30 years ago | Roker Park, Sunderland | 27th February 1993
Thirty years ago, I stayed at a friend’s house in South Shields, while he was home from University for the weekend. I’ve been to some pretty cold places around the world but I’ll never forget just how cold it was to stand in a bus queue in Sunderland in February…
Weekends away from University were a great way to see different parts of the country, whether it was visiting friends from home at their Universities or with friends from Uni back to their homes. Over this weekend, aside from the usual activities (a tour of various local pubs) that such weekends usually entailed, we also planned to go to ‘the match’.
The club in question was Sunderland and their ground in those days was Roker Park – an ‘old school’-type ground with wooden stands and end terraces, which had hosted four games at the 1966 World Cup. Naturally, we stood in the Fulwell End, the home fans’ stronghold.
The opponents that day were West Ham United, whom fate had decided would give this game extra notability, due to the untimely death, three days previously, of their (and England’s) former captain, Bobby Moore.
Before the game, 19,068 people observed a minute’s silence as immaculately as, I think, I’ve ever known a crowd to. Moore may have been a West Ham legend but he was (and remains today) the only Englishman to lift the World Cup. It was a powerful moment and a fitting tribute. With the formalities over, the home fans then spent most of the next two hours singing less-than-complimentary songs about Newcastle United fans.
The game itself was a fairly uneventful 0-0 draw which would struggle to live long in the memory – although it earned a point for each side that would keep Sunderland safe from relegation and see West Ham promoted to the Premier League.
What I do remember is the wait for the bus back to South Shields, afterwards. Even though I was fairly suitably attired for the time of year, standing for twenty minutes in the teeth of a bitter easterly wind coming straight off the North Sea is just about the coldest thing I can ever remember doing.
Honestly. I’ve been in far colder temperatures: -20°C in New York, one January; a similar reading in Pennsylvania, in another – and both with significant wind chill. In both instances, staying outside for any amount of time wasn’t a good idea, so I didn’t stay outside long. Conversely, on the ski slopes, the physical exertion of skiing generates the body heat to offset the freezing conditions. I’ve even jumped into an outdoor swimming pool in Denver in winter, reasoning that it must be a heated pool, only to find out that it wasn’t – and it was still a less uncomfortable experience.
If I have been colder than that day in Sunderland, I don’t remember it – and I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have happened in this country, wherever it was.
I’ve been back to watch a match at Sunderland since then – at the Stadium of Light – but walking back to a car that December night was positively balmy compared to waiting for that bus in 1993.