Monsieur Salut writes: in his latest addition to this hugely entertaining series recalling his first encounters with opposing teams or – for away games – their grounds, Pete Sixsmith begins with a confession.
But do not be fooled by his Leeds origins. Sixer moved to County Durham – just up the street from me – as a boy and soon became a Sunderland supporter. While successive SAFC teams, managers and owners have sorely tried his patience over the past half-century, he has remained passionate throughout (save for one season-long sulk after the first of Peter Reid’s relegations). And the only Leeds team he likes are the Rhinos.
But as Sunderland prepare to engage once again with old footballing foes, Sixer looks back on his roots ……
I am a Leeds man.
I was born in St Mary’s Maternity Hospital on York Road in March 1951 and was brought up in the area between Hyde Park and Burley, in a group of back to back streets known as The Harolds – 27, Harold Road to be precise.
It was a house with a front door, two bedrooms, a living room, a scullery and cellar – and a toilet block in a yard which was another two doors up the street which the five of us shared with the six people who lived in No. 29. It was cold in winter and full of flies in summer. And we were lucky…….
I never had any enthusiasm for football in those days. My father and my paternal grandfather, who lived two streets away, were rugby league people and, from an early age, I was taken to Headingley with the two of them to watch Leeds RLFC take on the likes of Bradford Northern, Liverpool City and Wigan.
I played touch and pass in Burley Park and in the churchyard of St Margaret of Antioch on Cardigan Road and grew up idolising Lewis Jones (still with us) Jeff Stevenson and a flying winger called Gary Hemingway.
I sat on the wall at the front of the South Stand, the area where the more vociferous Loiners gathered. It closes on Friday after the St Helens game as the now Leeds Rhinos (my grandad would not have been impressed with that) replace it with a new stand containing seats, standing and executive boxes. I shall be there, stood in the South Stand, wearing his gold watch as the oldest surviving member of that branch of the Sixsmith family.
The football on the south side of the city barely registered on my radar. South Leeds meant Hunslet, the team my maternal grandfather occasionally watched and that strange game played at Elland Road by a team that both grandfathers often referred to as “The Mugs”.
By 1963, I had been in County Durham for four years, made the acquaintance of Monsieur Salut and thrown myself into football. I had progressed from Dean Street, Shildon to Roker Park, Sunderland via a brief flirtation at Feethams, Darlington.
I loved Roker Park. The crowds at Headingley were around the 12,000 mark for the big games and could be paltry when the likes of Bramley, Doncaster and York visited. To go into a ground where 40,000 was the norm blew me away and it was that as much as the football which turned me into a Sunderland supporter.
The 63-64 team was almost certainly the best Sunderland team I will ever see. There are supporters of my vintage who come over all misty eyed when that eleven is recited. If you are over 60 get the hankie out;
Montgomery; Irwin, Ashurst; Harvey, Hurley, McNab; Usher, Herd, Sharkey, Crossan, Mulhall.
What a line up. A great keeper, consistent full backs in Cec and Len, the elegance of Martin Harvey, the hardness of Jimmy McNab, the guile of George Herd, the trickery of George Mulhall, the pace of Brian Usher and the goal poaching of Nicky Sharkey made it a very good team.
Add to that the sheer presence and muscularity of Charlie Hurley and the skills of Johnny Crossan and this was side that could and should have gone on to greater things. Those two are two of my all-time favourites – Charlie for his inspiring character and his clear love of the club, the region and the support, Crossan for the sheer impudence of his goal scoring feats and his incredibly cool haircut. Pete Horan played 5-a-side with him in Derry a few years years ago – never have I been so envious of anyone.
We played Leeds twice over Christmas 1963. Boxing Day saw a 1-1 draw at Elland Road in front of 41,167 with George Mulhall putting us ahead and Ian Lawson equalising.
M Salut was with me at that one, travelling down by train and being met at Leeds City station by my mother’s brother, Doug (his son-in-law, Kevin, has done the Leeds Who Are You?; we keep it in the family) and taken by a green Leeds Corporation bus the mile and a half to the ground.
