Where Saturday went

World Cup glory, Durham styleWest

So what do you do on a blank Saturday? Pete Sixsmith reminisced about boyhood and “real Rugby”, then soaked up the spirit of the FA Cup.

Another week off for international games and another week without the fix of an SAFC game.

Some of us (me and Colin) are old enough to remember the days when you had to have at least three players involved in internationals before you could apply to the FA for a postponement.

If Martin Harvey, John Parke and Johnny Crossan were playing for Northern Ireland we got a Saturday off. On the other hand, if none of those was selected, but Neil Martin was picked for Scotland we had to play. The opposition had probably lost at least one as well so you got a decent game.

World Cup and European Championship qualifiers were played on Wednesday nights and as there were only 20 odd nations in Europe then, groups were smaller and there were fewer games.

The demise of the USSR and Yugoslavia has certainly had a detrimental effect on the Premier League fixture arrangements. The FA and FIFA surely should have foreseen this and done something about it. Yet another own goal from the autocrats of Soho Square.

So, what to do? I thought about going to the rugby – not the 15a side version in Paris where posh boys think it is patriotic to sing slave spirituals from the Americas, but the real game at Old Trafford.

I was brought up on Rugby League in Leeds in the 1950s and went to Headingley regularly in the days of Lewis Jones, Jeff Stephenson and Don Robinson.

My paternal grandfather would come in from work, have a wash in the sink, eat a plate of tripe and onions (I’m not making this up), put on his best suit and walk up Cardigan Road to watch the Loiners take on Wigan or Warrington or Dewsbury.

Now it’s Rhinos v Warriors, Bulls and Tigers but the skill levels are fantastic. I think it is the most physically demanding team game in the world and the sight of a prop forward sprinting for the try line would amaze my grandfather as much as any modern electrical appliances or the fact that tripe is seen as rather a chic dish rather than a cheap dish.

The difference between modern Rugby League and the game of the 50s is a bit like the difference between Craig Gordon and Kelvin Davies – it’s got the same name, it does the same job but one is quick and ace and the other is slow and crap.

The city of Leeds has always seen Rugby League as its major sport. The Rhinos are the best supported club side in Europe and they are followed by Leeds people, unlike the football team who pick up followers from all over Yorkshire.

My maternal grandfather took me to Elland Road to watch “the Mugs”, as he so pithily called them, and I was bored stiff. I told him that if he took me again, I would hide his Woodbines and pour his Duttons Brown Ale down the sink. Beer and fags meant more to him then bonding with his oldest grandson so he never bothered me again with the dreadful 11-a-side game. Then we moved to the North East………..

Anyway, the shortage of affordable tickets put me off so I decided to renew my acquaintance with the FA Cup. It’s got particular resonance this year, what with Ian Porterfield dying, and it would be lovely to return to Wembley. A rematch with Leeds would be interesting because you would expect the nation to be on the side of the gallant lower league underdog against the big boys from the top division. Then people would realise Leeds are owned by Ken Bates and managed by Dennis Wise, so the support for us would be the equal of ’73.

The game I chose was between West Auckland of the Arngrove Northern League and Bamber Bridge of the Unibond League One North.

West have been at Wembley before, losing in the FA Amateur Cup Final to Walthamstow Avenue in 1962, but they are more famous for being the holders of the original World Cup, which they won in Turin in 1909 and retained two years later beating such luminaries as Juventus, Stuttgart and Red Star of Switzerland (funny, I can’t imagine a Marxist team coming from there). Their exploits were “immortalised” by Dennis Waterman and Tim “Mag” Healey in the film A Captain’s Tale.

The original Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy was stolen in 1994 from its display case in the Working Men’s Club but there is a replica and it can be seen in the WMC when the club sponsors, a lovely couple who won the Lottery and used the money sensibly, haven’t borrowed it for a couple of weeks to show it off on a world cruise.

After Ashburton Grove, West’s Darlington Road ground can best be described as homely. The game was decent with the visitors getting a deserved equaliser from the spot in the 88th.minute.

No padded seats, no £5.20 hot dogs (90p and as many onions as you want) and a good game, all for £7. Mind you, that’s £2 more than West usually charge but it’s the FA minimum for this stage of the cup. I don’t think either side will be playing at the Stadium in Round 3 but it does make a pleasant change from the big stuff.

Still, roll on West Ham – I really think we can win this one. Three points and a red card for either Bellamy or Bowyer would make for a perfect day.

* You can buy a West Auckland World Cup replica top from an admirable sounding outfit called
Toffs
, or The Old Fashioned Football Shirt Company.

Salut! Sunderland is written, illustrated and edited by - and principally for - supporters of Sunderland AFC. The site aims to be sufficiently literate and entertaining to appeal to people who do not follow SAFC but enjoy good football writing.

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