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Opinion

Sunderland v Newcastle – How it was when it was

3 months ago
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International breaks are the bane of my life.

Nothing quite so boring because despite a few NUFC players involved, we don’t really care apart from the fear of potential injuries.

So for me it s a good time to look back on some halcyon days.

My first away game, which I wrote about once before, was Middlesbrough away, the first game of the season back in 1976.

However, my first derby away game, Sunderland v Newcastle, would come over a year later. As in April 1977 a relegation threatened Sunderland faced a Europe chasing Newcastle Untied at a sold out Roker Park – yes it will surprise you to know that Roker Park could actually house an attendance in excess of 50,000 (50,048 for this Sunderland v Newcastle derby).

I have to be fair, in those days Roker Park was a proper football ground, the Roker end in which away fans were housed held in excess of 17,000, it was split down the middle with around 9,000 Newcastle fans crushed in onthe right hand side as you face the Fullwell End. Only a few short years later the Roker End was halved to a much smaller 8,000 capacity, which was the beginning of the end for Roker Park.

Anyway, I was an excited 13 year old, in a family friend’s car as we headed to Roker Park (just a couple of years later I was able to go to my next derby at Roker Park without any adults in tow and it’s fair to say, that this was a much more lively affair off the pitch than the game I am writing about today….a story for another day).

We parked up near the sea front and wandered up to the ground and if memory serves me right, although I had a black and white scarf on, absolutely nothing of incident happened, which as an excitable 13 year old was disappointing to say the least. We entered Roker Park and took our positions right behind the goal and right at the front, with nothing but a small double rail fence separating the opposing fans, with the obligatory line of under pressure Police stood between.

Just prior to kick off a programme seller was having a bit of banter with us on the gravel walkway , when I felt something on the back of my head and the warm trickle of liquid, our lot behind had taken a dislike to his Sunderland colours and aimed what I found out later to be a bottle at him. The aim was not so good as I copped a glancing blow to the back of my head and the warm trickle of liquid turned out to be blood, next thing I am hoisted over the front fence while the good old St Johns people went to work. They recommended I be taken out but I was having none of it, it was a decent cut but bearable, patch it up man…and that’s what happened, a huge plaster on the back of my head which was def not coming off until after I was next at school. I was going to milk this with my class mates and I duly did…exaggerated stories were prepared and indeed told.

Anyway, back in place and with a blinding headache awaiting the kick off, it was the first time I was fully aware of the rivalry and hatred that exists between the fans of the clubs. It has to be remembered that Sunderland, who had a group of young local players, were on a bit of revival, having been at one stage adrift at the foot of the table they were now within striking distance of those above them. Indeed, they had recently if memory serves me right, twice triumphed 6-0 at Roker Park, one of the vanquished teams being West Ham

Obviously the match is a distant memory, well most of it, I can remember Sunderland scoring in front of us just before half time, before adding a second one at the Fullwell End after half time. Cue Newcastle to go into attack mode and with 20 minutes to go we got one back when Paul Cannell scored, no offence to Paul, but I cant actually remember this goal at all.

This led to wave after wave of Newcastle attacks toward the Roker End and with four minutes to go we are awarded a free kick on the edge of the D and a thing of beauty was about to follow. Tommy Craig, our gifted Scottish international, was lurking close to the ball, here was a fellow with a left foot almost as sweet as Terry Hibbitt. I am not sure who rolled the ball to him but within a second it had screamed into the top corner of the Roker End goal, cue bedlam in the away end…and an elongated chant of ‘you’re going down again’ aimed at all and sundry in red and white. If memory serves me right we nearly got a third but the 2-2 score was enough to stunt the SAFC revival.

Outside was mayhem, mayhem I was to witness many times in the years that followed, as the fans of NUFC burst out of the Roker End in joyous pursuit of all and sundry, alas we were soon back in the car and heading away from Roker Park…

I can’t remember much more from the day but the season panned out well for us as we qualified for Europe. Sunderland meanwhile stayed in touch until the last game where a 2-0 midweek defeat to Everton sealed their fate, although there was a twist to that as Coventry and Bristol City played each other at the same time knowing if either won they would stay up as would Sunderland, a draw would only be enough for both teams if Sunderland lost. Bizarrely, Jimmy Hill managed to have his Coventry game kick off 15 minutes late and when the Sunderland score came though they knew their 2-2 draw was good enough for both sides to stay up at Sunderland’s expense and apparently both teams downed tools for the last 20 minutes. It’s why Sunderland hate Coventry over 40 years later…let it go lads!

Of course ours was as usual a false dawn, as the next season with Richard Dinnis in charge we won our first game before losing the next ten and of course got ourselves relegated. A dark season indeed as the powers that be also demolished the heart and soul of SJP, namely the Leazes End, in my eyes SJP never recovered from this.

Over the next few years I was to visit Roker Park may times and it’s fair to say that the area around Roker Park was owned by Newcastle,  as it is an indisputable fact that some Seaburn Pubs were rammed with black and white from opening time on Derby Day. It took the police years to get a handle on it and Sunderland Fans never did, but it is how it was when it was, oddly enough the reverse to this day has not ever happened in NE1.

Great memories and a great day.

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