Sixer’s Travels: dreaming of those twin towers (whoops the arch) again

Malcolm Dawson writes……….not one to suffer the plight of the England Men’s Footballing XI in meaningless friendlies our regular correspondent Peter Sixsmith takes the opportunity to take in some non league football. This weekend he indulged his love of footy and that of rail travel by making the short trip to the Yorkshire coast to see if his home town Club (and that of M Salut) might bring his dream of a Wembley Final one step closer. Read on to find out ……..


Except it wasn’t as Marske United knocked Shildon out of the FA Vase in the Second Round proper and coupled with our abject failure to qualify from the group stage of the Checkatrade Trophy, it reduces my chances of a Wembley visit in 2018 considerably. The FA Cup still remains and remember all you over 50s, we did appoint a new manager in November 1972 so maybe, just maybe……

Regular readers will know that I actively look forward to the international breaks. It means that I can relax a little and not become anxious at the prospect of another gut wrenching, sleep inducing performance from the Lads in red and white stripes, complete with subsequent sulk and foul temper all day Sunday. I sometimes take off for the day to tick a new ground off and I was sorely tempted to go to Winsford in Cheshire to watch Tow Law Town’s game with 1874 Northwich. 1874 were once Northwich Victoria and played at the SoL in 2006. They had a loud mouthed chairman who complained about us reducing the prices and depriving Vics of income. He sold the club on to another party who was eventually declared bankrupt and 1874 Northwich were formed by the fans to keep an honourable name going. Good for them.

However, I declined the pleasures of the Saturday Hen Party Specials on Trans-Pennine Express and opted to travel with Northern Rail almost all the way along the line that starts in Bishop Auckland and ends in Saltburn, via Shildon, Newton Aycliffe, Heighington, North Road, Darlington and all stations to Saltburn – including the penultimate stop at Marske-on-Sea. It was almost a full train as it set out from Bishop Auckland and it was full when it picked up a sizeable contingent of Shildon supporters at its first stop. More got on at Newton Aycliffe and the ticket collector abandoned any prospect of collecting fares until after Darlington where the train disgorged those picking up connections, going shopping or toddling off to the cinema to see Paddington 2.

On we went to Middlesbrough, passing the scene of last weekend’s disaster and then through the ruins of the Teesside steel industry to Redcar Central and East, Longbeck (where I have never seen anybody get on or off – ever) and then to Marske, where 30 men and women, with completely different accents to the locals, wandered down the ramp and into The Zetland, The Clarendon and Biggles Bar.

The latter is named in tribute to Captain W E Johns, the creator of James Bigglesworth, Flying Ace and general all round good egg. With his chums, the Hon Algernon Montgomery Lacey (who I suspect was a bit of a toff) and Ginger Hebblethwaite (working class Northerner), they foiled many a dastardly plot from Johnny Foreigner and emerged as heroes in 98 books with titles like Biggles Takes A Holiday (maybe in Marske-on-Sea), Biggles Takes It Rough (not for those of a sensitive nature) and Biggles and The Noble Lord (presumably not Lord Montague of Beaulieu). Alas, Biggles Flies Undone is a figment of some schoolboy’s imagination. (I seem to recall it being something on Monty Python’s Flying Circus c 1969 – MD)

Johns was stationed in Marske during the First World War as a flying instructor but he kept crashing the planes and was removed to the Western Front where little help was needed to bring down the Sopwith Camels and Pups that zoomed above the poor bloody infantry sitting in their shell holes, waiting for a whizz-bang to blow them into kingdom come.

I managed a fine pint of Cameron’s Strongarm in The Clarendon in the company of Colin Hurworth (partner in crime in the Mystery of Who Wrote SAFC For Ever in the dust of Don Revie’s car), a Sunderland supporter and like Algy and Ginger an all round good egg (he prefers Scotch ones) and Graham Shafto, a Newcastle fan but none the worse for that. There are some decent ones around.

A fine pint of Strongarm was taken by our intrepid explorer

There was a good crowd at Mount Pleasant, a small ground that needs a lot doing to it if Marske are to be promoted to the Northern Premier League. One whole side was blocked off as they were laying new paving stones, so the 500+ in attendance were squeezed into three sides of what is a ground with little elevated terracing. They are a good team though and they took an early lead when Danny Earl ran through and scored a well taken goal and one which rocked Shildon and their noisy support. The first half was cagey with neither side wanting to make mistakes. Nick Livesedge in the Shildon goal made a couple of very good saves before the half time whistle went and many bladders could be safely emptied.

