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Opinion

Sunderland v Newcastle United – How it was when it was – 14 October 1978

1 month ago
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A couple of weeks ago I told the tale of my first visit to the dark place, Roker Park, back in the seventies.

Moving on a year or so to 14 October 1978 we played them again, this was my first visit to the dark place without parents or uncles in toe, and what an eye opener it was.

Before I tell the story of the day, I will add that the crowd was disappointing, Roker Park still held 50,000, but only 35,000 actually went, which included 8,000 of a Newcastle persuasion, packed into the left hand side of the Roker End as you faced the goal.

I have included some youtube footage which shows Peter Withe scoring in a natty blue shirt. Have a look to the right of the fence to the less populated home section of the Roker end, as many Newcastle fans jump up and cheer from the wrong side of the fence, it really was how it was when it was.

Anyway, at 14 year old I don’t mind saying I was both excited and nervous as me and a mate planned this adventure into Wearside. We decided the best way to avoid trouble was to get an early train down and avoid any actual trouble spots and possibly do the same on the way back by getting a late train, so into the central and onto the 9.30am train to Seaburn. Problem was, hundreds of others had the same idea, except most of these were not intent on avoiding the trouble. My mate’s older cousin was quite well known for ‘football’ issues and as he was on the train, we knew it was going to be interesting.

Off at Seaburn half an hour later and not a copper in sight, pubs are not open so the group stayed together and decided to walk down Fulwell Road to Roker Park, a lot of singing, a lot of shouting and maybe some minor shop theft on the way. After a fairly trouble free walk this group numbering around 150 were stood outside the Fulwell end some three hours before the turnstiles opened, then heading down the back of the clock stand and the singing and shouting simply got louder, it is hard to imagine but it’s really how it was.

There were smaller groups of Newcastle fans also mingling about and we next headed off behind the Roker End (I say ‘we’, me and my mate were just excited hangers on). After passing the Roker End, a few early Sunderland Fans were swiftly chased away, while the main pack of us congregated under the back of Roker Park’s main stand.

At this point another large group appeared and for the first time I thought a huge brawl was about to take place and for the first time I was a little nervous, they headed toward each other only to discover it was another large Newcastle contingent who had arrived on an earlier train……

It was now close to opening time and of course that meant beer for the majority (and yes we did get served), a swift walk back toward Seaburn station, regulars and locals scattering as doors opened and the Bluebell and its car park was instantly rammed full with Newcastle fans. The manager was powerless, the locals were powerless and the police who had now started to show up, seemed to think it was better to keep this group contained.

I am led to believe, although I did not witness it, but another large group of Newcastle fans populated the New Derby just a few yards from Roker Park at the same time. The next three hours was something I won’t forget as countless Sunderland Fans were chased all around the area. Also, as each train came in, more and more fans of Newcastle arrived, escorts were planned from the station to Roker Park but the sheer madness when passing the Bluebell meant the police lost all control over it, Seaburn was black and white!

It was how it was and I have said before, it took the Police years to get a handle on it and Sunderland Fans never did.

Just after 2pm it was time for a walk to the ground, huge in numbers and many inebriated to perfection, there was simply no control and much havoc was had, the sheer numbers made it impossible for any reaction from the home fans. Time after time the crowd broke away to send Sunderland fans scurrying down side streets and back lanes. Coming down Fulwell road you could eventually look down one street and see the back of the Fulwell End where many Sunderland Fans were queuing, it was an invitation to head that way and we duly did, the queues scattering in all directions. I will add that me being small and slight I stayed on the periphery of all this, plus I had recently suffered a leg injury in a football match at school which meant running was out of the question…so I bravely remained at the back while others chased the enemy down various streets.

Passed the main stand unchallenged and into the ground at the Roker End, onto what was a really tightly packed terrace, as I said, we had 8,000 sardined into the left hand side as you face the goal, the rest of the ground although busy, was not by any means full.

An early Peter Withe goal set the scene only for Sunderland to get an equaliser in the second half, look at the footage, its plain to see who is supporting who?

At full time there was an attempt by the local constabulary to keep us locked in, but the gates burst open and the masses flooded out onto the street, chased all and sundry down every street and back alley around Roker Park. Even me with my limp I got involved, as some Sunderland fans were chased toward the sea front, at this point there was a lot of confusion and somehow me and half a dozen others managed to get separated from the main body of Newcastle fans…and we turned a corner straight into a large group of Sunderland fans intent on revenge. Now at this point I am going off subject but older fans will remember 1980 Olympic 100m champion Alan Wells, it was 1978 and he was setting himself up for a gold medal attempt and was regularly running 10 second times at athletics events, ha, he had nothing on me, suddenly we were outnumbered by about ten to one as they came straight for us, and I am brave enough to admit I ran, and I ran quite fast, so fast in fact that my mates have not ever forgotten it! “What about your bad leg” I hear my mate shout as I overtake him and bravely left him behind…….Alan Wells would have only got silver that day!

Fortunately, I turned onto a street straight back into the body of Newcastle fans which meant the chasing pack stopped and turned and were suddenly surrounded, some took quite a hiding before the police managed to break it all up.

The rest of the afternoon was spent heading back to Seaburn station where much more mischief and fun took place, and this how it was on my next few visits to Roker Park, we played them in a double header in the league cup, we had a double header pre season friendly as well as more league games. I think by the mid 80s the police had finally stopped it happening, daft kick off times and strict ticketing meant the shenanigans around Roker Park did not really happen again, although there was the episode in 1985 when around 400 Newcastle fans got into the Fulwell End, captured gloriously on camera forever.

Am I glorifying football violence? Some will say I am, but I am simply remembering what I class as good old days, they were fun and are part of folklore and history, I have a few mates who follow Sunderland and they too do admit to how it was, I have one mate who is a Sunderland fan but has lived in Newcastle all his life, and he is not overly keen on Mackems, but Sunderland is his team, Why? Because his dad who is another great bloke was originally from south of the river and it was his team of heritage.

There you go, how it was when it was.

Next up will be Leeds away in October 1982…the game where Kevin Keegan was struck by an object thrown from the crowd, a game where we didn’t get into the ground until the players were being taken off the pitch due to ongoing crowd trouble and a game where bizarrely those who had not been nicked were still in Leeds at 10pm waiting for a lad who was still getting stitched up at St James Hospital.

Have a great week.

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