John McCormick writes: Tuesday morning, and I’m idly contemplating the weekend and Pete Sixsmith’s “first time” feature which will announce it. “Did I see Preston in our promotion year?” I thought to myself. So I got out my trusty promotion year souvenir brochure that my dad bought me (2/6) and had a look.
Preston were there, as I expected, but I remember nothing about the game, not even the very decent score, which makes me wonder if I went. Fortunately, Pete Sixsmith definitely did:
We are back in the 1963-64 promotion season for this one, almost 54 years to the day as the game took place at Roker Park on the 21st of March 1964. It was my first season going regularly and I probably took in ten games that year including my first away game at Elland Road and the epic cup games against Everton and Manchester United.
Even after all those years, I can still clearly remember the players who turned out in red and white stripes that day. Nowadays, I sometimes fail to recognise which loanee/ free transfer signing/player returning from injury is on the pitch wearing something that Adidas think is a “traditional” Sunderland kit, but very clearly isn’t.
Changing trains at Durham, the Sunderland leg of the trip took us through Leamside, Rainton, Fencehouses, Penshaw, Coxgreen, Hylton, Pallion and into the stygian gloom of Sunderland station. We always enjoyed going through Pallion as it reminded us of Paladin, the character played by Richard Boone in Have Gun, Will Travel. It was a less complicated time…..
I was 13 at the time and had just celebrated that birthday three days prior to the game. I went with M Salut on the train from Shildon to Durham and then on to Sunderland. Both lines were ready for the chop after Dr Beeching had taken his axe to the British Railways network but they were still hanging on.
From Shildon, the train went to Bishop Auckland, then on to Hunwick, Willington, Brancepeth, Brandon and into Durham. I walked this line quite recently, a pleasant 7 mile hack from Broompark back to Bishop on a sunny summer Sunday and it brought back memories of the green BR diesel trains that trundled along that line until it closed in 1965.
We would have chatted, looked out of the window, pinched toilet rolls to chuck at the opposition goalkeeper and read the Melody Maker, New Musical Express (R.I.P.) and Disc and if we were feeling bold, maybe a copy of Tit-Bits (there weren’t any) or Reveille. Discussions would have revolved around whether we could pip Dorty Leeds to the title, whether The Beatles’ version of Twist and Shout was better than that by Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, whether Harold Wilson could win the impending General Election and whether my mother would let me stay up to watch That Was the Week That Was that night.
Off the train, we would walk briskly across the Wearmouth Bridge and along Roker Avenue, following the crowds of (mostly) men making their way to the finest ground in the North East. Roker had been designated as a World Cup venue with the possibility of a quarter final and its imposing Main Stand and huge Roker End meant that it stood head and shoulders above brash St James’s Park and poky Ayresome.
We went into the Fullwell End, paying the princely sum of 9d for the privilege. Sometimes we bought a programme, one of the small pocket size ones which contained nothing of very much interest and we may have bought a pie, whose content was the same as the programmes. We took our place near the front and waited for the teams to come out.
There was no mood music 54 years ago. They might have spun some platters over the loudspeaker system as the 22 players warmed up but the principal noise was the hum and buzz of the crowd.
We had a good side and were confident of winning promotion, but there had been a couple of injuries recently.
Cec Irwin had taken a knock and had been replaced by Colin Nelson at right back and Jimmy McNab (what wouldn’t we give for someone with his heart and steel nowadays) had missed the last half dozen games with Dave Elliott taking his place.
As Shildon lads, we took pride in seeing Colin Nelson as he had been working as a pharmacist at Crooks Chemists in Alma Road. He was almost one of ours…..
Preston had a decent side and were tracking us. Like the posse in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, we could not throw them off the scent and they kept a respectful distance behind us, waiting for a slip up. We had not been out of a promotion place (only two went up in those dear, departed days) since the end of October but it was a worry as we had slipped up at the sharp end of the previous two seasons and a third failure was unthinkable.
North End were our only genuine challengers and they were distracted by an upcoming appearance at Wembley where they were due to meet West Ham United in the FA Cup Final on the first Saturday in May. They had beaten fellow Division Two members Swansea Town in the semi-final the previous week with centre half Tony Singleton scoring the winner with a speculative shot from 30 yards which deceived Noel Dwyer, the Swansea keeper. They had their first Wembley final for ten years and it was hoped that their thoughts would be on that rather than on us.
We lined up thus;
Colin Nelson, Len Ashurst;
Martin Harvey, Charlie Hurley, Dave Elliott;
Brian Usher, George Herd, Nicky Sharkey, Johnnie Crossan, George Mulhall
Many of those players are still alive; what must they think of the current situation that Sunderland AFC are in? We will never have a group of players that good again. In 54 years’ time, will anybody wax nostalgically about the current crop? (It’s a rhetorical question)
The Lilywhites team was;
Alan Kelly; George Ross, John Donnelly; Nobby Lawton, Tony Singlewood, Ian Davidson; Dave Wilson, Alec Ashworth, Alex Dawson, Alan Spavin, Doug Holden.
Nine of those played at Wembley; Jim Smith came in for Donnelly and Howard Kendall, Chester-le-Street lad, took Ian Davidson’s place and became the youngest player ever to play in an FA Cup Final.
The match was eagerly anticipated and 35,420 turned up to watch it. It was over by 3.37.
Johnnie Crossan opened the scoring in the 25th minute and then we scored another three in the next twelve. George Mulhall made it 2-0 and then Nicky Sharkey (right) got two in three minutes to bring the contest to and end and send two teenagers home happy.
We floated back to the station, got the train back to Durham and then, faced with a wait for the intermittent service to Bishop Auckland, ran down through the side streets to Bimbi’s Coffee House on North Road, where we drank coffee in clear bakelite cups, ate what I remember as a splendid pie and picked up a Football Echo (still green in 64; went green with shame after the relegation in 1958; it would be puce with anger now!!!) and strolled back up for the final leg of the rail journey. Home to Drybourne(s) Park and Avenue and a night in with the telly.
We had missed Spike Milligan on Juke Box Jury and Sam Kydd and Peter Glaze in Dixon of Dock Green but may have watched Terry Scott and Hugh Lloyd in Hugh and I – but probably didn’t. The argument over TW 3 never materialised because it had been taken off but I probably watched The Eurovision Song Contest from Copenhagen. Matt Monro was the British entrant with I Love the Little Things but he was well beaten by the Italian Giglio Cinquetti whose Non Ho Leta was a bit of a classic.
There was a sports programme on as well as that Saturday saw The Grand National and the end of the (then) 5 Nations Championship.
|Peter O’Sullevan, Bob Haynes and Peter Montague-Evans shouted Team Spirit home at Aintree, while Bill (they’ll be dancing in the streets of Hawick tonight) McLaren witnessed Scotland’s 15-6 victory at Murrayfield and Peter West, he of the firmly clamped pipe in mouth and incredibly tight tie, saw Wales and France draw 11-11 in Cardiff. As a League man, I probably refused to watch it.|
On Saturday for this visit of Preston North End, there will be no standing behind the goal, no pies at Bimbi’s, no toilet rolls slung at the keeper and certainly no four Sunderland goals in twelve minutes. The journey home will probably be spent listening to Benno wondering aloud what I will be wondering silently viz; how can players with the pedigree of ours be hopelessly adrift at the bottom of a division that is not exactly sparkling with talented teams.
Then, I will have to write another depressing piece for Sunday morning. As Peter Glaze used to say to Leslie Crowther, I don’t know why I bother…..