It wasn't easy growing up as a Sunderland supporter in the Midlands. It caused untold expense and aggravation for my parents, who indulged me with trips to away games at Shrewsbury Town, Coventry City, Aston Villa, Birmingham City, West Bromwich Albion, Leicester City, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Stoke City, Derby County and Nottingham's Forest and County. When things were going badly, we even went to Walsall.
However, it was my parents' fault. As I settled down to watch my first FA Cup final in 1973 I asked why Sunderland were "underdogs". I liked the idea as they explained it to me, and have ever since. I spent the afternoon kneeling in reverence on the carpet, and when Sunderland beat Leeds United 1-0 I was in love.
This devotion meant that one year, on a family holiday in Lancashire, I managed to get everyone to agree to a trip to Roker Park for a match against Charlton Athletic. After a long drive we arrived at the ground shortly after three o'clock. Just in time to hear 30,000 fans gasp, fall silent and then explode into a cacophonous roar that signalled the first goal.
Unfortunately, this being Sunderland, a second never followed. The whole family had made a 200-mile round trip, and I had missed the only goal of the game.
It was a similar story on Saturday as Oxygen FC reconvened for their first game of the new year. A dodgy knee meant that I was there in a Didier Deschamps capacity. As well as carrying water I squeezed slugs of Deep Relief for injured players and carried the tracksuit bottoms.
Our opponents were Unity, league winners in previous seasons. We started well and matched them for pace, commitment and skill. But Unity scored just before half-time when they took advantage of an unoccupied hectare in the Oxygen area, and added another shortly afterwards.
When a third followed, our heads dropped, and when the fourth went in it was game over. I set off towards the loo. This pitch used to be our home ground until the team got fed up with the gruff manner of the groundsman. I was to find out why. Firstly he denied the presence of any toilets in his dressing rooms. When I said I was with the football team he grunted, told me to take my shoes off, and scowled at my stockinged feet, looking for microscopic particles of mud.
Scurrying back, I was in time to see the opposition score a fifth. A sweetly struck shot flew past Russ at the near post and the net came away from its pegging. It was undoubtedly a goal, but would the referee think it hit the side-netting? No such luck.
At this point their substitute ran on to the field to join in with the celebrations. "There are some people on the pitch," Doug quipped, leaving us to complete the famous line of commentary that summed up our position.
As the whistle blew to put us out of our misery, I wondered aloud when the team had last lost 5-0. Doug looked confused. "It was 5-1," he revealed, in an echo of the Charlton game. "Jonner scored a beauty when you were in the loo."Reuse content