It’s 25 years since he died.
In the end it wasn’t the coal dust which had clogged up his lungs for decades but a slow, awful decline into the hell of senility which took him.
We never talked much.
He was almost 50 by the time I came along, a second marriage after TB claimed his first wife as it would later take my half brother.
By the time I was a rebellious teenager he was essentially an old man: 49 years down the pit isn’t a precursor to a healthy, wealthy retirement.
Like men of his generation my dad kept his emotions to himself. He never talked about his past, growing up in a colliery village, what he did in the war, the general strike, what it was like seeing his first two kids pulled apart to live with separate grandparents after his first wife died.
We only really talked about one thing.
It was the passion of his life: he watched the team from 1920 until 1986 – finally the doctor wouldn’t let him go to Roker Park. He died soon after. I don’t think there was much left for him by then.
The last time I saw him alive was in 1985. I was back from Canada on vacation and took him to a game. We sat together. We hadn’t done that since I was a kid and he’d bought season tickets for us in the new seats that had gone in at the Clock Stand before the World Cup. As soon as I could I was off to the Fulwell to stand with the bovver boys. Who wants to sit with their old man, after all? What a fool I was.
We got beat that day in the spring of ’85. But it didn’t matter. We’d both seen lots of that.
I asked him then. What was it like when we were among the best dad? Who was the best player, the best team, your favorite?
Like sun breaking through the clouds he was lucid again.
There was no one as good as Raich.
But it was Shack he adored. What a player. What an entertainer.
He started to laugh at the memories.
And we managed to share a few. When he took me to my first away game, a sixth round tie against mighty Man Utd. in 1964 and we’d played them off their park. And the replay? What a night that was with as many as 75,000 in Roker Park after the gates collapsed. Me, sheltered between him and my uncle as the crowds swayed and churned around us.
Then there was 1973.
He only went to London twice in his 76 years – for both successful finals.
He told me how he’s jumped up when Porterfield scored and lost his false teeth.
I told him how I’d cried that day, standing behind the the goal where history was made in each half. He said he’s cried, too.
Then, later that night as we sat and waited for Match of The Day, he was suddenly gone again.
Lost in the fog.
Sometimes these days, realizing I’m a Brit, people ask which ‘soccer’ team I support.
When I tell them it’s football and it’s Sunderland they look quizically, wondering, quite often aloud, how come it’s not Mancheter United, or Arsenal or Chelsea – teams they have heard about. Teams that are always on TV. That win things.
Why this Sunderland they want to know.
I simply reply – ‘cos my dad did.
(Our Canadian Correspondent)