Our magnificent man in his flying machine is Bill Taylor, who lives in Canada these days but is a Sunderland-daft Bishop lad. He has never lost the passion despite living thousands of miles from County Durham and even becoming a naturalised Canadian. Older fans will identify with his nostalgic memories of an early introduction to Roker Park; younger ones will get an idea of what it was like. You’ll guess from the ending that it was written before Saturday’s game when Cattermole not only remained uninjured and unpunished but had a blinder …
I first heard the Roker Roar from a distance, a backyard a couple of streets away from the Fulwell End. I can’t have been any more than five at the time.
“What’s that?” I asked. And my dad replied: “Sounds like the Lads just put one in.”
“Sunderland,” he said, a bit testily as if I should’ve known without asking. “The team. OUR team.”
My dad was from Ryhope and my mother from Houghton-le-Spring. The backyard was attached to a house owned by friends of theirs. We’d make the trek to visit them from Bishop Auckland by Sunderland District, Northern or United (they shared the service) No 57 bus to Sunderland and then the tram to Fulwell, groaning along like a windjammer in a gale.
The old man must have decided that exchange meant I was ready and he started to take me to Bishop games at the old Kingsway ground. This was in the days when the Two Blues ruled amateur football and there was far less difference than there is today between that and the professional game.
He had one friend who supported Crook Town, our chief Northern League rivals, and another who followed, in an almost constant state of depression, the fortunes of Ferryhill. This was regarded as the utmost folly.
Even worse, he was a Middlesbrough fan, too. I was quickly given to understand that Boro were nonentities. It didn’t how well or badly they were doing, they were beneath serious consideration.
To this day, and even when I worked for the Evening Gazette on Teesside and occasionally had to cover their reserve games, I’ve never been able to muster the slightest interest in them. I hate Newcastle United, and always have, but Middlesbrough… You could offer me £1,000 right now and I doubt if I could name more than three of their players.
As for Newcastle – the Crook supporter was also a Magpie. My dad would come in from the Cumberland Arms once in a while, shaking his head and saying: “I dunno why I bother with that bugger. He knaas nowt about the game on either level.”
I came to realise that those were the times either the Bishops or the Cats had come to grief.
I don’t remember the first time he took me to Roker Park. I must have been about 10 and, though Sunderland was only 25 or maybe 30 miles away and we had a car by this time (a 1939 Rover), it was still in the nature of a pilgrimage.
I do remember being awestruck by the size of the crowd and the noise it made and the way, at moments of great excitement, it would surge up and down the terraces like the tide turning. But I also remember the gentleness with which the men around us – there were no women that I recall – made sure I was placed safely by a barrier and was able to see.
“Is it his first game?” one man asked my dad. Aye.
The man looked down at me. “Why mind thoo keeps thee hands in thee coat pockets,” he said, “for fear somebody pittles in there. There’s nee time to push down to the netties here.”
There was a general laugh, in which I joined. I’d never been included in “grownup” humour before. It was another step forward.
The old man managed a grocery shop (W Duncan, if anyone remembers them) and worked Saturdays. But there were sometimes Wednesday games that we could go to. Usually his friend from the carpet shop, whose football allegiances were impeccable, would come, too.
I grew to know the team. To yell as hard as anyone when Sunderland got a corner kick and Charlie Hurley would come striding up the field to rise high above the opposition and deliver an often-deadly header.
I was playing football myself by then (almost pathetically badly) and knew how it felt to slam your forehead (and once my nose) into a sodden, mud-encrusted leather ball. Hurley was my hero.
I was there with my dad and his pal on Boxing Day, 1962, when Sunderland were at home to Bury and Brian Clough – a Teessider but we let that slide – had his fateful collision with their goalie, Chris Harker.
One of the Bury players tried to yank him to his feet, clearly believing he’d taken an early example of the now-standard dive. Ironic that it should be someone who would become such an iconic Sunderland figure – Bob Stokoe.
But Cloughie wasn’t pulling a Ronaldo or a Gerrard. I remember, as he was stretchered off, the old man and his mate looking at each other and both of them shaking their heads and one of them saying: “He’ll not come back from that one, I doubt.”
It wasn’t long after that I started going to games on my own, with my own friends.
“How’d they get on?” the old man would ask. “Ooh, I can tell by your face. That bad, eh?”
I moved to the U.S. in 1973 and it was often difficult to get the English football results. But I’d phone my parents every Sunday and that would be the first thing my dad would tell me.
When I came to Toronto in 1982, I discovered the papers here gave the game decent coverage. But it was still a mainstay of our Sunday chats. The last conversation I had with him, before he died five years ago, was largely about Sunderland and why, after all these years, he still bothered with them.
I wonder now myself once in a while. I tell him that, in my mind, most Sunday mornings. And I can hear him, too:
“Bloody Cattermole. Bloody Teessider. Bloody typical.”