The second half was of a very high standard as both teams went for it. The Railwaymen drew level when marauding full back Jamie Harwood was brought down in the box and Sunderland supporter Billy Greulich-Smith stepped up to put the spot kick past Robbie Deans in the Marske goal. Both sides spurned chances to win the game in the 90 minutes and as is the case in this excellent competition, the game went to extra time with a replay to come if the scores were still level after two hours. Train timetables were consulted and if there was a prompt start, the 17.34 could still be caught. We hoped.

Marske midfielder Craig Gott settled the game in favour of the Seasiders with a stunning shot in the first period of the additional half hour and try as they might, Shildon could not find a second equaliser. Marske had a man sent off for two yellow cards near the end but they were disciplined and organised and deserved their win. They have lost but three times this season – once to league leaders Morpeth Town, once to fellow title challengers West Auckland Town and once to another set of Yorkshire Coasters, Scarborough Athletic in the FA Cup. They have won the last eight games they have played and look a very good unit indeed.

With thanks to @Official_SAFC on Twitter

The 17.34 was caught thanks to the conductor holding the train while your correspondent waddled down the ramp and as tiredness caught up with the Shildon folk in the carriage, a pleasant journey was spent in the company of top Sunderland supporter Russ Henderson and copious pictures of his new cat Wilf.

So no Vase run for Shildon this year and it leaves us with the league to concentrate on. League leaders Morpeth Town surprisingly lost at Ashton Athletic in deepest, darkest Ashton-in Makerfield while West Auckland and North Shields won through.

And as for Tow Law- their game was postponed due to a “soft spot” on the Winsford pitch. They were not amused and may well approach Biggles, Algy and Ginger to see if they are prepared to strafe the ground. A long way to go for nothing…..

Sixer’s Sunderland relegation reminiscences: can’t help falling in love with you

Here in the second part of his series, “inspired” by our calamitous performances this year, Pete Sixsmith  looks back at Sunderland’s previous relegation seasons by recalling the one that took place at the end of a decade that saw flower power and skinheads, the first moon landings and the first heart transplant.

Pete Sixsmith yearning for a pint of Federation half and half

RELEGATION 2 1969-70

After the shock of being relegated in 1958 it took Sunderland six long years to get back. Alan Brown remained in charge throughout, gradually building a side which many would say was the best they have seen at either Roker Park or The Stadium of Light, made up of players who bought into the Brown philosophy and who fell in love with the club and the area.

Brown’s departure on the eve of the 1964-65 season was a shock and the bond between manager, players and the club was broken. For the next four seasons Sunderland never finished above 15th and had a couple of genuine relegation scares. In 1968 the Board parted company with Ian McColl, brought Brown back from Sheffield Wednesday and he did enough to drag the team to the relative security of 15th place.

The next season saw a promising start which came to nothing as we finished four points above the drop zone (2 down and 2 points for a win in those days) and it saw four notable exits. George Herd, George Mulhall and Charlie Hurley all played their final games for Sunderland and promising youngster Colin Suggett was sold to West Bromwich Albion for £100,000 to raise cash for new signings. He was replaced by Joe Baker, an England international with a broad Edinburgh accent, who had played in Italy, done well at Arsenal, had been an important player at Nottingham Forest but was definitely on the way down when he rocked up at Roker. Brown also added Colin Symm, an anonymous midfield player from Sheffield Wednesday and put his trust in young players like Mick McGiven, Bobby Park and Bobby Kerr.

Brown quickly fell out with the quirky Calvin Palmer, dropping him after a dismal defeat at his former club Stoke City, leaving the squad wafer thin. Symm turned out to be the kind of player we would probably sign nowadays, contributing little to the team and spending most of the season in the Reserves or as an unused sub. Brown didn’t like substitutes and as there was only one allowed, he more than often opted not to use him. How would he cope with three from seven one wonders?

Joe, Joe, Joe Baker

As for Joe Baker, he worked hard, had some misfortune in front of goal, but had to wait until the day after Boxing Day to score his first goal when he netted the equaliser against Manchester United at Roker. The crowd of 36,504 assembled at our wonderful old ground rejoiced and giggled as they saw the ball hit his shin and then his bum before passing Alex Stepney and bouncing over the line to lift us off the bottom of the table and give us some faint hope of avoiding the drop.

The team that day was Montgomery: Irwin, Pitt, Heslop, Harvey: Park, Todd, McGiven, Tueart: Baker, Hughes: sub Kerr (unused).

Five of the twelve went on to play in the Cup winning side of 73. Colin Todd had a marvellous career as a player at Derby, Everton and others. Martin Harvey was the John O’Shea of his day, filling in as and where needed. Bobby Park could have been a wonderful player had he not suffered a catastrophic knee injury in August 1972 and Mick Mc Given, who might have made the bench at Wembley, was promising like so many young players we have had. He moved on to West Ham United and succeeded Bobby Moore in the Hammers first team. I always liked him – he could make and take a hard tackle and got forward enthusiastically. He would have done well in the modern game.

