Can it really be a half a century?
That long since my dad took me through those creaking gates of the Clock Stand – a six-year-old in awe – to stand on one of those wooden contraptions – a cracket, I believe it was called?
Really? That long? Where did it all go? Wine, women and song, as they say. Bit too much of all of them I suppose. Yes, and a few kids, a few marriages, a few countries along the way.
But there, like the everlasting core of an apple, stood Sunderland. Not the town. Never liked it that much, to be honest. In later years my best nights were always in Newcastle. Born in South Shields I was always a Geordie. We all were, once upon a time. Except Boro. We used to chant in the Fulwell: ‘You’re not real Geordies”. Some would dispute that now, but I was there. I sung along, as did thousands.
But that was later. Back then, in that sweet autumn of 1963, the Clock Stand didn’t have seats. The upper deck, as us hybrid North Americans would phrase it, was just the usual crush of bodies.
What a season and what a team.
Of course I’d discovered what being a Sunderland supporter was all about a few months earlier. Standing in a doorway on the Sunderland side of the bridge waiting for my dad and uncles to come back from the match so we could have our tea at Binns. Our treat for the week. My mam told me, after seeing the faces of the passing me: “They must have lost.”
Lose they did. To Chelsea in the last home game. Promotion denied.
But that following season? Oh my. A tough call but I’d put that team of Monty, Irwin. Ashurst, Harvey, Hurley, McNab, Usher, Herd, Sharkey, Crossan and Mulhall, a tiny step closer to my heart than the players I watched take our only trophy in living memory nine years later.
Because I was a kid. Because I listened to the old men around me. How the Second Division was not where we belonged. They had grown up with Buchan, Carter, and Shack. They knew Cloughie would be back soon after that injury. We were unstoppable once again. Up there with The Arsenal and Villa. Not among the also-ran and up-starts like Liverpool or Chelsea. This would be our first promotion and our last.
And when Johnny thumped in that 89th minute winner against Charlton to secure it and they did not one but two laps of glorious honour afterwards I cried and agreed: Yes, we are Sunderland. We are the elite
Oh, but to steal a few lines from another aging man: “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”
No regrets, though. Wouldn’t or couldn’t change it for the world. That fate was cast as I stood in short pants holding my mother’s hand as the hard faces trooped by the shop doorway on that drab, sad, late afternoon before even setting a foot inside Roker Park.
So, roll on 2013-14.
(Our Canadian Correspondent)