On the morning of the first North East derby game of the season at the Stadium of Light (still can’t get away with the name mind) I, like many fans I’m sure, find myself reminiscing about my first away derby experience.
Yes I’m one of the lucky few, well hopefully, to have a ticket, which stirs up vivid memories of my first experience of this fixture in the away end at the old Roker Park venue.
It was Sunday, like today, on the 18th of October 1992 and I was 16 years old. Me, my Dad, next door neighbour and one of his sons (the other son was deemed too young for this fixture) had managed to get tickets.
We decided we would all go together in the neighbour’s rather large works van, the 2 lads in the back, and parked along the road just up from where the National Glass Centre now sits.
Walking to the ground we were highly excited but did our best not to show it, we kept our heads down so as not to make eye contact with any of our Mackem mates, of which there were plenty heading from Washington as we were.
We shuffled our way through the crowds, holding on to one another’s coats, until we were safe in the comfort of our own fans behind the Roker End. There was no greater sense of relief I can tell you and we couldn’t wait to get through the turnstile.
As we queued, the smells of fresh horse manure, from the many police horses guarding our entry, and booze, whether it be from local ale houses or over indulgent pre-game drinkers, filled the air. Then…….we were in!
No looking for a seat, not in those days, but as per our pre match plan we had arrived early enough to ensure us boys were positioned on a concrete barrier with the 2 Dads behind us to protect us from the all too familiar surges.
As we waited for the match to begin I remember getting more excited as they players warmed up and the ground began to fill. Songs were becoming louder and voices more intense. The sheer passion and aggression clear on many faces around me. The fans in the Clock Stand Paddocks edging closer to the away end, antagonising us as they approached and backed up by their support from the seats above.
The players then headed down the tunnel and the buzz of anticipation was electric to say the least. I could hardly move on my concrete safe house and the smells of earlier were now replaced by those of urine and pies. Thinking of pies, I also seem to remember one being thrown from the Main Stand towards our end. It didn’t reach its target but rather obliterated into smaller pieces which scattered in flight.
Then my ears were rattled by an almighty roar as the teams entered the field. Much of the game was a blur if I’m honest. I think I was more intent on singing as loud as I could, louder than any Mackem anyway, as well as observing the whole host of colourful characters dressed in both red and white and black and white displaying all manner of crazy antics from pulling moonies to crowd surfing.
I don’t remember much about the Gary Owers own goal or the Gordon Armstrong equalizer either, other than clinging on for dear life when we scored and feeling utterly gutted when they drew level, which then turned in to thoughts of ‘how am I going to face my friends at home if THEY go on to win it’.
With little over 10 minutes remaining, the lads were presented with a free kick some 5 yards outside the semi-circle of the Sunderland area in an almost central position. Both sets of fans waited with bated breath to see what was about to unfold – a silence around the ground that was a first during this match.
I looked on as Liam O’Brien stepped up, my eyes transfixed to the top corner of the goal I was hoping to see the ball fly in to. The very same corner Tim Carter was expecting it to head towards.
However, a brilliant decision by O’Brien to switch his free kick to the opposite side of the goal over the wall and beyond the on-looking Carter sent us into what I can only describe as a total state of wild and uncontrollable excitement.
As I write this I can still hear the sound of the ball hitting the net, such a clear crisp sound amongst the silence that awaited the strike. Obviously the rest of the game was as blurry as most of it had been, as chants of the Blaydon Races and associated surges gave us something to antagonise our red and white counterparts, who undoubtedly thought they’d be the team to go on and win the game, some of whom now had faces as red as their shirts and scarves.
The final whistle blew and it was hugs all round. A real moment with our dads and part of what makes football the special thing we love, I do hope others can experience what I did at this time, with their Dads, as young lads today and let’s hope they are of the black and white variety.
I couldn’t wait to get home safely and greet some of my friends with a smile as wide as the Tyne.
On our approach to the van, after escaping the police convoy, 2 of my Mackem mates ran up behind us looking for a lift home claiming they had been chased by Geordies! Although we did not believe them we still agreed and had to endure them telling us how lucky we had been to win the game.
Oh how I’d love the same ‘luck’ again and perhaps another memory like the one supplied by Wor Liam. A memory to last forever.
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