The Things We Do For Love competition attracted some excellent entries, some great memories. Choosing a winner of the above print of Roker Park – with mighty thanks to our generous sponsors http://www.wearedorothy.com – was tough.
But this, from Wrinkly Pete, aka Peter Lynn, is the winner on the arbitrary choice of Monsieur Salut. Out thanks to Pete, to all others who posted contributions and to the folk at Dorothy, who assure us the prize is in the post.
Born in 1944 to a mother from East View, Roker, who had told me tales of how she would sneak into Sunderland games through Roker Park’s exit gates that were opened at half time, it was inevitable that I would want to go there myself.
How I was to achieve this – living in Bristol – was tricky. On very rare family visits to Sunderland by train, the nearest I got was to see the outside of the ground.
So time passed and I had reached the grand old age of 22 before a possible solution arose.
Roker Park was chosen as a venue for the eighth and quarter final stages of the World Cup. The fact that I had recently married and been made redundant, and that my wife was pregnant, were mere obstacles.
Of greater importance was how we would finance the trip and where would we stay for two weeks, a full annual holiday entitlement, bearing in mind my mother’s family had all moved away from the area during the depression …
My mother rose to the occasion and said we would be able to stay with an old friend of hers, my “Aunt” Lilla at Silksworth and that if we dropped her off en route in West Melton, Yorkshire, she could stay with her sister and would help us with petrol costs.
So it was then that in early July, 1966, we three set off from Bristol in our Morris Minor van, just like the toy one here, my pregnant wife sat in the back on a temporary seat.
In those days there were no motorways to help us so our journey to Yorkshire, via the Fosse Way Roman road (Google it), took six hours.
After an overnight stay (I expect we slept on the floor) we left for Aunt Lilla’s home. This turned out to be a typical single storey miner’s cottage where we were made very welcome by someone who had recently been widowed.
During the next two weeks, on visits to the netty, I was to hear the effects of silicosis as the next door neighbour coughed his heart out.
Now all was not so bad for my wife as, at the factory where I was now working in Bristol, an Italian named Enrico had arrived on a work placement, from Milan.
Naturally, being Italian, he followed football and had also chosen to follow the same World Cup games as I.
He had a new Volkswagen Beetle so on the days when there was no football, the three of us would make trips out in the Beetle, exploring the surrounding locality and even visiting the Lake District, as you can see.
And so the day dawned, July 13, and – along with 27,198 others – I watched Italy beat Chile 2-0.
Although I only paid 7/6 or 38p, (see here ticket from Soviet Union v Chile one week later) it must be remembered that I was earning just over £16 per week as a draughtsman.
But never mind the football, what did I think about the stadium? I was dumbstruck. It was huge and although perhaps a pity it wasn’t full I was finally inside and could begin to appreciate what it was that made (and still makes) Sunderland such a massive club.
My ticket package gave me access to seven games, three of which were at Ayresome Park, and finished with the quarter final between Soviet Union and Hungary.
When we finally left Silksworth, Aunt Lilla insisted we take some furniture and cutlery with us,
saying that she had no need now that she was on her own.
I began this article thinking about the sacrifices my wife made (and continues to make) for me and my football but while writing I became aware of the love shown by others too. Only right, it is a beautiful game after all.
* See all the buildup to Sunderland v Watford by going to the home page and navigating from there.