never been there before and I wanted to see its looming, barrel shaped main stand, far inferior to the one at Roker, and its strange floodlights that bent over the stadium, as if they were peeping over a wall.

When we got there, the game was on. The rain was still coming down in stair rods and the only cover, apart from the seats in the Main Stand, was in the Leazes End – so that was where we went.

It was a dismal game that should have been called off. We were having a wee wobble at the time; a goalless draw with the Boro at Roker Park had been followed by a 5-1 thumping by Manchester United in the FA Cup 6th Round second replay at Leeds Road, Huddersfield, so we were a bit short of form and confidence.

Jimmy McNab had been injured and was replaced by Dave Eliott, he of the tree trunk thighs. McNab was a fierce tackler, but also a good footballer and he was a great favourite of mine . Elliott was his understudy and although a good player, we lost real bite when Jimmy was missing.

Newcastle won 1-0, the goal coming from a journeyman centre forward called Ron McGarry, an average player, but a wonderful self publicist. He had cards printed with the slogan “Ron McGarry, Footballer; Have Goals Will Travel” – a tribute to a very popular TV series called Have Gun Will Travel, which starred Richard Boone as Paladin, a gun for hire in the Wild West – mainly set in Workington and Barrow.

The journey home was a steamy one as the population of the train carriage dried out – the smell of wet dog was predominant in those days before Gore-Tex, when gabardine was the material of choice.

The Football Echo was a Green as we picked them up at Durham Station and splashed down to Bimbi’s for a frothy coffee and both of us returned home soaked to the skin. No showers then, but the immersion heater was switched on (to much tutting from the pater) and I warmed up in the bath.

So, my first time at SJP – not a pleasant experience and I’m afraid that that has mostly been the same ever since. I missed the consecutive wins under Reidy, but I did see a 3-0 triumph in 1967 (all the goals scored by Scots) and I was there on that memorable night when Marco slid it under Fatty Burridge. The picture is on my living room wall.

By Sunday afternoon, it will be all over. Bragging rights will be claimed and there will be elation in one camp and disappointment in the other. I would be happy with a 1-1 draw but delirious if we won. Should that happen, I might just ring Keith up and remind him of who is Cock of the North.

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3 thoughts on “Soapbox: suffering in the rain at St James’ Park”

  1. 1964: Sunderland’s promotion year and my demotion year (though it was one of the best things that ever happened to me), in that I was pointedly NOT invited to return to Bishop Auckland Grammar School after my dismal O-Level results. In the months leading up to that, I’d given up any pretence of studying. My dad seemed resigned to the inevitable (he had visions of me becoming a cop) and the two of us and his friend from the carpet shop were at that Wednesday night home game. It wasn’t often that you saw Len Ashurst score.
    It’s my proud boast that I’ve never set foot in St. James’ Park.
    But I did once feel real fear in Newcastle. I met (in Darlington!) the American woman who would become my wife shortly after Sunderland had won the F.A. Cup in 1973. I had a commemorative pin and also a Sunderland badge and gave them to her as early tokens of my budding affection. We were having a day in Newcastle when I suddenly realized she was wearing them on her lapel. At first, she mistook my wild grab at her as inappropriately public passion until I made her understand that she must take them off immediately and put them in her pocket.
    “Why?” she asked innocently.
    “Because it’s not you who’ll get your head kicked in,” I explained. To this day, she thinks I was exaggerating. But I know I wasn’t.

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