Back in March, John Penman, an East Stand regular who makes long trips down from his home in Scotland to be at games – was my companion at the Capital One Cup final at Wembley. He won’t have forgotten that day but it may have slipped his mind that almost exactly seven years ago, he wrote his first Salut! Sunderland guest piece charting the history of SAFC tops he has known and loved. He can update the story in Comments; it seemed a good candidate for the Summer Gold series …
As I wait patiently for my new kit to be delivered (this was the 2007-08 one – Ed), I cast my mind back to the other strips that I have owned bearing the SAFC crest.
These days strips are big business but it most certainly wasn’t always like that. My first kit was bought circa 1982 in a sports shop in Glasgow of all places. I had just been browsing when the pinstripe red short sleeved top caught my eye.
It was very much love at first sight as I grabbed the shirt just in case someone were to beat me to it (there was only one in the shop).
Over the next few months it made various appearances most notably in a nightclub after we beat West Brom 3-2 at the Hawthorns in April 1982, virtually securing our top league status. Whether it could be called a fashion accessory is debatable and it wasn’t particularly liked by the ladies since football fans in those days were generally perceived as thugs by the general public.
Despite all this I wore it for many years and even after it had outgrown its nightclub appeal I wore it to work.
At this time in my life I worked as a labourer on a building site.
Most of the lads who came and went around the site were sound with the strip, but there was one smug and irritating Mag who continually had something derisory to say about the great SAFC.
He also found it funny when he let slip a ladder I was working on, laughing uncontrollably as I tumbled to the ground. This could have caused a workplace injury, which could have resulted in me needing to get medical attention, and maybe even some time off work impacting my finances.
He wasn’t so jolly a few days later however, when I replaced the cheese in his sandwiches with cement and put a dead mouse in his tea flask. Within a couple of days he had moved on. Victory to the SAFC I thought.
As time wore on through the Eighties and we plummeted to depths that I never believed we could, thanks largely to Mr McMenemy, I realised that it was time for a new top.
This time it was in shop in Edinburgh in 1989 that I caught the delightful sight of the SAFC home kit hiding behind some unknown rugby strips. To get a football top in a city like Edinburgh was hard enough at the time but a Sunderland top, I couldn’t believe my luck. I parted with my cash and strode out proudly clutching my new purchase.
It was the fashion in those days for strips to be rather on the tight side for your body and mine was no exception.
The rippling muscles gained from slogging on a building site were beginning to vanish as I now had a desk job, so instead of looking like a finely tuned athlete, I was beginning to show signs of turning into a darts player. A beer belly sadly, is much more evident in a tight top.
It was however, the top I wore on my last visit to Roker Park in May 1991. That was against Arsenal on a Bank Holiday Monday and the defeat effectively relegated us if I remember correctly.
My work took me to the Scottish Highlands for 10 years after this and although the passion for the club remained, the distance was too great if I wanted to make a game.
The next top I owned was in 1996 when a special commemorative issue was brought out, coinciding with our last season at Roker Park.
A collector’s item I thought and with one phone call to the club shop I was the proud owner of something that could be worth thousands in years to come (or so I decided). Strip 3
This top was something special with a variety of names connected with Roker visible. This was something definitely to be treasured and would be with me till my dying day. But sadly I was wrong.
My girlfriend at the time was one day going through my wardrobe and disposing of some of my Eighties gear. You know the stuff, “Relax” t-shirts, trousers endorsed by Spandau Ballet and some Duran Duran shirts among other things like sparkle suits.
I had foolishly held on to them in a forlorn hope that they might come back into fashion. She was gleefully putting them into a charity bag. Little did I know that my Roker Park memorial shirt was also finding its way to a charity shop as well.
She claimed ignorance when questioned about the missing strip a few days later, claiming that she didn’t know it was a football strip taking it to be another of my dodgy shirts from the Eighties. I was furious when I found this out and she not surprisingly became my ex-girlfriend shortly afterwards.
The move to the SOL meant I had to buy the first strip of the new era and I am still the proud owner of that shirt. I have bought another couple in the last 10 years and they are all kept now in a vault in my wardrobe. They signify history after all. I wonder if my children will want to inherit them (I bet Hayley will – Ed)?
* John provided photos at the time his article appeared but these are no longer retrievable from the archives. But check out the retro SAFC tops at the site of our friends and collaborators at Camporetro.com