It was not a pleasant game. The two managers did not like each other – Alan Brown had sold Don Revie to Leeds in 1959 – and both sets of players would run through brick walls for their respective bosses, whereas last year, our players would have willingly pushed that brick wall on top of David Moyes.
The return at Roker two days later saw us line up with the usual team (we only used 18 players that year and Tommy Mitchinson and Dickie Rooks only played four games between them) while the Leeds side was also an easy pick.
They lined up thus;
Sprake; Reaney Bell; Bremner, Goodwin, Hunter; Weston, Storrie, Lawson, Collins, Giles.
I went with my paternal grandfather to this one on the train from Shildon. My father’s parents were staying with us over Christmas and Jim wanted to get out of a house that was rather tense due to an incident involving my father, a parked car outside Arthur Foskett’s shop and a failure to walk a straight line at the police station.
I remember he wore his best suit and overcoat and beautifully polished brown shoes. He was a man who spent 50+ years in a boiler suit at Wilsons and Mathesons on Armley Road so any opportunity he could, he wore good clothes. What he would have made of men in their 60s strolling around in jeans and polo shirts as we do now, I dread to think.
The game was a brutal one and would have been better suited to Headingley than Roker. Leeds were an aggressive and ultimately unpleasant side who used gamesmanship to its full extent. It was the kind of thing we expected from those continental types who flitted on and off our screens now and then but not from an English side. Not quite the thing, don’tcha know.
There was history between the two as well. Bobby Collins, the on field catalyst of the Leeds revival, had broken Willie McPheat’s leg the previous season at Elland Road with a shocking tackle. The likes of Hurley and McNab did not forget things like that and there was a sense that not only did we want to beat them, we had some scores to settle.
We scored in the first minute when the erratic Gareth Sprake dropped a Charlie Hurley free kick and George Herd rammed the ball home. The free kick was awarded for a nasty foul by Norman Hunter which set the tone for the remaining 89 minutes.
The second, and clinching, goal came in the 25th minute, when Len Ashurst plopped a free kick into the box and Nicky Sharkey rose above the United defence to steer a back header past Sprake. Sharkey got a few headers due to his ability to time his jumps. He was a popular player in his time at Sunderland although he never quite filled Brian Clough’s boots.
The game degenerated into a kicking match as Leeds struggled to keep their cool as their long unbeaten run came to an end. Ian Lawson, a bully of a centre forward, followed through on Monty and it took Martin Harvey and Jimmy McNab to drag Charlie Hurley off the former Scunthorpe United man. I was stood at the front of the Fulwell End and the look of sheer anger on the King’s face has lived with me ever since.
The crowd that day was a staggering 55,046. Leeds supporters were scattered all over the stadium but there was no real animosity directed at them, it was towards their team and their manager. Revie had never been popular on Wearside as a player and his ratings went down to the levels of UKIP after this.
Grandad Sixsmith did not enjoy it. He thought that football was a lasses’ game and that there was nothing better than watching the steam pigs in a scrum at Headingley followed by a Lewis Jones break. He did pay for me though and I think he enjoyed the coffee and pie in the coffee bar at Durham where we changed trains.
Since then, we have had some interesting clashes with the Elland Road boys. They have been out of the top division for a long time now and have had a succession of owners and managers who have tried to get them back.
The current Italian owner seems to be a tad more sensible than the previous one but whether a Spanish coach with no English experience is quite fitted to the Championship remains to be seen.
They also seem to be very reliant on Chris Wood for goals and if rumours are to be believed (as they should be), he could be off to Burnley for the staggering fee of £12m. I do like Kemar Roofe who I saw guide Oxford United to a very impressive win at Bristol Rovers a couple of years ago. He might be the next one to go.
There will be a good atmosphere as Leeds generally travel in numbers and it is to be hoped that the 5.30pm kick off doesn’t lead to a repetition of the unpleasant scenes inside and outside the Riverside last week.
However, a repetition of the 1963 score line will do very nicely thank you.