That leaves Brian Heslop, a big, blonde centre half cum midfield player who Ian McColl had signed from Carlisle United for the princely sum of £5,000. In his four years at Roker, he made 57 appearances without ever establishing himself in the team and would be regularly switched from central defence to central midfield, never imposing himself on the team. Unlike McGiven, who was a similar type of player, Heslop’s career went downwards after he left Roker, moving to Northampton Town and then back to his native Cumbria for a four year stint at Workington, leaving them the year before they were voted out of the Football League. I vaguely remember seeing him play for The Reds at Feethams one damp Monday night.

Who needs a cardboard clapper?

The whole season was a desperately poor one. We were in a relegation place for much of it, went out of the League Cup at home to Bradford City (Horden legend Norman Corner scoring the winner) and lost at Filbert Street to Second Division Leicester City (minus annoying cardboard clappers) in the Third Round of the FA Cup.

We scored a pathetic 30 goals in 42 games, managed to win six of those 42 and drew 14. We went into the final month of the season rock bottom but still in touch and some improved results including a Dennis Tueart winner at Maine Road and a Billy Hughes cracker at Highfield Road to earn us a draw, sent us into the last two home games needing three points to stay up.

The first of those was with Champions Everton, who had finished nine points ahead of Durty Leeds and who were still celebrating. We had one of those points courtesy of a turgid but valuable 0-0 draw. The next game was a week later against their Merseyside neighbours and the omens were good. Crystal Palace had finished their programme and a win against The Reds would have taken us a point above The Glaziers. They had taken three points from us in August and it was the point that they had taken in a wretched 0-0 at Roker that would prove to be crucial.

Liverpool arrived in sixth place and were going through a transformative period. Bill Shankly was manager with Bob Paisley as his sidekick. Bob was from Hetton and was therefore a Sunderland fan so surely he would have a word with The Great Man to persuade his players to play with marginally less intensity than you would expect from a Shankly team.

And that is how it was. Unfortunately we failed to take advantage of this and proceeded to miss the few chances that we created with poor Liverpool born Joe Baker missing a couple that even Jozy Altidore would have converted. With four minutes left, Chris Lawler found himself unmarked in front of the Fulwell End and had little option but to put the ball in the net and Alan Brown had the unwanted title of being the Man Who Took Sunderland Down Twice.

I was in my first year at Sunderland College of Education when this disaster struck. There were a goodly number of Sunderland supporters amongst the student body, some locals like me and others who had enjoyed First Division football for the first time. Some remained supporters for life and still go while others take an interest from their retirement cottages, camper vans and nursing homes remembering those days of grim football in a town where the clang of hammers upon rivets still rang along the River Wear and the aroma of hops, malt and water wafted out from Vaux’s Brewery

The Great Sunderland Store

We shopped at Binns and Joplings, bought our books at Hills and our Progressive Rock LP’s from Atkinson’s and Berg’s shops. We went to the Odeon and the ABC to watch Butch Cassidy, Kes and M.A.S.H and to Studios One and Two for Easy Rider and films that were rather less worthy and a tad more titillating.

We went to discos at The Alexandra where we danced to Mungo Jerry, East of Eden and Creedence Clearwater Revival and listened to Kenny Rogers asking Ruby not to Take Her Love To Town on juke boxes in The Upper Deck, The Beehive and The Gannet and the Andy William’s version of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” got to number three in the hit parade. We tuned into the first Monty Python the day after an awful 0-0 draw against Chelsea and proclaimed it superior to Do Not Adjust Your Set, although some of us thought that it would be better had the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band been in it

We argued politics over pints of Lorimers Best Scotch and Newcastle Starbrite and were flabbergasted when Grocer Heath became Prime Minister after Harold Wilson called a General Election to take place in the middle of the World Cup. Had Monty been Gordon Banks’s understudy instead of the hapless Peter Bonetti, the nation would not have gone to the polls having lost their grip on the Jules Rimet Trophy after West Germany had triumphed 3-2 in the Mexican city of Leon and he of the shaking shoulders, the sailor cap and the intense dislike of Wislon, as Private Eye called him, would never have made Downing Street and Mrs Thatcher would have remained a back bench MP and we would all be a lot happier in our off shore Socialist paradise.

And so throughout that summer, we studied the Division Two fixture list and contemplated trips to Ashton Gate, St Andrews and Bramall Lane. As M Salut would say, “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose” or, as I would say, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

Au revoir mes enfants.