"As for Maidenhead, the conga (which was amusing) aside, quite a strange bunch really – some the oddest chants I've ever heard at a football match" ~ localboy86, Amber Planet forum, 26th April 2015

Friday 5 June 2020

Away Day Diary: Sunderland 3-0 Bristol Rovers (22/02/20)

Scoffed - I scoffed! - when my Dad asked me, somewhere on the A43, close to Towcester, whether 'this virus in China' had affected the financial markets; in my defence, at the time, it hadn't really … anyway, after a stop-off for lunch at the decent Wetherspoons in Kirkby-in-Ashfield (where there's a statue of Sir Don Bradman, and other cricketers from the Bodyline series, outside a Morrison's superstore), we arrived at our Premier Inn in good time (i.e. the drive took, as it should've, approximately 4.5 hours)

Unexpectedly, Roker was rather charming (perhaps because of the harsh-sounding name, and the fact that the football ground used to be there, I'd assumed it'd be a bit 'L. S. Lowry'); photos with Promotion Close and other football club- related street signs, before a walk along the seafront (cold and windy), and then an excellent Italian meal sandwiched between visits to a couple of top-notch watering holes (Harbour View - which was particularly good - and Poetic Licence)

No chance that I would pass up an opportunity to try Titantic's Black Ice (slightly disappointing although, TBF, expectations were high), during breakfast at the Wetherspoons in Washington, en route to County Durham on Saturday morning; photos followed at the home ground of Annfield Plain FC (my maternal grandfather - who first took me to York Road, when I was a toddler, in the mid-80s - grew up in the village) and, as rain fell, outside the Bird in High Handenhold (my Dad's grandmother lived, for many years, in a house across the street)

Dun Cow for pre-match beers, after a taxi ride from the hotel to the city centre; this was a cracking boozer, and I was a little deflated when it was time to leave and join the massed ranks crossing Wearmouth Bridge

Even - if largely uneventful - first half, with Rovers sitting back and inviting the home side to break them down, as we watched on from our seats on the front row of the upper-tier (away end, obvs.); the ground was OK - 'seen one new ground, seen 'em all' type of thing - with, IMO, the most intriguing facets being (1.) it is closer to the city centre than Roker Park was, and (2.) the name apparently derives from the light on the helmets of the miners who'd worked in the colliery that'd stood previously on the site (with shafts running out for miles under the North Sea)

Referee - Mr Toner of Blackburn - decided the game by first sending off Abu Ogogo, for what the BBC match report describes as an off the ball collision, then ignoring a clash of heads between Alfie Kilgour and his captain ('Millwall Tone') in the build-up to Sunderland's second goal. (3-0 the final score, ergo the majority of the 31,541 attendance went home happy after initially becoming quite restless at 0-0; the Gas would get some form of revenge, only a few weeks later, with a 2-0 win in the reverse fixture.)

Lunch had been conspicuous by its absence, so we headed straight to Motiraj (across the street from the Dun Cow and recommended by my sister, whose best friend - in Sydney - is an exiled Mackem); the Magpies had lost at home to Aldershot Town, so it was good that the food was decent and more so that subsequent pints of Seacider (Blueberry), in the excellent Ship Isis (some Notts County lads in here, seemingly staying over after their defeat at Hartlepool), tasted absolutely divine

According to Google, there should've been a taxi company only a few minutes walk from the pub, but, after this turned out to be fake news, I took us back into the city centre - much to my Mum's obvious annoyance - and the rank outside the train station; we passed some interesting sights en route, as you might imagine, with one place - the Rabbit, close to the Dun Cow - reminiscent, with loud music blaring, and people spilling out into the street, of Faliraki back in the day … and it wasn't even late! (I was freezing - wearing two coats plus a woolly hat, scarf, gloves etc. - but the local females made of sterner stuff: vest tops and ripped jeans seemingly sufficient for them!)

Next day (Sunday): breakfast again at the Sir William de Wessyngton (some of the more youthful patrons had seemingly been up all night to watch the Fury-Wilder fight and, as such, they were a little worse for wear), several hours wiled away at Beamish museum (the mine shaft was a memorable if rather sobering experience, while I particularly enjoyed the public house decked out in Maidenhead United colours), tea and biscuits with my Dad's octogenarian cousin and her affable son (at her flat in Pelton), and pre-dinner drinks in the oldest pub in Sunderland (continuously-used by the same senior club?)

Drive home on Monday (after photos in the 'other' Cox Green; broken up by another pit stop at the Wetherspoons in Kirkby-in-Ashfield) was memorable mainly for two things: (1) initial poor visibility due to sleet (incl. as we were overtaken on the A1[M] by a snowplough) and (2) discussions on 5 Live becoming dominated by talk of 'this virus in China' ...

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